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Martin: Freedom From Fear

(Host) As a teacher, Commentator Mike Martin has experienced first-hand the safety protocols schools have put in place since the Columbine shooting.Now, in the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary, he's been wondering if more safety drills are really the answer.

(Martin) In Japan, schoolchildren sometimes hide under their desks to practice what to do in case of earthquakes. In Israel, they do the same for possible missile attacks. In U.S. schools today, students and teachers practice what to do in case of school shootings.

School fire drills used to be fun, a surprise escape from class to go outside for a few minutes with your friends. But now, for some drills, we don't go outside at all anymore. As a teacher, I lock the door to my classroom, turn off the lights, and huddle in a corner with my students in silence. As we crouch in the dark, there are usually a few nervous giggles, but inside we all know that this is no fire drill. This is something more sinister. And as we sit awkwardly, waiting for the all-clear, our thoughts naturally drift to just what it is we're practicing for... And that's usually when I catch myself feeling a little unnerved, and even a little angry, that when we go to school nowadays, we have to rehearse contingency plans for mass murder.

We used to think that Columbine was a watershed moment. But aside from a lot of new emergency policies and protocols, it didn't change much. After Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now Sandy Hook Elementary, it's as if mass shootings have somehow become inevitable in the U.S. And yet, since both violent crime and gun ownership are at historic lows in our country, we could reasonably expect to feel safer. Instead, we live in fear of the next attack to come. So we try to reassure ourselves by improving campus security and running safety drills. Even though, statistically speaking, school is the safest place our kids can be, we have our students practice lock downs and rehearse for horror.

Of course, we're told that the problem is complex, that we need to take a better look at violent video games, maladjusted young men, or perhaps even arming teachers at school. But to my mind, from a public policy perspective, the solution is extremely simple: we need to restore the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Of the eleven deadliest mass shootings in the U.S., five have taken place since 2007-after the assault weapons ban expired. And while Vermont has a high rate of gun ownership, it has a low rate of gun violence. As Armando Vilaseca, the new Vermont Secretary of Education has observed, you can't easily commit mass murder with a hunting rifle. So maybe mass shootings aren't even really about the Second Amendment, but rather about simply keeping military assault weapons with the military. At present, we seem to be protecting the extreme tastes of a small number of hardcore gun enthusiasts at the price of having our kids live in fear of the next Sandy Hook. While the right to bear arms is important, so is freedom from fear. For a great country should never have to ask its children to cower in darkened classrooms, practicing for the next attack from one of its own.

Mike Martin is the Director of Learning for South Burlington School District and a Senior Associate with the Rowland Foundation.
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