Commentary

Don’t Make Me Part of Your Gun Culture

Pat Kinsella for the Chronicle Review

October 15, 2015

We have an "active shooter" defense training class coming up, and I am just not interested. I resent how the burden of gun violence is being placed on educators. I feel like I’m being pushed into a gun culture that I want no part of.

Viewing dramatic video of an active-shooter scenario on my campus is disturbing. How should I respond when someone opens fire in my building? I’m told that if we can’t flee to safety, I should shove the furniture against the door of my classroom, silence all cellphones, and hope the perpetrator will move on. If the active shooter enters the classroom, I should have a strategy in place: signal a student to throw something against the wall to distract the shooter while another student or two — or perhaps me — tackles the perpetrator. This is the preparedness drill of run, hide, or fight. It all seems absurd.

Gun advocates have little more to offer. They think my carrying a concealed weapon or allowing my students to arm themselves would secure our safety. But I view this gun culture as another world, wholly unlike my own. As a historian, I am well aware of the violent horrors of the past, but my work is very cerebral. I wouldn’t know what to do with a gun as I go about my day, and the idea of learning to shoot someone is abhorrent to me. I work with students hopeful about their futures, concerned about their efforts to get there, and eager to be successful. Carrying a gun seems oxymoronic.

I grudgingly accept the reality of the gun lover as part of our nation’s diversity, but I just choose not to be one. With the rise of mass gun violence, however, this gun culture is being thrust into my workplace. And I resent it. I feel like the teachers during the early Cold War who drilled their students in futile "duck and cover" exercises to survive a nuclear attack, or the professors during the Vietnam War who had to consider a student’s draft status with every grade they assigned. These educators were burdened with unfathomable responsibilities. Asking me to participate in active-shooter drills feels about the same.

I don’t mean to disparage the efforts of my university and others in their responses to mass shootings. But the problem requires so much more than a reorientation of my world view about guns and workplace safety. Isn’t there something else we can do?

I resent how the burden of gun violence is being placed on educators.
I’m glad my university prohibits guns on campus (although students can store licensed guns in the trunks of their cars), and the university has all kinds of student-centered services including counseling, a women’s center, bystander-intervention training, sexual-assault-awareness programs, and a supportive learning commons. Faculty members meet regularly with students for academic advising, and we are instructed to be alert to unusual signs of stress in students, and to refer them to these services. I agree with these measures. But the burden of mass shootings can’t be ours alone.

Clearly we need laws to curb the normalization of mass gun violence in American culture. And faculty members also need societal support to do what we do best: scholarly teaching. We can give young adults a historical and literary context for their lives that grounds their ambitions — and disappointments — in a shared humanity with all its strengths and weaknesses. We can integrate the arts, humanities, and social sciences into STEM-based curricula. We can prepare people for a meaningful life in a complex world. Responding to a crisis of mass gun violence with a greater emphasis on quality-of-life learning that enriches our culture is an approach faculty like me can embrace.

Linda Van Ingen is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.