Guns and Classrooms: A Retired Professor’s Perspective

Anticipation fills the room. Following hours of preparation, revising the syllabus, choosing a textbook, outlining lectures — Here they sit! A classroom of fresh faces staring back at you. Young faces, not so young faces, diverse backgrounds, varied ethnicities, fashion statements from all over the lot. Looks of confidence, looks of nervousness, looks of dread, all wondering what lies ahead. Some of these students might be inspired by something they take away from this course – a new way of thinking about a topic, freshly honed critical thinking skills, a lifelong interest in a heretofore undiscovered topic. Who knows? And some of these students, now strangers, will likely form life-long friendships with one another, some perhaps fall in love, maybe even marry. And what resonates most as I look around this room on the first days of a new class is a feeling of optimism, hope, new beginnings, motivations to use education to try to make a better life!

These are the memories first evoked in my mind, that of a retired professor, when confronted with what happened in the classroom at Umpqua College in Oregon this past week. But these thoughts are fleeting – blasted to smithereens by the sickening image that follows, that of a classroom under siege, terrorized, invaded by senseless carnage, cowardly inflicted wounds, and death.

Thinking about these events leaves me flooded with conflicting emotions. My feelings of empathy and sorrow for the students and their professors affected by this heinous act are almost overwhelming. At the same time, some of what I see written and spoken about the event in its aftermath leaves me with a feeling of disgust, and makes me not quite know how to come to grips with how to respond.

In a piece published in The New Yorker (4/30/2007, Vol. 83 Issue 10, p27-28) following the Virginia Tech shootings, Adam Gopnik discussed the emotional stress experienced by the medical response teams as they heard the sounds of cell phones going off repeatedly in the pockets and purses of dead student bodies being carried from the scene. I feel a similar distress thinking that some of the cell phones of massacred students at Umpqua Community College are still ringing and vibrating as updated tweets and postings about the event continue to bombard social media sites on the internet.

Reading some of these posts makes me wonder how many of the posters appreciate the irony of the intellectual vapidity of their remarks about an event that happened at the start of a college class intended to teach students how to construct well-reasoned and intelligent arguments about issues.

Some appear to be having a jolly good time posting supposedly witty comments demonstrating the folly of arguments that these kinds of mass shootings at schools have anything to do with guns or gun control. Others parrot the stale talking points put out by various manifestations of the gun lobby to the effect that the only relevant issue is mental health and that it is unpatriotic to even bring up any issues related to gun control in the context of this, or any other, massacre.

The problem of how to eliminate incidences of mass shootings at schools is complex, and I do not pretend to have the answers for how to solve it. But I do know that continuing to get it wrong is leading to tragic consequences, both for individuals directly affected and also for our society as a whole. What we need is more thoughtful, rational discussion of the ALL of the potential causes and possible solutions to this problem – Not shrill barrages of non sequitur arguments, irrational denials of facts, or mindless parroting of ideological talking points.

Even a quick perusal of statistics involving gun deaths in the USA, as evidenced in articles such as this link, should be plenty to convince any reasonable person that something unusual is happening with respect to killings by guns in our country. Exactly what implications one should draw from these kinds of statistics might be arguable, but the argument that facts regarding gun ownership and gun-control regulations should not even be part of the discussion is ludicrous.

For anyone who feels compelled to post something on social media that is appropriate to this occasion, my suggestion is to start out by echoing Kurtz from Heart of Darkness, “The horror, the horror.” Then why don’t we all move on and begin, out of respect for the dead and wounded students of the past, and out of concern for students in the future, to engage in serious, thoughtful consideration of what we might do together, keeping in mind the Santayana assertion that those who cannot learn from mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

Ron Boothe


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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2 Responses to Guns and Classrooms: A Retired Professor’s Perspective

  1. Ron Boothe says:

    So sad to see the continuing fallacious reasoning being circulated on various social media on the internet to the extent that the solution to the problem of mass killings is to have everyone arm themselves.

    Here is an example of a quote reflecting that sentiment:
    ” I keep two full mags in my Glock case. And the ARs & AKs all have loaded mags. No one will be droppin by my house uninvited without my acknowledgement.”

