A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: How do you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys?

In Nancy Willard’s poem, “Questions My Son Asked Me, Answers I Never Gave Him,” the first unanswerable is, “Do gorillas have birthdays?”

Adults are used to responding to such complicated queries from kids. The best answers demand a leap of faith, mixing the mundane with the magical, in a show of clever deception.

Why is the sky blue? Because blue is God’s favorite color.

Where do babies come from? They grow wild in fields of timothy, along with roses and lilacs that bloom all year.

What will happen to grandma after she dies? She’ll go to heaven and sprout wings so she can visit us on earth, unseen, and whisper secrets in our ears as we dream.

Some questions are harder than others to answer. In the past week, for example, adults have been bombarded by questions from children about school safety. Some of the answers have taken on the aura of fairy tales, while others border on dystopian contempt for anyone who doubts that meeting violence with violence is the best strategy to ensure school safety.

Most astonishing to me is the suggestion that we arm teachers. “A teacher would’ve shot the hell out of him,” President Trump blasted in a speech the other day, claiming that a teacher packing heat would make a school “a much harder target” for a shooter.

No kidding. Those are direct quotes that spark more than a few questions.

First — and I admit it is picky — but is it unreasonable to expect the President of the United States to set an example in his speech and demeanor, and avoid using language that is unacceptable in most classrooms?

Second. Why has it taken multiple school shootings, and loss of kids’ and teachers’ lives to lasso the attention of politicians and decision-makers about educational needs and priorities, including school safety?

Obviously, there are numerous details that would have to be worked out if a select group of teachers (a SWAT team?) were identified, trained, and compensated for hazardous duty. What are the implications for insurance and liability? What if an innocent succumbs to so-called friendly fire? Would weapons be locked and loaded all the time, or would designated teachers strap on holsters before homeroom and slip out of them only after the last school bus had left for the day?

Once those details are cleared up, more questions emerge: What kind of training prepares a person to respond to an attack with automatic weaponry? How effective is training that does not reflect the chaos and extreme stress in the midst of a mass shooting? And just because someone has an unerring aim in video games, does that translate to similar results in what we call real life?

Yes, retired police officers and military veterans can be hired for security, but does that guarantee our children will be safe in a hail of automatic weapon fire? According to a recent Pew Research Center national survey, many Americans believe it is common for police officers to fire their guns, with about three-in-ten adults estimating that police fire their weapons a few times a year while on duty. And more than eight-in-ten (83%) estimate that the typical officer has fired his or her service weapon at least once in his or her career, outside of firearms training or on a gun range.

A posting on “Law Officer,” from February 9, 2017, states that only 27% of all officers say they have ever fired their service weapon while on the job. The survey, conducted May 19 – August 14, 2016 by the National Police Research Platform, polled a nationally representative sample of 7,917 sworn officers working in 54 police and sheriff’s departments with 100 or more officers.

So before there is a rush to judgment regarding arming teachers, perhaps it is time to consider the underlying assumptions about such a tactic.

Would a “good guy with a gun” really prevent tragedy from happening?

That is an unanswerable question for an ill-advised solution.

What can you do to be of help? “Pick up some school supplies and donate them,” one Kentucky teacher’s Facebook post advised. “Take some ‘luxuries’ out to your local school: tissues, hand sanitizer, and most definitely pencils and dry erase markers.”

“If you want to make a teacher’s day,” the writer continued, “send a box of colored dry-erase markers and some Post-it notes. All the crayons are probably broken by now and most of the markers have run dry and are scattered. Construction paper is an added bonus. Seriously, these simple things are all it takes.”

And while you’re at it, thank a teacher for being there, day in and day out, doing one of the toughest and most important jobs a person can have. They are truly the “good guys.” Let’s not forget it.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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