Adam Ross is editor of the Sewanee Review.
“You know, I really believe — you don’t know until you test it — but I think I . . . I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” — President Trump
Truer words have never been spoken by our president. Not that he’d have gone racing, unarmed, into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as a shooter was laying waste to students and faculty within. I mean his aside, “You don’t know until you test it.” This is undoubtedly correct, and speaks, though President Trump didn’t realize it, to the insanity of his push to arm our nation’s teachers.
The first time I had a gun pointed at me was in April 2003. I was an editor at Nashville’s alt weekly, and I’d briefly left the office close to twilight, on deadline, to walk my two dogs. I grabbed my lacrosse stick and a ball to play fetch and drove to Sevier Park, in the 12 South neighborhood, which at the time was considered “transitional.” When I arrived, I let the dogs loose, said hello to two women who were just leaving with their pets, and less than a minute later, heard someone behind me shout, “Yo!”
Two youths sauntered down the hill toward me. I grew up in Manhattan in the 1970s and ’80s, and knew, from firsthand experience, that I was about to get mugged. And yet, my first thought was: “Bring it.” I had a 6-foot weapon. I was a former wrestler, and Tucker, my Blue Heeler, was so aggressive that we would ultimately have to have him put down for biting people. But when my assailants came into clearer view, I recognized that one was carrying a TEC-9 semiautomatic pistol and the other a .38-caliber handgun, which he raised to my face. I was shocked speechless, and before I could think, the kid with the TEC-9 cracked me across the temple with the barrel of his gun. At which point Tucker attacked the one with the pistol, latching onto his calf and doing a death roll.
This is the stuff of Rin Tin Tin fantasy but, in reality, Tucker’s valor red-lined an already mortal situation. The kid wildly kicked his leg and screamed that he would shoot my dog if I didn’t make him stop. “I can’t make him do anything,” was all I managed to say. Miraculously, Tucker desisted and, along with my other dog, proceeded to lay down to see what would happen next.
“Get on your knees,” said the one with the TEC-9. I obeyed, and both put their guns to my head. At that point, I was subject to a psychological phenomenon I’d never believed was real: I had an out-of-body experience. I was suddenly a good 10 feet away, watching this strangely quiet scene. And in a state of otherworldly calm, I thought, “You’re going to hear two pops and then you’re dead.”
They demanded my wallet, which I handed over before they trotted off.
The second time was worse, because I was with people I loved. It was winter 2010. Friends had flown in from New York for a Predators hockey game, and had invited us to dinner at East Nashville’s Holland House. Halfway through our meal, two men wearing pantyhose to cover their faces entered the restaurant. The first approached the bank of tables where we sat, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at my wife’s face, and ordered everyone to get on the ground.
You might argue that I was trained by now because, as I lay on my back staring at the ceiling, I’d laced my hands behind my head, as if reconciled to my fate. My friend nearest me, meanwhile, had gone into a fetal position, holding all his cash in the air — and he’d had five years of jujitsu training. The assailants split up, the more efficiently to rob the place. Soon the one carrying the shotgun was back at our table.
We looked directly at each other. He then lowered his weapon and took, of all things, my Blackberry. When he turned to walk away, I remember thinking, “If I had a gun now, I could shoot him.” But then what? His partner could be heard across the floor, pistol-whipping the kitchen staff. Who knew what would happen after I squeezed off a round? Who might kill whom, or get caught in the crossfire? And when the police did finally arrive, a couple of minutes after the pair fled, what was even more obvious was that the delay probably saved lives. Two minutes earlier and it might have been a bloodbath.
Which brings me to the insanity of arming our nation’s teachers. Let’s not even consider the fact that in one comprehensive 2008 study of the New York Police Department, the average hit rate by officers involved in gunfights was 18 percent, or that nine bystanders were wounded during a 2012 shootout near the Empire State Building, with two officers involved and at near point-blank range. Let’s leave aside this week’s news from Georgia, that other bit of madness, about a teacher with a concealed-carry permit locking himself in a classroom and firing a shot when the principal tried to enter. Teachers can snap, too, although the more pressing truth is this: The shooter always has the drop on the victim, and the drop can be measured not only in seconds, but in lives.
Just because a teacher is armed doesn’t mean he or she is a deterrent to an attacker, any more than a vicious-looking dog is. The only thing that arming our nation’s teachers would do is further escalate an insane situation, one where educators with Glocks, say, are asked, in active-shooter situations, to take aim at assailants with AR-15s. It’s not just adding exponentially more lethal contingencies to an already deadly situation. It’s like bringing a lacrosse stick to a gunfight.