    Did that sentiment make us safer?
    The author of that quote was the mother of the Umpqua killer, posted before her son entered the classroom with 6 guns and started firing on classmates and his professor. Fourteen additional legally obtained firearms and spare ammunition magazines were recovered from the apartment where the mother and son lived. The two had spent countless hours practicing with those weapons at the firing range.

    And now we are all being barraged with postings circulating on social media arguing that the way to make us all safer is to have more families arm and train like this one did.

  2. Mohsen Mirghanbari says:

    Dear Ron, fellow friends and foes,

    Not long ago before my migration to America “yesteryear” this beloved land was envied for it’s stability, peacefulness, education and technology with so many of life’s amenities, second to none. Then something transpired, a new breed of game changers stepped right in and changed the foundation of life as it was once known to this land and it’s people.

    No, we may not point fingers at a singular event and credit it as the main cause or the culprit to changes that have reshaped the living standards once known to this land, because there also many changes that have shaped our lives for the better rather than worst, and the list may be endless on both sides of the table, all labeled under human progression.

    The progressive list may include “Capitalistic greed” “Religion or their lack of it” “Politics” “Social skills” “Family values or lack of it” “Gadgetry Technology” and yes even “Education” where self thinking machines have replaced books, where parents no longer take their children to school for real education, rather a daycare drop-off, and the athletic sportspeople are idolized and have replaced patents as role models, where Teachers are no longer required to teach rather are given the policing duties, bare arms “punish first and ask questions later.

    However, there is one major overlooked element that has played a greater role to allow the continuation of these changes, “The Society’s will to tolerate or lack of it to willingly and continuously allow and even participate in these changes, yes my fellow friends and foes that includes you and me.

    And the students can no longer speak their perspective as they’re required to a transparency learning, “do as I say or else” and while professional athletes celebrate their on field accomplishments just to entertain, a student athlete may not do so as is regarded politically incorrect, see the recent expulsion of a student athlete, just for raising a thankful hand toward the skies above.

    A society that settles it’s score either with a gun or money, shoots first, then suits and receives cash restitution, Examining just a handful of recent local cases, 3 Spokane brothers 11, 13 and 14 kidnap their great grandmother just for a car’s joy ride with the plot to murder and then dispose the body thereafter, and our beloved Tacoma experienced 4 separate Gang related Gun shooting murders within a month, labeled as Gang violence, and Seattle was no exception experiencing 2 senseless killings by the length of the Gun barrel as well.

    The borderless list sees no exceptions and extends to all four corners of this once peaceful land, then again this land’s foundation was built with violence, as the founding fathers made sure their voices were heard, just take a look at the 200 years old scriptures on the so called proud constitution, bare arms to protect, protect from what?

    Yet, today and every day that passes by, one can not help but to hear those bragging voices of the false proud words of freedom, a society so attuned to violence following those 200 plus years old freedom scriptures, overlooking that our lives are being propagated to bare arms, shoot first and ask question later.

    And nowadays all education institutions are filled with military recruitment centers, and their sporting fields are packed with military machinery propaganda requiring show of appreciation, Saluting the dead veterans for a well job done, while silencing opponents, any opponent.

    Ron, your list of all the senseless shootings in and around the education campuses, as well as the South Carolina church members, Virginia Tech, New York & Missouri or Umpqua C.C. may have been avoided if the assailants did not posses guns, yet the same old arguments are displayed over and over, that Guns do not kill and it is one’s constitutional right to bare arms, yet no one questions how many more guns are needed to protect one’s self interest.

    No my friend we may not point fingers to just one cause or forum as the main culprit for the demise of the living standards we once thought we were accustomed to. However, we must first understand the difference between our rights versus our choices, learn to ration and reason, and only then we may be able to self think our decisions.

    However, there isn’t much that can be expected of a society that is so gullible to assume almost everything that is placed in front of them, perhaps renaming this society “The Assumption Society” is a more appropriate fit. We are all contributors, one way or another. “Then again nothing last forever” and the older generations must accept the demise of this new and upcoming society.


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