Betrayal by Gun

I remember hearing about the shooting at Columbine when I was young. At seven years old, I couldn’t fathom why such a disastrous event had taken place; and moreover… at a school?! It shook me to my core. I felt scared. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook.  A then near-grad. of the college of education at ISU, I couldn’t even imagine the role educators in the building were forced to play amongst the terror and imminent threat of that day. I could not, in my wildest dreams (nightmares, rather), imagine watching my students be shot at.

While I do remember these two instances pretty concretely, at some point over the years, somehow, I gradually became accustomed to hearing about school shootings. Of course, they still rattled me, but news of such terror no longer shook me to my core. I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I remembered each one as I do Columbine and Sandy Hook. Truly, what I wish is that school shootings would stop happening altogether. My reality though, was to become as numb to these headlines as possible. When I thought too hard about the young lives lost without reason, the grieving families whose lives would never be the same, or the teachers who held their students as they slipped from this life…my heart couldn’t take it. My teacher heart couldn’t take it.

We all know gun violence and school shootings have been a hot topic in the U.S. this year. Young people are demanding their voices be heard (all throughout social justice issues, really), and folks are finally listening (to some of our young people, anyway). Thank God. Let me just say, this is why young people are not only our future, but our present. We need them. We need them TODAY. While thousands and thousands of young people took a stand for gun control this past year, while they fought against the notion of arming and training teachers to police students, I fell silent. I’m not proud of this. Not one bit- but I am willing to be real about it. My heart sunk and I avoided the news. How could anyone believe arming teachers would be a solution to this larger problem?! I could go on and on about all the problems I have with this idea. Apparently, I seem to have found my voice on this issue now, so that’s GREAT, but lemme find some focus here.

A few days ago, my fourth grade students and I attended a poetry slam for socially aware students in our community. Dynamic young people filled the stage with a presence that demanded attention, and voices that had no question of whether or not they would be heard. They spoke on issues of injustice, racism, identity and gun violence. Poetry laced with shocking truth, spoken through these beautiful instruments of change somehow woke me up. I found myself lost in their narratives, lost in their questions, lost in their lack of understanding at how a teacher with a gun solves anything (it doesn’t). Beautifully lost, yet awakened. While in my little awakened trance, I saw a couple sets of big brown ten year old eyes look up at me masking the fear and disbelief behind them. “Ms. Bryant, do you have a gun? Do you keep a gun in our classroom?” I quickly assured them I did not, refusing to allow myself to feel the pain of these words as they ripped through my heart.

It took me a minute to realize what I felt inside. I soon realized I felt betrayal. I felt betrayed by my students’ questions. They wanted to know if I kept a gun in our room *just in case*?! Did they know me at all?! Did they really think I was capable of taking one of their lives?! Don’t they know how much I love them?! I let the feeling simmer.

Later that day, we arrived back to school and had a time of reflection. I had my students, my phenomenal students, journal about the poetry slam. What had they heard? What stood out to them? Eventually, this discussion brought us back to the same question: “Ms. Bryant, do you keep a gun in our room?” As I allowed the feelings of betrayal to partner with feelings of heartbreak, I looked at my students and said, “Fourth grade, I want you to hear me when I say no, I do not keep a gun in our classroom and I never will. Ever. I promise.” The room vibrated with questions. “But what if you have to? What if someone makes you? Would you keep it on you or in your desk? Isn’t that dangerous?” etc., etc., etc,.

I stood dumbfounded as I realized the betrayal they must feel in order to even begin to ask me these questions. Of course they know I love them. Of course they know I would do just about anything for them. But could I possibly be keeping a secret of this magnitude from them? Could I possibly betray them and their safety by bringing a weapon into our classroom? Could authorities or adultism cloud my judgement? My feelings of betrayal, it occurred to me, were nothing in comparison to those of my students. I can only hope they knew the answer to their questions would likely be no; but they also knew the answer could be yes. If adults are talking about arming teachers and training them to use a gun in their classroom if needed…well then, wouldn’t it be a reasonable question to ask if your teacher had a gun? How would that make you feel as a student? How would that make you feel as a human being? What if our bosses kept guns in their offices just in case one of their employees went haywire? It feels dirty and sneaky, and overflowing with fear rather than resolution.

Here’s what I know. We have a plethora of issues in our world, but I believe we also have access to a plethora of solutions. Our world is filled with prayer warriors, peace seekers, justice bringers, and freedom fighters. We are equipped with problem solvers, creatives, organizers, dreamers, and deep thinkers. I can tell you this much right now, though: arming teachers is not one of those solutions.

So excuse me while my fourth grade students and I continue to dream up ways we can make our world a more just a love-filled place for all.

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