The Kentucky Bar Association Annual Convention could not have come at a better time. Its focus on the law as an impartial, nonpartisan pursuit of fairness for all provided an oasis of reason and humanity in the desert of America’s discontent.
Calamities threaten our nation, but none are more perilous than denial, indifference and irrationality.
As I arrived at the convention, an absurdity shot a hole in my soul, my sense of reason and my lifelong understanding of what America stands for, and what it must stand for if we are to continue to don the crown of world-enlightening leadership. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine just promoted the arming of teachers as the answer to school shootings. Bad enough, but the new law only requires a mere 24 hours of training. This was in line with Trump’s push for a federal program to arm teachers, and recent calls to arm teachers nationwide.
But by militarizing Miss Landers and turning Mr. Rogers into Rambo, the Buckeye governor put a bullseye on the backs of every teacher and student and shredded the rule of reason in the process. The quest to arm teachers stems from irrational, distorted thinking held prey to propaganda and pro-gun ideology, not sane, level-headed analysis.
First, proven methods of school security include the locking of all doors. But the Uvalde shooter entered the school and then the classroom through unlocked doors.
Second, teachers must feel free to teach, mold and inspire their students. They should never have the distraction of guns or what to do with them if the rare event occurs. Most teachers will rightfully shun guns and no amount of training can, will, or should change that. Even then, unintended consequences will lead to more carnage, more stress and anxiety and more vulnerability, not less. The very idea of arming teachers destroys teachers' peace of mind and thwarts their ability to focus on their heartfelt mission to educate and develop our children. Instead, it places these genteel souls, both literally and figuratively in a quasi-military war zone.
Fortunately, Kentucky’s leaders are not seeking to arm teachers. Instead, bipartisan legislation requires school districts to establish emergency response plans and procedures, provide mental health services to students, establish parameters for School Resource Officer training and designate school safety marshals. This year, Frankfort also allowed school districts to establish their own police departments.
Kentucky’s focus on school safety protocols and mental health is well-placed. Less so are the measures to increase SROs and create school police departments. First, SROs appear to have no impact on school crime.
A 2018 study, “Kentucky High Schools with SROs and without,” concluded there was no statistically significant difference in total criminal violations when SROs were present. And dividing our counties’ unified systems of police protection is particularly problematic. It will needlessly raise costs, diffuse efforts, create confusion and conflict, and potentially lead to a balkanization of our “United we stand” ethos. We must see and treat our schools as the honored halls of learning they truly are, not as dens of criminality.
The more-guns-in-more-places mentality diverts us from true solutions. A reasoned approach must:
Address root causes of school shootings (failing students and bullying) by providing early childhood education for all (but Republicans continue to oppose universal prekindergarten) and catching failing students early to give them hope
Ensure adherence to national safety protocols (locked doors, e.g.)
Enact federal gun control legislation that up to 88% of Americans support, including universal background checks (88% favor); preventing the mentally ill from buying a gun (87%), establishing a federal database (66%), banning high-capacity ammo magazines holding more than 10 rounds (64%), and banning assault-style weapons (63%).
This bedrock fact is so simple a first grader could understand it: strengthened gun laws lead to far less gun violence and mass shootings. Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany and Norway tightened their laws and saw their rates plummet. Australia suffered mass shootings every year before enacting restrictions in 1996 and has had only one event ever since. The rate of death-causing gun violence is 100 times higher in the U.S. than in the U.K.
Yet despite the facts, despite the will of the people, and despite their professed devotion to children and public safety Republicans oppose reform. For whatever reason—fear, pride, a loss of perspective--guns remain their obsession and top priority, not our greater welfare.
Instead of surrendering to the sway of fear and futility, we must put our faith in the power of truth, reason, and humanity, the qualities that make America “America.”
Fittingly, the KBA featured two Kentuckians famous for their promotion of these high values. First, Muhammad Ali, whose courageous stand for truth and justice led to his victory in the Supreme Court and for equal justice around the world. Ali was famous for boldly speaking truth to power. In that, he echoed another famous Louisvillian, Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who decades before said “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold,” and that the answer to bad speech is “more speech, not enforced silence.”
So in honor of the law and these two famous sons of the commonwealth, may we free our inner Ali and champion the truth, cherish reason, do justice and walk kindly.
Speak out we shall, as speak out we must.
Richard Dawahare is an attorney specializing in child welfare, elder, family and veteran's law.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Gun violence: Denial, indifference and irrationality threatens the US