The New First Responders

When I was a child, we had fire drills and tornado drills. That was it. No longer did we have the drills of what to do during bomb raids or, worse, nuclear attack, knowing that hiding under our desks would be ineffective. During my daughter's entire childhood, active shooter drills have been a regular part of the school routine. The world she has grown up in is different than the one I did.

When I did my internship, training for the ministry, the congregation I was interning at did their very first fire drill in their 150-year history (on my first Sunday in the pulpit). An active shooter drill or an active shooter policy was something we would never have thought of. But they have one now.

Today I got a different sort of e-mail from the superintendent of my daughter's school system than I've ever gotten before after a school shooting or other incident. In this e-mail, the superintendent issued the usual sorts of calming statements about how they are thoughtful about safety and doing what they can. But then the superintendent said:
[The school district] continues to plan for safety and security improvements in this changing landscape but we need your help. The best safeguards start with vigilance. We know that social media is a place where warning signs and chatter can take place. It takes all of us to monitor the many channels of social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc.). Together we have thousands of eyes and ears. Everyone, including our students, should be reminded that if you see something or hear something, please tell a principal, teacher, counselor, myself or another adult. 
I paused for a moment. We are asked to all be the system that prevents school shootings.

Not long after reading that e-mail, I read this blog post by Diane Ravitch calling for a teacher strike for gun reform which said, "Teachers are now first responders, trained to protect their students if a shooter gets in the building. Some have given their lives for their students. Parents should join teachers. Enough is enough." Our teachers are giving their very lives. Our educational leadership is calling on every citizen to help stop the violence. In the churches, we are first responders now, too. It is commonplace now for churches to have active shooter policies, with training for what the roles are for ushers and Sunday School teachers and nursery care workers and ministers.

The truth is, nothing that our teachers and students and ushers and Sunday school leaders and ministers are doing is making the difference to decrease the number of school and church shootings. And there's a limit to what we can feasibly do in many situations. All we can do is respond to the best of our ability once they start, based on the best guesses of experts about what kind of training we should use. Sometimes that means laying down our lives to protect others.

It's appalling that teachers and church-goers are asked to be our first responders, and need to be trained to deal with active shooters. Let's just stop right there for a moment, and say that the world where we have to train teachers and church-goers for this is not right. It's not what we are there for, not what we're called to, and it's not the way things should be.

We are taking these actions -- training teachers to throw down their lives to save their students, training ushers to bar the doors, asking all our citizens to monitor the Facebook and Instagram posts of everyone they know for signs of violence -- for one reason: our government has failed to act.

The idea that there's no law that would prevent this, and that the government is doing everything they can do is false. It's a [expletive deleted] lie. And things are going the wrong way; our legislators are doubling down on the politics of death. In Michigan this fall, the house and senate passed a bill to allow concealed carry in churches and schools, among other places.

This must end. We must, as a society, make it clear that the second amendment does not extend to the right of every citizen to own a weapon designed to kill at rapid pace. It is possible to turn this country around, and it is past time to do so.


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