Commentary: Preventing Gun Violence with "Magical Thinking"

Jul 10, 2014

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Earlier this month, Georgia lawmakers passed a sweeping gun bill, known as the "guns everywhere bill" allowing licensed owners to carry firearms in many churches, bars, and government buildings. One of the provisions allows school districts to let teachers carry guns. Commentator Celia Brewer draws on a personal experience when living in New Orleans to express her concern over expanding gun rights.


The views expressed in this commentary are those solely of the author.

"Magical Thinking" 

by Celia Brewer

Years ago, when I lived in New Orleans, near the French Quarter, I taught at a college about 4 miles from my house. Without a car, I often rode the bus or the streetcar, but my primary means of getting around was my new hybrid bicycle. I loved riding my bike over the flat terrain of New Orleans.

But, like most city dwellers, I had to be vigilant of my surroundings, taking stock often of who was around me. One night, biking home from the college, I was especially tired after a difficult day, and that is when I was attacked.

He had passed me earlier on an old bike, going in the opposite direction, but he was dark-skinned and barely visible, a teenager perhaps. I remember noting the red tip of his cigarette, and the next thing I knew I was being thrown to the asphalt. He had jumped off his cheap bike and was grabbing my $400 one. Instinctively I lunged for it—I had worked hard to pay for that bike. He put his hand inside his shirt, as if to remove a gun, and said, “Come any closer, and I’ll blow your brains out.”

I ran to the sidewalk and crouched behind a van, screaming for help. Someone behind me opened a door. “Call the police!” I yelled. “He just attacked me! He stole my new bike!” I pointed to the fast disappearing thug.

The police came and took my statement. I went for x-rays. No broken bones, fortunately. But I never got my bicycle back. And what hurt even more in some ways was people’s reactions to my assault. Did you see a gun? Are you sure he was armed? and That wouldn’t have happened to me. I have a gun. That was the smug response of several men I knew--

--forgetting that criminals have the elements of surprise and distance on their side. Distance for snipers. Surprise in most crimes. I looked at these men who believed they were invincible and said, “So if someone is pointing a gun at you, you’re gonna put out your hand and say, Now hold on. Let me get my gun out, and then we’ll be even? Yeah, that’s really gonna work.”

“Magical thinking” is what my minister called this type of reaction. “People have to have some way of feeling safe,” she said, “and so they imagine themselves in these situations where they have the upper hand, not the criminals.” Amazingly, one of my fellow church members even said, with a slight smirk on her face, “Maybe next time you won’t get such an expensive bike.” Blaming the victim is another form of magical thinking.

Which apparently is the kind of thinking practiced by the Georgia lawmakers when they created the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014. This law, which went into effect July 1, expands where its citizens can legally carry guns and allows school districts, for example, the option of arming teachers and staff.

When I read this story in The Paducah Sun recently, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The idea of deterring gun violence in schools by arming teachers is sad—and absurd. Has no one thought this through? Where would the teachers keep their guns? Under lock and key, presumably. How quickly then could they access their guns if a threat were imminent? How easy would it be for angry students to break into those cabinets? And what does it say to all students about a school district where the teachers are taught to use lethal weapons on school property?

There is not enough time here to address the horrific problems of gun violence in America. Solutions are complex. But one of the answers is definitely NOT teachers with guns. My goodness, have we lost our minds? What’s next? Arming the students too? How early would we start this training? Grade school?


More on the new Georgia Law from Georgia Public Broadcasting 

Celia Brewer is a writer who lives in Mayfield. She has taught at several colleges in the South and in public schools in Kentucky.