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Another view of the guns and schools debate

Jack Lessenberry

Thousands of students in Michigan walked out of their classrooms last week to protest gun violence. They don’t want guns in schools, and they especially want assault rifles banned.

Personally, I would probably go even farther. I don’t think anyone should be allowed to own an assault rifle, except if it were kept under lock and key at a shooting range.

But the tragedy of the student protests is this:

Nobody wants to say this, but they aren’t going to go anywhere. The lobbyists of the NRA can count votes. They are mostly silent now, except for the stupidest among them.

8 guns laid out on beige carpet
Credit user Joshuashearn / wikimedia commons
Wikimedia Commons / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg
The number of deaths caused by handguns far outweighs those caused by assault rifles.

They know that eventually the student protests will dissipate, that in less than three months they will be out of school for the summer, and that will be that. Until the next school shooting.

Here’s what would have to happen to really make our children safer in schools. Some major political figures would have to take ownership of this issue and make it their own.

For example, what if someone like Gretchen Whitmer, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, were to announce that her first priority as governor would be a ban on guns in schools? Or on the national level, if Elizabeth Warren were to run for president and make banning guns in schools a major part of her platform?

Were they to win, they could then claim a clear mandate for change. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely.

Politicians’ first priorities are almost always to get elected, and taking a position like that might lose them support. It would also be certain to cause the checkbooks of the pro-gun opposition to spring open and dispense large sums to defeat them.

Nevertheless, sometimes leadership involves taking risks, and I’d be tempted to vote for anyone with the guts to take some.

There’s also another factor in the guns in schools debate that hasn’t really been explored. A friend of mine was talking to a teacher in Taylor, a working-class suburb south of Detroit.

Many of her students are from Detroit and Inkster, and have been traumatized by the almost daily handgun violence that goes on in their communities and sometimes their homes.

However, nobody is talking much about that. The teacher noted that the mass school shootings in places like Parkland, Florida and Sandy Hook, Connecticut have tended to be in overwhelmingly white and fairly affluent areas. Nobody, the teacher felt, is paying much attention to the poor kids of color who are dying in ones and twos. Dying pretty much every day.

That echoed something I was told at the time of Parkland by Dr. Harry Frank, a retired professor of social psychology. Harry loves guns; I do not. He is, however, a highly responsible gun owner. And he told me that when it comes to carnage, an assault weapons ban would be almost meaningless.

Statistics bear him out. There were 374 homicides committed using rifles of all types in this country in 2016. But there were more than 7,000 handgun killings.

Dr. Frank also finds it “interesting that the victims of well-publicized but extremely rare mass shootings involving assault rifles were white, while the victims of handgun shootings continue to be largely inner-city persons of color.”

I think, at the very least, that this needs thinking about.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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