I remember teaching at Lapeer West High School in the early 1990’s, when some students would go hunting in the morning before class and still have their firearms in their pickup trucks where they remained throughout the school day. This would never be tolerated today.
Firearms and other weapons protected by the Second Amendment have changed in the perception of their usage with the rise of the powerful NRA lobby and other gun rights groups. The use of guns has changed, from being primarily for hunting or target shooting to self-protection in an ever increasingly hostile world. Guns are marketed as macho and sexy. The more lethal, the better. Gun and ammunition manufacturers are part of an industry with $28 billion in revenue in 2018. This figure doesn’t include other aspects of the gun violence industry, which include items ranging from bulletproof backpacks to ALICE training for workplaces.
The shift from hunting to self-defense indicates distrust of the police and other law-enforcement officials. People who carry arms in public spaces do so because they feel that the police will not be there to protect them. This belief invariably undermines the authority of police. We should not allow this false narrative to continue if we want police and other law enforcement agencies to have the public’s full support and trust.
I once worked as an assistant store manager at the RadioShack on Dort Highway in Flint. Some might consider that it was in a “rough” part of town. The local police informed us that we could have a weapon on our premises for protection; however, RadioShack corporate policy strictly forbade it. As far as the corporation was concerned, if someone tried to steal a TV, the use of lethal force would not be an equivalent response. Instead, we should allow the local police to handle the matter.
I taught for seven years at the Genesee County Jail in Flint, and in that facility were a lot of people who might be considered “bad hombres.” When I first started working there, I was surprised to learn that although many of the deputies were military veterans, and even though all of the deputies were regularly trained in their proper use, firearms were always forbidden in areas where inmates were located. It simply wasn’t considered safe to have a weapon around. Instead, a couple of deputies would monitor over 100 inmates armed with only a taser or pepper spray. Despite these circumstances, I felt safer working in the jail than I had at times while teaching at an alternative high school.
Growing up in Detroit, I remember when the owner of the nearby corner store purchased a handgun after becoming fed up with his store being robbed. He was the source of a bit of humor when, at his next encounter with a robber, he accidentally shot off the tip of his index finger. But what struck me most was that he was willing to use lethal force and kill someone by shooting him in the back simply for stealing what was probably a few hundred bucks.
Police officers must react with split second reactions, and sometime inaccurately assume that a person may be carrying a weapon, because of the ubiquitous presence of guns. Despite their training, well-intentioned officers make mistakes. Nevertheless, officers who overstep their bounds should be quickly dismissed. I was acutely aware of this turnover at the jail, as any hint of inappropriate behavior would not be tolerated.
Without adequate education and proper training, people will never find a fulfilling job to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Without jobs and health coverage which provide a sense of dignity and security, people fall into depths of despair and have feelings of hopelessness. Clearly, the problem isn’t that there are people in the world who do bad things. The problem is why people do bad things. Groups like Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are working to end gun violence and build safer communities. Yet for too long, common-sense steps in gun reform have been thwarted by Washington gun lobbyists and by political leaders who are afraid to take those steps that will save lives.
I once had a dream that I was laid off from my teaching job at the jail, because there weren’t enough inmates and my position was no longer cost effective. I vividly remember looking into the empty jail cells and listening to people talk about what was to be done with the jail, since it was no longer needed for the community. But alas, when I awoke, I realized it was only a dream.