OPED: Do we really want to turn our teachers into warriors?
I commanded a Marine rifle platoon in Vietnam. I'm a former National Rifle Association member, a former elementary school teacher, a gun owner and a progressive.
I think guns can be fun, if handled responsibly, like fireworks. They make us feel powerful in a threatening world.
Guns aren't fun in combat. Warfare is not an exciting experience of invulnerability and heroism, as it is sometimes portrayed in our media.
Killing anyone, even in defense of yourself or your family, is not consequence-free. Even if you're legally justified, taking a life establishes a relationship between you and that person's family that haunts you for the rest of your life. In combat you learn a little about the life you've taken by searching through their belongings for potential intelligence and instead finding love letters, religious and good luck amulets and a precious photo or two. The first time you kill someone is the most disturbing and memorable, but every face of every kill is never far from your mind, running like a film loop.
The illusion of invulnerability quickly dissipates in an actual firefight. Even the best protective equipment is laughably inadequate. A helmet and flak jacket will stop some shrapnel but not a bullet. Your face, crotch, neck and limbs are protected only by fabric, and a wound there can be fatal. And nothing can protect your internal organs from the blast wave of high explosives. The best-equipped soldier today is still all offense and little defense. Your fate is determined by a roll of the dice.
Once you recognize the luck factor, it changes how you see the job. As an officer, I was asking my troops to press their luck to the breaking point. In a firefight, invisible bits of hot metal fly everywhere, they go through windows, walls and doors, they ricochet off steel beams, stairs and handrails. They can go through one person and kill another. In urban warfare you can't hear where the shots are coming from because the reports echo off multiple surfaces; to see an opponent is to expose yourself to gunfire.
In the confusion and terror, your hands shake, your brain freezes, you expend every ounce of energy even on the most trivial actions. Your perception of time is altered. You make complicated decisions with inadequate information, in fractions of a second, knowing that your life could end in the next instant.
When I hear people talk about arming schoolteachers, I imagine a mild-mannered poetry teacher who has never raised her hand in anger, pulling her Glock out of a desk drawer. I imagine how she would fare if she were confronted by a shooter amid crumpled bodies in pools of blood. I think about how she'd feel if she mistakenly shot a student, fellow teacher or first responder.
I think such a teacher would be traumatized for life. She didn't become a teacher to be a warrior. Arming her is a simplistic, ill-conceived idea based on a failure to appreciate the nature of combat.
— Paul Barker is an Evanston, Ill., artist, former teacher and former U.S. Marine. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.