A Warm Gun

Boone County Constable Joe Kalil got shot down early last month.

Boone County Constable Joe Kalil got shot down early last month.

To much media fanfare, Kalil attended a Boone County Board meeting where he got three minutes to convince board members that classroom teachers needed background checks and five-and-a-half days’ training through his Protecting Our Students and Teachers Tea Party-endorsed gun training program to become armed in the classroom.

Armed teachers, Kalil believes, can shoot back at a wannabe Dylan Klebold or Adam Lanza and therefore better protect students and themselves against pop-up violence or even the heinous plans hashed out by gun-wielding kids.

No one at that March 6 meeting cottoned to Kalil’s idea and he left, telling a TV news crew: “Keep in mind, everybody’s focusing on Boone County. We have all these other school systems we’re in dialogue with.”

He’s not blowing smoke.

It may sound shocking around these parts, but there are plenty of other American districts in 18 states allowing concealed and unconcealed firearms on school grounds with rather flimsy “permission.”

Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Wyoming already allow guns on school property with rules that are as general as: “superintendent’s permission,” “authorization,” “principal’s permission,” “school’s approval” and, in the case of Wyoming, “as long as it’s not concealed.”

Hawaii has no specific law.

Only New Hampshire is specific: “ban applies only to pupils, not adults.”

As a teacher, I know there’s no pedagogy that prepares us for carrying guns into the classroom, though these days all teachers are frighteningly aware of the threat of school violence and that any day a kid can come to school with a gun and the intentions to do deadly harm.

I have not been in one classroom as a visiting lecturer, assistant or long-term teacher where I have been briefed on protocol should gun violence break out.

I know of no official edict held or published by the University of Cincinnati where I work, though there must be one put out by Public Safety but I may be unaware of it because of my adjunct status. (We’re often the last to know about university policies and procedures,)

I have only always trusted my gut, my inner radar and my inklings about students during the years.

In my nearly nine years teaching on the college level, there was one student — a white man — who signaled trouble to me.

Though it was a balmy spring quarter, he wore a long, black western duster coat that he never took off and he always wore sunglasses indoors and when I lightheartedly asked him about maybe taking off his coat or his glasses so I could see his eyes he never said a word in return.

I arrived early to the next week’s class.

I looked out the windows to check how far the classroom was from the ground in case we’d have to squeeze through the half-opened, anti-suicide windows to the grass below.

We were only two floors up.

I started teaching with the door open and made a mental note of how close he sat to the door.

Most importantly, I made sure never to make a remark toward him that might set him off or offend him in the slightest — especially concerning his work which, I recall now, was average without any hint of dark fantasies.

Years later, I had the privilege of listening to at least one teacher who faced a young man in her classroom who turned out to be a school shooter, a term and a marker that is as much a sign of the times as it is a sign of a blithe sociopathic end game.

Nikki Giovanni, poet, teacher, my hero and (unbeknownst to her) my mentor spoke with me for an interview on the first anniversary of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre during which Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on campus before killing himself, making the shootings the largest public massacre in United States history.

Though she had told the story dozens of times in the early wake of the shootings, Giovanni repeated herself, telling me she’d had Cho in a creative writing class in 2005 and that something in his writings of murder and suicide set him apart from the way students normally write about such macabre subjects.

Plus, she said, he’d been taking pictures of students in class until, one day, only a handful of her 70 students showed up. When she asked them why, they said they were afraid of Cho.

She confronted him, telling him to either change his subject matter or drop the class.

“You can’t make me,” he told Giovanni.

She then took the matter to Lucinda Roy, then head of the English department, who was bound and determined to teach Cho one-on-one; she even suggested counseling to him, offering to walk to the counselors’ office with him.

He only said he’d think about it.

Meantime, Roy alerted school administrators and talked openly about how troubled Cho was until it was too late.

We can only speculate what would have happened to Seung-Hui Cho and the 32 people he shot to death if Giovanni, Roy or some other teacher had been trained to shoot a gun and allowed to carry it on campus that day.

And though there are monumental differences between K-12 campuses — they are far more security-oriented with cameras, mandatory sign-ins and often someone at main doors to immediately greet visitors — and college campuses (where there are no “gates” or fences and the pedestrian public freely comes and goes), school massacres know no age or grade boundaries.

Kalil and others pushing for armed teachers in classrooms should read “The Reckoning” in the March 17 New Yorker and read how Adam Lanza’s father — from afar — witnessed his son’s slow unfurling into a madman able to shoot young children.

What we need is trained insight not gun sights trained on kids.

CONTACT Kathy Y. Wilson: [email protected]

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