Mar 18

School walkouts send a message, but underlying problems remain 

By Darrell Huckaby

So the big news this week seemed to be that at various schools across the nation, school children — or maybe they shouldn’t be called children — walked out of class to protest gun violence in this country. Amazingly, the protests, and the response to the protests, seemed to fall along political and sometimes racial and socio-economic lines.

Really? Was it that big a deal?

In some schools — such as those in Cobb County, Ga. — the students were apparently threatened with severe disciplinary measures if they disrupted the school day by leaving class and walking outside for 20 minutes. In DeKalb County, which is to Cobb like midnight is to noon, the protesters were encouraged and their small scale civil disobedience was embraced as the hope for the future of the universe.

As with most extreme comparisons, reality probably lay somewhere in the middle.

I think we can all agree that people being shot with guns is a bad thing. I think we can all agree that children being shot at in school is a bad thing. Is it worse than being shot in the mean streets of a city or in a theater or at a concert? Probably so, because kids are required to be at school and parents should have a reasonable expectation that their most precious children will be safe while they are there.

But I am not 100 percent certain whether this week’s protests were against being shot in schools or against the existence of guns. I think the organizers of the protests were targeting guns and gun laws in this country. I think their reasoning is that if it were harder to obtain powerful guns, fewer people would be killed by them.

This, of course, brings up the counter argument. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Everybody knows that’s true. We’ve been reading it on bumper stickers for decades.

I am not sure that most of the students who walked out of class this week actually knew why they were walking out. Having spent 38-plus years as a classroom teacher, I can absolutely assure you that some of the protesters were 100 percent convinced that they were taking a stand on an important issue. Their idealistic hearts break with the news of every new shooting and they wanted a chance to stand up and tell the adults in their lives to do something about all the violence.

I also know that a majority of the students who took the opportunity to miss class wouldn’t know the Second Amendment from second base and would have been just as happy to miss class if the protest concerned spending less money on standardized testing or prohibiting pizza from the school lunch menu.

And, sadly, the effectiveness of the walkouts will be absolutely nil. That’s a bold statement. That’s a skeptical view. It is also an honest one.

It is true that the recent Florida school shooter obtained the gun he used legally. But he broke several laws by bringing it to a school and killing people with it. I’m not sure that making the purchase of the weapon illegal would have deterred him from obtaining it. Now don’t hear something I am not saying. I am not opposed to raising the legal age for purchasing firearms and I am not opposed to banning certain types of guns.

I am saying that we are ignoring the underlying problem by focusing on gun laws and the underlying problem is the decline of a moral society in which there is right and there is wrong and human life is sacred. The breakup of the traditional family in America has a lot more to do with gun violence in our nation than the age at which one can buy a gun.

But we don’t discuss those things in school — or anywhere else. It’s too complicated. It might hurt someone’s feelings. It doesn’t fit in a 10-second sound bite. So we pretend that students who leave class are doing a great service to society — or that they are dooming themselves to lawlessness and ignorance for missing 20 minutes of seat time, depending on the school system.