In one of his later movies, The Shootist, John Wayne plays an aging gunfighter who’s dying of cancer. He’s living at a boarding house with a widow (Lauren Bacall) and her son (Ron Howard). He gives a shooting lesson to the son which prompts the boy to ask how it was that Wayne always came out on top in a gunfight. Wayne replies:
“It isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won’t.”
I thought about this exchange considering President Trump’s notion of arming teachers who are most adept with weapons to address our all too frequent shooting rampages in schools. Knowing one’s weapon and having skill would both be important in confronting such a situation. But how many of those teachers “regardless of cause or need” would be willing to shoot an attacker (particularly one that very likely looks like the students they work with everyday) without hesitation. And, if said teacher could shoot a threat without hesitation, would we want them teaching our students?
President Trump, when making this proposal to enhance the safety of our schools puts an emphasis on deterrence — making sure a would be intruder knows that some personnel are armed and that they’ll encounter “big trouble” if they enter a school. This completely ignores the historical fact that most such attackers expect or intend to die as they execute their missions.
Preventing such tragedies is a complex endeavor. Certainly, the root problem is the alienation and anger of young men (nearly always) to the extent that they are willing to murder and die to, I don’t know, exact retribution for how they have suffered? That, I think, is the key element that must be understood and solved. That could be a multi-generational effort.
I’m somewhat conflicted about gun control as an answer. There is some level of truth that an angry young person will find a way to to the damage that he intends. On the other hand, easy access to weapons that fire powerful rounds, very quickly and in great numbers makes it a simple matter to murder many people in a short amount of time. Limiting access to such powerful weapons isn’t a panacea but it could help stem the bloodshed until the underlying problem (alienation and anger) can be understood and addressed.