GUNS Part II: For My Students & City, The Case for a Life Unarmed

Gun violence is rocking our city. But at Oakland Voices, not everyone agrees on whether or not owning them creates or feeds a culture of violence, or if it’s just smart self-defense. Two of our correspondents have very different perspectives on the need for guns in our homes and society. Here, one has his say. Click here for Part I by Michael Holland.

By Debora Gordon

I have never liked guns, what they are, what they do. When I was still in high school, I read Breakfast of Champions, in which author Kurt Vonnegut wrote of guns, “This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings.” Now, you can quibble with the details, but the intended end result of a bullet leaving a gun is often putting a hole in a human being.  Violence.  Whether in offense or defense.

I’m so tired – weary to the bone and to the soul – of gun violence, particularly in Oakland. As a long-term teacher in the Oakland public schools, I can say there have been no school years since I started teaching in OUSD in 1991 in which there have not been myriad shootings. Many of them have resulted in death, often exceeding or coming close to a hundred each year, in addition to the non-fatal shootings.

There have been no school years during my tenure in which some school age and even pre-school age students are not killed or severely wounded. 10-year old Chris Rodriguez was shot in the back while taking a piano lesson in a so-called “good neighborhood” in the middle of the afternoon.  Luis Hernandez, 11, was sleeping in his bed when his house was riddled was gun shots. 16 bullet holes were found in the walls. Many former students, in their later teens or 20’s, sometimes even 30’s or older, die by the score. Each year. Nearly all were killed by guns.

I have taught middle school, high school and adult school here in Oakland, and almost all of my students have told me that their lives have been touched and often severely disrupted by gun violence. When I hear or read about another Oakland shooting, I always am so afraid that one of my former or current students was the victim or the perpetrator, and sometimes I have discovered this is true. A student emailed me one day to say she would not be in school for several weeks because she had inadvertently witnessed a homicide in progress and was now afraid to leave her home because she did not know if the perpetrator had seen her and she feared being shot.

Another student lost her 19-year old sister who was standing outside her East Oakland home one warm September evening when she was caught in a drive-by shooting, likely targeting her boyfriend who was there with her.  And another boy – a 17-year old junior – told me he carried a gun for protection.  When I told him that most or all of those who died as a result of gun violence in Oakland probably also carried guns, he had no answer, but just told me he was “real careful.”

What is really tragic is illustrated by the comment of a 9th grade student I had a few years ago, who was literally astonished to learn that there are some towns where there are no homicides or shootings for years at a time.  She said, “Where? I want to move there!”  She cannot imagine a world without violence, or without guns.

One of my former students is serving a 25-year sentence for shooting and blinding a 16-year old girl.  And while it may sound ridiculous to say this, he was actually a nice kid and a good student. What happened?   Well, at least one thing that happened was that a gun came into his hands, destroying his life and hers.

I don’t accept the premises of most pro-gun arguments. The Founding Fathers wrote in the Second Amendment about a “well-regulated militia,” and neither the “regulated” part nor the “militia” part is what we have here today.

I do not believe that most people who claim to have guns for defense of their homes are truly prepared to use them in the event of a break-in or other attack.  According to the Journal of Trauma, a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting, than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.

The “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” adage is a weak one. Without guns, very few people would be able to shoot and kill others. Some argue that technology is neutral, but I would argue that technology is designed with an end in mind. And the gun is designed to harm.

The people I most respect are those who do not solve their problems with guns firearms.  Burmese politician and peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi recently told a San Francisco audience, “We must have our eyes focused on the future even as we deal with difficulties of the present.” Guns only perpetuate the problems of the present. They do not solve any of the problems for which people often say they need guns.

I have asked students, year by year, “Is it possible to lead a non-violent life?”  And it is the rare student who says “yes.” The rest believe that because there are so many guns, they too must have guns.

As a teacher, I want to be a role model for my students.  I choose to live a non-violent life, even in the midst of violence around me. I realize that many will dismiss my beliefs as naïve or unrealistic, but I believe the only way towards a more peaceful world is to make a commitment to live a more peaceful life.  Henry David Thoreau, one of the great non-violence advocates said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” The life I imagine is one without guns. I am unarmed, except for my wits.

Click here to read Michael Holland’s case for staying strapped.

Author Profile

Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist. She has been living in Oakland since 1991, moving here to become a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. In all of these roles, Debora is interested in developing a life of the mind. “As a mere human living in these simultaneously thrilling and troubled times,” Debora says, “I try to tread lightly, live thoughtfully, teach peace, and not take myself too seriously.”

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