If you are a parent with a child in a Fayette County public school, it is very likely you received a letter from the superintendent regarding “rumors” about walkouts being planned, locally and nationally, in response to the Parkland shooting last month, and other mass shootings that have taken place in recent years.
In the first paragraph of his letter, the superintendent made clear that the responsibility of the system is to “ensure students’ safety while providing them with a world-class education.”
The second paragraph explained, “while the school district is not supporting ‘walkouts,’ Fayette County School System does support our students’ reasonable exercise of their constitutional rights around free expression.” The letter also encouraged parents to talk with their children, and shared some guidance that was given to school leaders.
I talked with my children, but I also have some questions and thoughts I would sincerely like for those who participate in these walkouts to consider.
What exactly is the goal of their walkout? If it is simply that we must have stricter gun control laws, the logical follow-up question would be, what laws do you want to make stricter, and how?
Since every state has different laws regarding how one can obtain a gun, it is important to know what the laws are for your state, so you can have an informed position of how you might want to reform the laws.
Does it not seem like a bully tactic to try and force a change in federal law that would supersede state law? Are the emotions of young people being manipulated to serve some ideological agenda?
If such questions have been honestly considered and one still feel the need to express that they care and can make a difference, then they should be commended.
Those who are mere advocates of stricter gun laws, however, seem to make the erroneous assumption that having such laws would make our society and communities safer, because there would be fewer guns in circulation.
But, if one were to look at geographic data, for example, they would see that the cities with the strictest gun laws also tend to have higher gun violence. Gun laws disproportionately hinder people who follow the law, since criminals who simply break the law and get guns are going to do so anyway, and law-abiding citizens are then forced to simply rely on the police to protect themselves — and that is often way too late.
Can we have a real discussion about gun laws? Is it possible that those who do not see “stricter gun laws” as the answer to mass shootings, may be addressing equally valid issues, that can address gun violence? Is it also possible that fundamental issues such as dealing with mental illness, break-down in society and familial structures, and violent cultural influences are all valid issues to address-especially when one looks at the profiles of recent mass murders?
Dismissing such factors, and only focusing on getting rid of guns and impugning the character of anyone who is a gun-owner reveals that the true motive some protestors might have may not be ensuring public safety, but removing guns from the general public, because they consider guns to be weapons of violence and therefore inherently bad.
As for myself, I don’t personally own a gun. Nor do I understand “gun culture.” But I can understand how a single mom with small children, in a dangerous neighborhood, after being robbed eight times, would want to protect herself and her family. That was the case for my mom when I was growing up.
She could not afford to simply rely on the police, who were going to get there after the fact. She wasn’t trying to harm anyone. She recognized that people do bad things, and she simply wanted to feel safe and be able to protect her children.
For those who want to participate in walkouts, I suggest it would be well worth it to spend some time talking with gun advocates and discover the myriad of reason why they resist stricter gun laws. I would also advocate for all of us to listen to why students feel the need to participate in these walkouts.
People on both sides of an issue have to stop talking about, and past, each other, and start listening to the concerns of others. If we are ever to unite as a society and stop being so polarized, we must stop being so insulated in our ideological bubbles and start talking honestly with those who disagree with us.
We should be honest with ourselves, regarding our true assumptions about one another and our true motivations as to what we believe, and why we believe them. I sympathize with students who simply want to help their fellow students feel safer and think walkouts will address this — it is their First Amendment right. But I also feel empathy for those who view such protests are an attack on their Second Amendment rights.
Without a clear, explicit objective regarding why these walkouts are an act of civil engagement, I fear the result will not be making our schools and communities safer.
It will, however, succeed in heightening animosities and exploiting the existing political division within our country.
It rests within each of us, individually, to find ways to bridge this divide within our schools and communities. We can demonstrate to the nation and the world that we can disagree and still work together for the safety and security of our children.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville with her husband and their five children.]