Here we go again. After the tragic school killings in Newtown, Conn., the leader of the National Rifle Assn. offers a perfectly sensible proposal to put cops with guns in every school — and people jump all over him.
But the only problem I can see with the NRA's proposal is that it doesn't go far enough. For some reason nobody in this country is willing to admit the obvious, which is that the poor helpless kids in that school could have helped themselves, if only we'd let them.
The time has come to get over our squeamishness and arm the children. If those kids in Connecticut had been allowed to bring firearms to school, it's doubtful anyone would ever have attempted the kind of assault that so tragically victimized them. If anyone did, the combined firepower of 20 or more armed elementary school pupils in a single classroom would put a stop to it, and far more effectively than a single dozing constable summoned from the opposite end of campus.
Of course, you can't just give a bunch of kindergartners firearms. They will need training, and the Newtown killings make plain just how deficient our schools are on this score. In most of America you can't graduate without meeting certain requirements in math, physical education or even a foreign language. But every year, our schools turn loose literally millions of kids lacking the faintest clue about how to engage in armed self-defense. Without these skills, so fundamental to the sustenance of democracy, our young people are defective citizens.
We make vaccinations mandatory for most children; why not firearm training? To be admitted to kindergarten, a child would have to demonstrate basic proficiency with a pistol. After that, no child should be able to advance a grade without meeting certain weapons milestones. And any parent who sends a child to school unarmed should have to explain that action to the child welfare authorities. When I was a boy, our teachers checked to see that we'd brought a handkerchief to class. Why not check for handguns? Think of the possibilities for show and tell!
A few selfish families — pacifists and their ilk — will no doubt be exempted. They won't mind that their children thus become free riders, sheltering under the protection provided by other kids who pack heat every day in their lunch boxes.
Not to worry; I'm convinced that enough red-blooded Americans will show up armed every day to stop any future madmen dead in their tracks. Arming the children would pay a special dividend too: an end to bullying, since even the smallest, most socially awkward child can put a bullet between the eyes of his or her tormentor if properly armed.
And then, of course, there are the teachers. It's simply unconscionable that these government-salaried educrats should ever enter a school building unarmed. As one writer observed in the online forum Washington Times Communities, "How different this could have been if, instead of discouraging guns on school property, we welcomed them heartily, accompanied, of course, by strict and proper licensing. How different if the report of the gunman on campus had stirred several teachers or staff members to whip out their own weapons and fire before the masked killer had his way with them."
Arming teachers could have pedagogical benefits as well, working wonders for school discipline.
Surely even the most demented advocates of gun control must see that, with nearly 300 million privately owned firearms already in circulation, no anti-gun legislation can protect the nation's schoolchildren from them. Just as the answer to offensive speech is more speech, the answer to a firearm is another firearm — or a couple dozen, which is about how many should be in the average classroom.
As an American, I'm not troubled by the ban on school prayer nearly as much as I am by our refusal to give our children a prayer of defending themselves. Many states already allow concealed firearms on college campuses. Let's act swiftly to give our precious babies the same chance at life that armed collegians enjoy. If we fail to do so, the blood of future unarmed victims will be on our hands.
Daniel Akst, a former columnist for The Times, is a writer in New York's Hudson Valley.