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Wednesday, Jan 16 2013 11:00 PM

DAVID GILLESPIE: Two reasons Taft shooting was different from others

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    David Gillespie

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In the Jan. 10 shooting at Taft Union High School, a 16-year-old student allegedly attempted to exact revenge on fellow students who had teased him. Two facts stood out as significant to me in the report I heard the following morning, Jan. 11, while listening to Berkeley-based KPFA-FM on my smartphone in Wooster, Ohio. First, there is a significant technical difference between the incident at Taft High and other recent school shootings.

The Taft High student used a shotgun that most likely had a capacity of only two rounds. He reportedly had many rounds of ammunition stowed in his pockets, but nonetheless had to reload after firing the first two rounds -- one of which, fortunately, missed its intended victim.

The fact that he had access to this type of firearm and not a semi-automatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine, and bullets designed to shatter so as to cause greater injury, is probably the main reason only two of 29 people in the room were hit -- the injury of one, a teacher, being so minor he declined treatment.

If this young man had had access to a more efficient killing machine such as the Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, the Aurora, Colo., theater killings, and the murder of two volunteer firefighters answering an emergency call near Rochester, N.Y., this story might have ended up a much greater tragedy. This one fact, alone, makes a powerful argument for banning the sale and possession of semi-automatic firearms (and their bullets and high-capacity magazines), so that they would become more scarce and less likely to end up in the hands of deranged, disturbed and dangerous individuals.

In conjunction with such a ban, individuals in favor of these restrictions, and with the necessary financial wherewithal, should step forward and donate funds to buy back some of the assault rifles currently in circulation.

The second point about this shooting incident that stands out is directly related to the first. In the time it took for the would-be killer to reload his shotgun, the teacher was quickly hustling students out of the classroom. At the same time, according to news reports, he was also talking to the shooter, trying to convince him to stop.

He succeeded! As a teacher and responsible, caring adult, his appeal got through to the boy, and he ceased his shooting rampage. If the would-be killer had been using a semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine, or if the teacher had pulled out a gun and started firing at the student shooter -- a scenario some suggest is the best solution to gun violence in schools -- there would have been no chance to talk to him after he'd fired only two rounds, alas for two quite different reasons and results.

And speaking of teachers, the curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students preparing to enter a teaching profession does not include learning how to skillfully and efficiently use lethal weapons in a classroom, possibly at a moment's notice. Nor should it ever.

To suggest that a teacher -- whose mission is to stimulate and nurture students so that they grow into civilized, humane and productive members of society -- should teach by example that the answer to violence is more violence, not only flies in the face of educational principles as applied in a civilized and democratic society, but also it is a brutal perversion and betrayal of our deepest obligation as parents and role models to our children.

If we promote the arming of teachers, we might as well not bother with any more efforts to implement the president's well-intentioned but meager "Race to the Top" campaign that has the goal of improving educational outcomes. Why? Because if we think all of the dedicated and caring teachers out there in schools all across the country need to start packing heat, then we obviously have lost faith in our ability as a society to become a better place for our children to grow up in.

David R. Gillespie of Wooster, Ohio, is a retired interactive video distance learning coordinator and career-and-technical instructor for interactive media.

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