Guns, sex and education: we teach kids about sex. We should teach them about guns too
- THE FIRST THING I NOTICED WAS ITS WEIGHT. IT WASN’T JUST COLD, IT was heavy, like the rock you pick up when you’re six years old, with visions of windowpanes dancing in your head. By itself, it’s just a rock. In your hand, it has power. That’s how the gun felt.
- It was a 9-mm military-issue Browning semi-automatic, I think, obtained from a friend who had joined the army cadets. Because of its weight, I had a hard time levelling it at the car battery we’d put halfway up the slope of the abandoned gravel pit at the back of our rural Ontario farm. This was where my brother and I spent a good part of our summers, with our.22-calibre rifles and.177 pellet guns, keeping the pop-bottle population under control. This gun, though, felt different than the ones we’d been shooting since we were kids. Fascinatingly so.
- Borrowing my stance from every cop show ever made, I lined up my plastic prey and squeezed the trigger five times in quick succession. The first shot hit the battery and the next four thumped into the earth about twenty feet in front of me. A box of fifty rounds later, I was no closer to hitting my target with any regularity and, frankly, my hand was beginning to hurt. I packed the gun away and returned it to my buddy. (He, after exhausting its cachet among our friends, tossed it in a local river.)
- All in all: boring.
- And that may be a hard concept to grasp if, like most North Americans, you were raised on a steady diet of Rambo, The Terminator, and Mad Max: they showed that guns are fun, the implements of adventure. If you’re holding one, people do what you want them to do. All of that’s pretty attractive to young people, for whom power and control often seem in scarce supply. So why would a kid voluntarily give up the chance to play with a handgun?
- Certainly not because of parental warnings. Lock the booze cabinet with double-plated armour and that’s not going to save your Smirnoff. Threaten blindness and the wrath of all saints and that’s not going to stop adolescents from masturbating. And tell children that guns are dangerous and that’s not going to stop them from wanting to use one if it’s accessible – in the gun cabinet, from a store, or in the schoolyard. All you can hope to do is teach them to act responsibly if the occasion arises.
- Which is why guns belong in our schools.
- Any parent knows that the best way to defuse the curiosity of a child is to address it head on, to transform the mysterious into the mundane. If memory serves, there is no place more mundane than school. Adding a firearm component to the current curricula in regions where guns are prevalent would achieve two things: it would satisfy the inherent inquisitiveness that children have about guns; and it would allow educators to monitor the reactions children have to the weapons – something that might have been of inestimable value to the faculty at Columbine High School in Colorado. According to Merideth Wadman of Science.org., guns kill more US children than cancer.
- In Canada, it may be argued that guns aren’t prevalent enough – in homes or on the streets – to warrant a proactive approach to gun education. Tragedies such as the one last year in Taber, Alberta, and the recent spate of youth shootings in Toronto indicate otherwise.
- Put a kid on a firing range under strict controls, oblige him to fire hundreds of rounds at a circular target over lengthy periods of time, and what happens? Dirty Harry becomes a junior biathlete, without the skis. The kids who maintain an interest can be funnelled into gun clubs, where they can work through their attraction under the watchful eyes of trainers adept at spotting potential problems.
- As long as guns have a mystique, they’ll seem powerful. As long as kids feel there’s power in guns, they’ll be tempted to get their hands on them. And sooner or later someone who possesses a gun is going to want to use it. The solution is to address this desire early on and supply children with the rules of conduct. It’s the same principle that lies behind sex education.
- Think about it: sex education is taught so that kids will have a better understanding of how their bodies work, why they feel sexual desires, and how to act (or not) on those desires. Basically, we equip our kids with sexual knowledge so that they’ll have the confidence to act responsibly. The same argument holds true for gun education: that, armed with knowledge and familiarity, kids will be better equipped to think about guns in a responsible manner. (In fact, the classic argument against sex education – that by providing kids with dangerous information they can’t handle, we’re encouraging them to run out and recklessly try it for themselves – is exactly the objection you’re likely to hear raised against gun instruction.)
- We accept the natural sexual curiosity of children and teenagers, and have legislated protection for them in the form of education, rather than pretending that the curiosity doesn’t exist. Children are also curious about guns. We should give them the same protection. We don’t want our kids shooting first and asking questions later.
Word count: 889
Copyright Saturday Night May 20, 2000