Schoolhouse or Slaughterhouse?
A matter of weeks after the Valentine’s Day slaughter at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a teenager entered Santa Fe High School in Texas armed with a shotgun and a revolver and murdered 10 people, wounding another 13. It is deeply and darkly ironic that the epidemic of violence afflicting this country has found its way so prominently into schools—the very place where such tragic possibilities should be eradicated. Cultivating a culture of life through a lively education that raises righteous and religious young people is essential in the stand against this disturbing craze of gun violence. Catholics, and Catholic teachers especially, are obliged to assume moral leadership and initiative in society when it comes to confronting the ever-growing threat to life.
A recent Washington Post study shows that more people have died in American schools this year than the number of people killed serving in the American military. According to a CNN study, the Texas massacre is the 22nd school shooting in 2018. As the nation reels yet again with devastation and desperation over what can be done about these school shootings, it must be hoped that it is just a matter of time before people begin to realize that the remedy is to found in the schools themselves. It is in the formation of souls in the security of what is good, true, and beautiful that children will be protected from becoming either unhinged psychopaths or one of their victims. But there is a mountain to climb before schools become life-saving as opposed to death-dealing. In the meantime, how should teachers take arms against this sea of troubles? By bearing arms themselves, as Hamlet wonders?
The innocent blood shed in the current string of mindless school shootings by juvenile lunatics is witness to a dire problem in this country that is ultimately rooted in a problem of family and education. It is not a failure of government, but a failure of culture as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asserted, citing abortion, video games, secularism, and other cultural poisons as the reason for the current state of affairs. More specifically, however, it is a failure of education. Americans are losing their minds as quickly as the American school is being lost, together with the American family.
Education must return to addressing the whole person if it is to form whole and wholesome people. The human aptitude and need for imagination, religion, and knowing things for their own sake is a grounding element in any young person’s maturation. Those things most neglected in schools today, those classical pedagogies and traditional disciplines, are the ones that provide a rational context which makes the world and life meaningful and sacred. But in the prevalent throw-away culture, the disposable aspect of nearly everything only invites a madness disposed even to murder in which human life is itself seen as being disposable. For, in the end, human beings long for the permanent things and for the hope of immortal life; finding inward and fundamental contradictions in a godless society, they respond, when a meaningful life is the seemingly-unreachable desire, with the further contradiction of reveling in death.
Renewing and reinforcing the understanding of the intrinsic value of human life, family, and society should be the mission of any good school. The gun violence to which the United States is sickeningly growing numb is largely a result of young people growing up neglected and un-affirmed in families that suffer from the negative influences of divorce, professional preoccupation, and virtual reality. This disintegrated home life is exacerbated by the attendance at schools focused on relativism, career paths, and a liberal agenda. These are the plagues that make children mad—and some cry for help with a gun.
No amount of legislation will abolish villainy. But it can abolish chivalry. Reliance on government protection and restriction is displacing that highest of human attitudes that clashes with criminals in the name of a God-given responsibility to protect life. Does the presence of modern law enforcement eliminate the ancient prerogative of going about armed, even in the classroom if need be, prepared to engage the enemies of order and sanity should the need arise? Men were not called knights simply because they carried weapons on their bodies, but because they carried a code in their hearts. Christians are still called to heed the chivalric code and, by Church teaching and Catholic education, to defend the lives of the helpless—and sometimes, these days, it might take an opposing firearm to accomplish that.
To a particular type of virtuous person, the Second Amendment bestows the real potential to be a lifesaver. In these dark days, exercising that right may even be considered a responsibility, and by teachers, too, where it is permissible. And Catholics should take the lead. G. K. Chesterton was known to go about with a pistol in his pocket to honor a long-standing Christian principle and a long-lost Christian tradition. And just as that giant of a man would offer his omnibus seat to three ladies, there is no doubt that he would have offered to defend any one lady in a flash should occasion call. Chesterton was aware of the symbolic quality of Christianity involved and invoked in the bearing of arms, and it is something that should be a part of any Christian education. The Christian believes in the sanctity of life simultaneously with the conviction that some things are worth dying for. The sanctity of life also necessitates the protection of life, which is not possible in our schools if teachers and staff are unarmed when the local psychopath comes calling.
To those who recognize and reject the terrorism of a culture of death, the right to bear arms takes on a truly Christian and chivalric significance, combatting a Satanic ideology and those who have fallen prey to it. The noble, old-fashioned zeal to defend the defenseless may ultimately awaken and enliven an ignoble, contemporary society that is dead. As Chesterton wrote in Manalive, “I am going to hold a pistol to the head of the Modern Man. But I shall not use it to kill him—only to bring him to life.”
Catholic social teaching surrounding the necessary and sacred nature of the family, the common good, and the commitments and obligations to neighbors as well as individual rights should influence this debate. Cultivating a culture of life through vibrant families and vibrant classrooms that raise young people in the tradition of virtue is paramount in stopping the school shootings. In the meantime, to borrow an old argument, why should the malevolent be the only ones with guns?
The left is right about one thing: there is no excuse for inaction. But they are wrongheaded in acting towards stricter regulations that will disarm ordinary people while leaving the criminals with the guns. To be a Catholic means to be a peacemaker, but that does not exclude the need to protect the weak and defenseless from the forces of evil. The classroom is becoming more and more of a battle ground in more and more senses. Teachers need to be prepared to do their duty as protectors of souls in whatever way they must.
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