In the face of unrelenting terror, teacher unions should force gun reform

April 11, 2023 6:55 pm

Tennessee state Sen. Heidi Campbell, a Democrat from Nashville and the mother of two, addresses a crowd at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America rally March 28, 2023, at the Cordell Hull Legislative Building. (John Partipio for Tennessee Lookout)

As I teach my college-bound seniors “Antigone,” in what will be their final month and a half of school, I am asking them to consider: What laws are worth breaking? What superordinate priorities should people hold above what they’re told to do? For what would you be willing to sacrifice your comfort, your prosperity, your life?

For Antigone, the answer is never in question: She will honor her brother and the gods in spite of the orders given by King Creon to leave his body unburied. She is aware of the consequences from the beginning, but she is unwavering in her commitment to burying her brother and accepting Creon’s death sentence because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether or not it is legal.

I tell my seniors: We all imagine ourselves as Antigone, but we are mostly her cowardly sister. Or we are Creon himself, the lynchpin of our own tragedy. Because Antigone has what most of us do not: courage demonstrated by moral action despite unjust consequences.

How are we not like Antigone? Because we have failed to show courage in an even clearer moral argument, with more at stake and fewer personal consequences. We continue to allow children to be shot in schools. Ironic that we should be such cowards. Antigone showed bravery in burying her brother; we show our cowardice by burying children.

Most of the arguments against gun reform are bad faith. The problem is too big, our rights are too important, you’ll never outlaw all guns. I’m not interested in having these “debates” anymore. They are designed to prolong inaction. I’m interested in outlawing, at a minimum, assault rifles and weapons of war in the hands of civilians. I do not need a lesson in the semantics of assault weapons. Being able to define what is and is not a high-capacity tool of brutally efficient murder is not a prerequisite for action.

Seven candles burn on the altar at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville after the March 27, 2023, shooting at Covenant School, one for each of the shooting victims and one for the shooter. (John Partipilo for Tennessee Lookout)
Seven candles burn on the altar at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville after the March 27, 2023, shooting at Covenant School, one for each of the shooting victims and one for the shooter. (John Partipilo for Tennessee Lookout)

If wild dogs were ripping our children apart in school hallways, we’d not debate which breed of dog is the most vicious.

What I am interested in is doing something, anything, in the face of the nothing that has happened since Columbine. I was a junior in high school. That should’ve been the end. I’m now 40 years old, and the tragedies have become a boring routine. I thought Sandy Hook would end the debate forever. I was naive. I grossly underestimated our tolerance for children’s blood. The events at the Covenant School in Tennessee make me think that tolerance has no limit.

But where there is courage, there is hope, small as it is. As a teacher, I’m tired of waiting my turn. I’m tired of wondering which of my students will graduate alive. I’m tired of wondering if I will go home at night. And if courage is a moral act in the face of unjust consequences, then I propose we act in spite of the consequences.

What we learned during COVID-19 is that the nation needs teachers far more than they care to admit. When education closed, the economy did as well. I would propose that the nation’s teacher unions, primarily the NEA, call a nationwide strike for gun reform. School should not start in the 2023-2024 academic year until meaningful legislation banning assault rifles is passed, even if it’s a simple restoration of the 1994 ban that was allowed to expire in the early 2000s.

As a union, the NEA and other unions must demand safer work conditions for its labor and those its labor serves. If asking for action does not produce results, then we must act to make it so. The National Labor Relations Board describes two types of lawful strikes. Gun violence in schools categorically falls under unfair labor practices.

It’s an intimidating idea. My fellow teachers may be wondering:

But what of the consequences? Won’t teachers come under political fire?

Aren’t we already?

Better political fire than gunfire.

What about right-to-work states? Won’t we be fired?

Power only recognizes power. There is a teacher labor shortage, which means we have power. We are moral agents in control of our own labor, and we should withhold it to force moral change.

Courage is a moral act in the face of unjust consequences. Right-to-work states (such as Kansas) have stripped us of the power of our labor under threat of termination. We should take that power, and our courage, back.

This commentary first appeared in the Kansas Reflector, which through its opnion section works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. If you’d like to submit commentary to the Arkansas Advocate, please see our guidelines here.

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Aaron Schwartz
Aaron Schwartz

Aaron Schwartz is a writer and teacher in the Kansas City area. He has taught high school English in two districts for fourteen years and served as an adjunct English instructor at the college level for four of those years. He was a 2016 Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee. When not writing opinions, he writes short fiction.