by April Bayer
On March 24, I participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Lincoln with over 1,000 other people. I gathered with four other Concordia students and a professor. I gathered with war veterans. I gathered with family members of shooting victims. Perhaps most importantly, I gathered with hundreds of concerned high school students who, with the help of trusted adults, organized an event to make their voices heard.
I did not participate in the marching, but I heard from my fellow Concordia students that, at least for them, it mainly consisted of chanting and discussion about gun violence. I arrived later in the day, and as I approached the Capitol, a man who was leaving the rally offered me a sign to put around my neck. It was a picture of Jessica Rekos, one of the victims of the Dec. 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. She was only six years old at the time. I keep it in my drawer as a reminder.
I stood at the Nebraska State Capitol building and listened to impassioned and frightened students plead with legislators and the adults around them for the passing of laws that would lead to increased gun control, most of them calling for the banning of AR-15s and stricter background checks for those wishing to purchase firearms.
Looking at all the signs and listening to the speeches and shouts around me, it was clear that people came to the rally for a variety of reasons. My reason was not a desire to take away citizens’ rights or undermine the God-given authority of political officials. I was there to do something that, as an education major, I hope I will continue to do throughout my teaching career: learn from and listen to students.
I saw many posts on the Internet claiming that students like these were disrespecting adults, trying to control their actions and take away their 2nd Amendment rights. This is not the impression I received from the students in Lincoln. They represented high schools across the city and even came together alongside some of their teachers. These young men and women spoke confidently and emotionally about their desire for safer schools while also encouraging their peers to participate in civic engagement by voting when they turn 18.
It was not lost on me that, as we gathered on the street in front of the Capitol, the barricades that surrounded us were protected by armed police offers. I appreciated their presence as they fulfilled their vocation of keeping us safe.
It is these dedicated men and women who make me think that armed guards, officers and veterans who are trained in the safe use of firearms, could be a potential aid in preventing future gun violence in schools or in stopping attacks early-on, as evidenced by the heroic actions of a resource officer during the Great Mills High School shooting in Lexington Park, Maryland, on March 26.
However, some take the argument for protection in schools a step further, claiming that arming teachers is a viable solution. While I believe that there are teachers who are willing and able to use firearms safely, this type of thinking scares me. I question whether it would truly allow students to feel safe.
Sometimes, school is the only place where students are not constantly surrounded by threats. I think about students I have worked with in the past, some refugees and some who have been in foster care, who have endured trauma related to war and gun violence. I wonder if they would feel safe coming to school and being in a classroom with a teacher they knew was armed. The risk of things going wrong seems too great to me—What if a student came into possession of the teacher’s gun? What if a teacher accidentally shot a student?
The desire to protect the life of a child is a noble one. But the job of a teacher is to provide students with knowledge and support as they prepare to go out into the world. It is to build relationships, to inspire confidence, and to, depending on the setting, share God’s love through actions if not words. Teachers are called to love and guide their students, but they are not called to be willing targets for violence when tasks like planning lessons and classroom management can be challenging enough.
Violence will never truly come to an end, as we live in a sinful and broken world. Knowing this, I am sometimes nervous when I consider my future as an educator, wondering if the headline of a school shooting could become my reality. What I hope for myself and for other educators is that, if anything, we will be armed with courage and strength while we hope for safety and peace.