One of the most popular tactics against gun control is to invoke the specter of authoritarian regimes, and the dark legacy of communist states. The pattern is predictable: after a mass shooting, concerned citizens suggest, not unreasonably, that perhaps these guns should not be so easily obtained. America is the only first-world nation where mass shootings happen on a regular basis (more than six hundred in 2022!), and other countries tend to see policies that reduce mass shootings, including tough gun laws, as a benefit to society.
No, we are told, with gun control would come the gun registries, the shock troops, disarmament, labor camps, and purges, nothing short of engraved invitations to the Siberian gulags.
Americans have heard this, again and again: any gun law would be a threat to our freedom and a prelude to tyranny, but let us look again at what has happened in our country:
In Colorado’s 2022 election, gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl caused a bit of a stir when she accused Colorado public schools of putting litter boxes in classrooms, for students who identified as animals. The kernel of truth in this otherwise laughable falsehood is that, at least as far back as 2019, Jefferson County has supplied classrooms with buckets and cat litter, in the event of school lockdowns that keep students trapped inside for hours on end, without access to the school’s restrooms.
I remember my first lockdown drill. It was about 20 years ago, visiting a charter school in Boulder County. We sat silently in the locked science lab with the lights off, as the PA system announced ever-higher levels of security in the building. Outside, beneath the cloudy sky, a K-9 patrol inspected the grounds of the soccer field. One had the sense of school not as a place for learning, but as a fortress: a place of locks, and heavy doors, and closed-circuit television.
Back in 2018, the Department of Homeland Security offered grants to teach high-school students training in medical triage and field dressing, should they need to stop a classmate’s blood loss in a mass shooting.
This year, a mother in Jacksonville, Florida started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for barricades in her son’s classroom. Elsewhere in Florida, the parents of all new kindergarten students received a ‘Clear ID’ DNA test kit, to help identify the bodies of missing children, or, presumably, school shooting victims. There was prudence in these DNA test kits, since the weapon of choice in mass shootings, the AR-15 and its close approximations, can decapitate its victims, making dental records worthless.
In the name of the individual’s right to bear arms, our children enter the halls of learning through the arch of a metal detector. Children are drilled in lockdowns, listening for the footsteps of a killer stalking the halls. They are trained to erect barricades their mothers fundraised, trained by government grant in triage and field dressing, and, at least in Jefferson County, trained in the utility of a litter box.
In place of the gun registry, so often invoked as the harbinger of dictatorship, the state of Florida has introduced parents to that great symbol of the future dystopia: the DNA database.
Some have suggested arming teachers with guns, albeit voluntarily and with training, part of a larger argument that more guns in the hands of Americans, not fewer, is the answer to gun violence. This is a Hobson’s choice: bring a gun into the classroom, with all the associated risk, or face the next AR-15-wielding killer unarmed. Teachers who signed up to teach photosynthesis and Rudolfo Anaya are pushed into the prospect of an arms race.
It is a perversion of the American ideal of liberty that, in liberty’s name, the schoolchild and teacher become conscripts, drafted at a tender age into the front lines of a war where every classroom is a potential Alamo. Is this really the best that we can do, a culture dragged into the trenches, where we must all take up arms to go outside, and be on patrol on every visit to school, or Costco, or the nightclub, or the theater, or the church pew?
I should say not. I refuse to accept that our current culture is the final word on how we should live our lives.
Nicholas Bernhard lives in Broomfield.