In my 25 years in the classroom, I’ve experienced many tragic events with my students and, as an English teacher, it has often fallen on me to help students begin to find a way to process them, generally by having them write. I was teaching in London during the September 2001 terrorist attacks and in Baltimore during the sniper attacks in the area in 2002. I’m sure I don’t want to know how many school shootings have happened in those 25 years. Luckily, though guns have been brought to schools where I’ve worked and an expelled student was profiled as a potential school shooter, I’ve never experienced one first-hand. The first I remember is the school shooting in Colombine in 1999. I was teaching in Nashville then, and I remember that day less for the events in Colorado and more for a comment a sophomore made when he walked into his 3rd period English. “Can we just have a normal class?” He was clearly already exhausted by discussing the shooting. And so I obliged him. I don’t remember what we did, but I know we didn’t discuss or write about the shooting.
I’m not sure I ever made a conscious decision that such shootings were an inescapable fact of American school life or I just didn’t care to dig in to consider and research the problem, but I don’t remember that shooting or any subsequent ones having much of an impact on me. Until now. The February 14th school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has me rattled. I am trying to find comfort and hope in the responses from students in Florida and elsewhere and trying to control the anxiety I feel at the lack of a reaction from my own students. I’m rattled, and it is this feeling that led me to Loaded by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
Based on my limited background knowledge of Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz, I knew I was likely about to read something that would just confirm my own belief – that the second amendment was written in response to concerns about federal power encroaching on states’ rights. In other words, the fear of a king. I was wrong. She didn’t agree or disagree with me as much as she argued that I was taking up the wrong argument, the wrong dichotomy. What should concern us, according to Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz, is not whether the Founders sought to protect the rights of individuals (a right already protected and a responsibility already mandated by the laws of the states) or of state militias formed to protect the state from federal overreach. Instead, she argues that the Second Amendment was written to protect the militias formed to perpetuate our country’s two original sins – the theft of land from and the murder of the indigenous population as well as slavery. In short, we needed groups of armed men to kill Native people and keep our slaves. The problem is not the so-called “gun culture” or even the popular enemy, the N.R.A.. The problem, she asserts, is the “red thread of blood [which] connects the first white settlement in North America with today and the future” (143). In 208 pages which require 20 pages of footnotes, she makes a very convincing case.
If you read the book expecting proposed solutions, you will be disappointed. She spends some time on Australia’s successes, but this is more a history book than a policy one. The subtitle is A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. But policy, I would argue (and I think I’d have the author’s support here) cannot be made without a proper understanding of an issue’s history, and Ms. Dunbar-Ortiz’s book gives us one clear and concise view of that. I’d like to read more, but as I noted above, I am not very familiar with the literature on this issue. I’ve tried to accept to accept the challenge to read more from the perspective of those with whom I disagree. I learned a lot from Hillbilly Elegy. This didn’t stop me, though, from being concerned about his return to Ohio to lead Our Ohio Renewal. Strangers in Their Own Land is my next book in this project.
What about you? What are you choosing to read because you expect to disagree with it?