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Waking The Sleeping Giant On Gun Control: The PTA

Steve Almond: Parental organizations bring us together as a community. They make us more powerful than we might be alone. In this photo, people attend a National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence just prior to the first anniversary marking the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting at the National Cathedral on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Washington. (AP)
Steve Almond: Parental organizations bring us together as a community. They make us more powerful than we might be alone. In this photo, people attend a National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence just prior to the first anniversary marking the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting at the National Cathedral on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Washington. (AP)
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Last week, my wife and I were shocked to hear about an incident that took place at the Arlington elementary school that our daughter attended last year. During a heated confrontation with the principal, a father displayed his gun permit. Local police later removed a hunting rifle from the father’s possession. He is not allowed on school property, other than to drop off and pick up his son.

I suppose we should feel reassured by this. We don’t.

Instead, like most of you, my wife and I feel a mounting sense of horror and bewilderment at the growing number of school shootings in America. In the 18 months since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 74 additional shootings, or nearly one per week.

Our role at this point should be to champion our own cause, not to debate people who believe that assault weapons keep us all safe.

Over the last four years, school shootings have more than tripled, from eight in 2010 to 28 last year. We’re at 38 for the first half of 2014. The state with the highest number of shootings — 10 — was Georgia, which just happens to have passed a sweeping pro-gun law this year. Imagine that.

It is my own belief that the Second Amendment was never meant to establish the inalienable right to own a gun. Instead, the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the right to bear arms expressly so colonists could serve in a militia, and thereby protect the homeland from the British or other foreign powers.

Over the years, the Gun Lobby — with a cynical assist from conservative judges — has warped that original intent into some kind of carte blanche entitlement, whereby any American who hasn’t been to prison (no matter how angry or unstable) gets to carry around a portable killing machine or two.

As a result, we now have more than 300 million guns in this country and more gun fatalities than any other industrialized nation.

But it’s pointless to argue these facts with gun advocates. And it’s really not necessary. Our role at this point should be to champion our own cause, not to debate people who believe that assault weapons keep us all safe.

Here’s the rub: it has become abundantly clear over the past year and a half that politicians at the state and federal level — many of them financially beholden to the Gun Lobby — are going to do nothing about gun control until we, the people, get off our butts and force them to do something.

Fortunately, as the parents of school kids, we are all part of a natural constituency. We all have a vested interest in stricter gun laws, which make it more difficult for people to obtain weapons and thus lead to fewer shootings. (Just ask the people of Australia.)

Our best course of action is to compel our PTAs and PTOs to take up the cause of gun control.

There are signs that this is already happening.

Last year, the president of the national PTA — Betsy Landers, an Arkansas-born Republican with a closet full of hunting guns — announced that the traditionally nonpartisan group was asking lawmakers to support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and comprehensive background checks.

But why stop there?

Parents who are involved in local PTAs and PTOs should recognize that they represent a kind of sleeping giant when it comes to local, state and even federal gun laws.

To be clear: these groups should continue to focus on improved educational policy and funding for schools. Those are crucial goals. But so is mobilizing a mass movement for gun control.

Our best course of action is to compel our PTAs and PTOs to take up the cause of gun control.

Why not demand that local and state candidates announce their position on gun laws, and withhold support from those who are not prepared to propose (or at least support) serious reforms?

In this culture, the barrier to political action often resides in a feeling of atomization or impotence. But parental organizations bring us together as a community. They make us more powerful than we might be alone.

So the next time you take part in a meeting of your local PTA or PTO, please stand up and raise the issue of what your organization plans to do to fight for sane gun laws. There’s no reason that children (and parents) in the most prosperous nation on earth should live in fear of the next nut with a toxic grievance and easy access to an arsenal.


Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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