RoboTeacher versus Teachinator.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. The state of South Dakota has voted to allow teachers to be armed in school.

Generally, I go with the flow on this issue. And the flow, this side of the pond, is definitely in favour of more laws and fewer guns rather than the reverse. It just isn’t an issue in most of Europe; you’d be hard pushed to find many people who were against the kind of gun control that’s causing such anguished debate in the US.

Of course, over here we just don’t understand it. Forget the stats (manipulate them how you will, they still show that where there’s strict, well-enforced gun control, gun crime is reduced); it’s all about the Constitution and freedom and what it means to be an American. My understanding is that this means it’s about the right to bear arms against the state, if need be – a laudable aim in its time and place, where individual liberties have been crushed for so long by an oppressive government thousands of miles away that the great new nation being born demands, rightly, that nothing like this be allowed to happen again.

But times change. Nations change. Laws change – that is, after all, what amendment means. A representative democracy must be allowed to change its laws, if that is the clearly expressed will of its people, no matter how embedded those laws seem in national identity.

This is all by the by, of course. What’s interesting is practicalities and how part of me thinks even if this arming teachers thing stinks to high heaven, there may be merit in looking seriously at measures that smell.

Because in practical terms, there’s a problem either way. If the administration does go down the route of strict gun control, then it’s going to take a long time for the European model to take effect, where few people have guns, and those that have them legally have usually been checked out in some way before they’ve got hold of them. What will happen when the laws have been passed? Will existing guns and their owners be grandfathered? If so, you’ve got a while to wait before things really start to change. If not, it’s pretty obvious that a large proportion of those guns will fall into criminal hands (or remain in hands that are now, by virtue of the new laws, criminal), and not be taken out of the system. These guns will still be available, for years if not decades, and while we wait for gun control to take effect there will be more Newtowns and more Columbines.

Now I don’t know if arming teachers is the way to go. I’ve seen good arguments that suggest it wouldn’t work in practice anyway. But I’m convinced that enacting strict gun control laws and just waiting for them to take effect isn’t going to work either, and in the meantime, it may be necessary to look at measures that seem, at first blush, the antithesis of everything the gun control lobby is fighting for. Measures that smell.

There’s a political angle, too. There’s no point in just shouting at the NRA and hoping they’ll go away. The solution, if there is a solution, will inevitably involve getting moderate gun-fans on board the gun control train. So an administration that permitted a sensible short-term response to “soft-target” gun crime whilst working on tighter controls in the longer term would have an articulate response to those who oppose gun control on practical grounds. These people would be more willing to listen to the arguments for control, and this would isolate those who oppose it on ideological grounds – the people who will never be convinced anyway.

As it happens, the Roboteacher law probably isn’t that sensible short-term response: it stinks, and it has too many practical flaws for most to be able to get past the smell. But if the long-term goal is an odourless America with fewer guns in it, the route there is going to run through some seriously smelly places.


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