A closer look: Professors react to national violence

By Evan Bourtis, Staff Writer

Professors who taught classes in the 9:05 a.m. block or the 10:10 a.m. block on March 14 may have noticed an unusual amount of students absent from their class.

These students were in Clearly Auditorium, participating in National School Walkout Day, along with 2,500 other schools and colleges across the nation. The event, which included speeches and a moment of silence, lasted 17 minutes, starting at 10 a.m., in honor of the 17 students who were killed in the Parkland, Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Many students who participated have said that the purpose of the event was to honor the lives lost in the Parkland shooting, while others saw it as a rally to pass laws that reform firearm sales. Two professors who taught classes at the time of the event, John Harman and Patricia Tweet, also had opinions on the purpose of the event.

Harman, a political science professor, didn’t see the National School Walkout as a way to commemorate the lives lost in the Parkland Shooting, but as a way to use a tragedy to promote legislation to make firearms less accessible.

Harman dislikes how many national figures promoted the event, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo, who participated in the protest with students in New York City.

“It’s pretty clear that his [Governor Cuomo’s] sponsorship and the sponsorship of most of the national figures had nothing to do with commemorating the victims,” said Harman. “It was, ‘let’s use this as an occasion to push for increased gun control.’”

However, Tweet, a sociology professor who attended part of the event, had a different view on the walkout. She didn’t see the event as a political agenda promoted by politicians, but as a student-run social movement, meaning a gathering of concerned people to rally for a cause.

“Social movements are things like the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s, occupy Wall Street, and now as we see, the effort to reduce the shooting and public violence in the United States,” said Tweet. “So a walkout like that kind of reminds me of the demonstration of the Civil right movement. And there’s a long history of social movements prior to that as well.”

Even though not all people agree with the message behind the walkout, it’s clear that the walkout has sparked conversation nationally and at Fisher.

The day after the walkout, Harman organized an event during free period to inform faculty and students about what to do in the event of an active shooter. At the event, Harman showed two videos, one of which was focused on how to take down a shooter in a classroom.

The video showed how the tactic of swarming, where students throw objects at the shooter to compromise the shooter’s accuracy and eventually piling up on the shooter. Harman, who has shown similar videos in his classes before, said that more faculty members and students need to be aware about how to defend themselves in the event of a shooter.

The event also made Tweet see the necessity of having a series of faculty lectures aimed at trying to finding a solution to gun violence. “He [Harman] and I are in agreement that we need to have a conference on Fisher on this topic, public violence, and what a multi-pronged approach to solving the problem is,” said Tweet.

Tweet explained that if all faculty members shared their expertise in the form of dialogue rather than debate, they can help to find a way to curb the amount of gun violence. Tweet would like to organize a conference where faculty members from the sociology, political science, psychology, communications, and history department present on their perspectives on gun violence.

“We need to bring everyone to a table for a solution,” said Tweet.

“Social movements are things like the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s, occupy Wall Street, and now as we see, the effort to reduce the shooting and public violence in the United States. So a walkout like that kind of reminds me of the demonstration of the Civil right movement. And there’s a long history of social movements prior to that as well.” – Patricia Tweet, sociology professor

Despite this, some faculty members are in disagreement as to the solution to gun violence. Harman, who is a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a strong supporter of the second amendment, does not believe that legislation restricting gun sales, similar to the Florida gun bill, will significantly reduce the cases of school shootings.

“I don’t know how many more laws are going to curb gun violence. The reason for gun violence is not the guns,” said Harman.

Harman, explained that when he grew up, students were allowed to bring guns to school to go deer hunting afterwards, without worrying about school shootings. However, things have changed since the shooting at Columbine High School, Colorado, where 12 students died. According to an estimate by USA Today, there have been over 200 school shootings since Columbine.

“So what’s changed between now and then. Simply because we had AR (automatic rifles) platforms and that’s what encourages them to do this? No, it’s other kinds of things,” said Harman.

Although Harman doesn’t know exactly why the cases of school shootings has been increasing by so much over the past decade and a half, he believes that the negative messages on social media and cyberbullying has contributed to significantly to people’s motivation to act violently.

However, Tweet had a different perspective on the issue. After the Las Vegas shooting, Tweet created a presentation that speculated why people are motivated to kill masses of people. The presentation analyzed what violent people had in common, including some school shooters, the Pulse Nightclub Shooter, and the Oklahoma City bomber of 1995. Tweet found that most of the attackers were lonely and didn’t belong to any support groups, such as churches or organizations. She explained that the feeling of not belonging to a group, combined with mental issues, can cause people to become violent.

“As a society, we need to have even more attention payed to people who are bullied, who are unhappy, [and] who are possibly struggling with a mental illness,” said Tweet. “We need to provide people with more resources prior to their snapping.”

Tweet used the example of the Las Vegas shooter, who was divorced, had little affiliation to his family, and was not part of any religious organizations.

 The debate about the solution to gun violence extends far beyond Fisher. The signing of the Florida gun bill has sparked a wide range of debates in Congress about restriction on gun purchase. Two aspects of the bill that has attracted attention from Congress was the decision to raise the age of firearms purchase from 18 to 21 and the decision to make a minimum three-day waiting period for gun purchase.

Tweet is in support of these new restrictions, saying that, although preventing shooters from being motivated to act violently is more important in stopping mass shootings, firearm restrictions can also help.

“It’s hard for me to see a value or a need, especially as the high school students are saying, for people younger than 21 being able to buy semi-automatic weapons,” said Tweet.

Tweet would also like to see the government put more resources into counseling. “What I’d like to suggest, as a sociologist, is to back-up a step and say, let’s put more resources into counseling unhappy people, so we don’t have to barricade our classrooms and put metal detectors everywhere and teach people self defense,” said Tweet.  

“From my perspective, what they’re looking at, in terms of a variety of restrictions, is to discourage firearms ownership in large part. Clearly, extending the waiting period, excetera, excetera, is to make it more difficult for people to acquire firearms in general.”
– John Harman, political science professor

Although Harman isn’t completely opposed to the restrictions, he is skeptical about the fact that these laws make firearm ownership more difficult.

“From my perspective, what they’re looking at, in terms of a variety of restrictions, is to discourage firearms ownership in large part,” said Harman. “Clearly, extending the waiting period, excetera, excetera, is to make it more difficult for people to acquire firearms in general.”

One proposed piece of legislation that was not part of the Florida gun bill was a ban on semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15 (ArmaLite Rifle 15). The AR-15 was the weapon used in the Parkland Shooting, Pulse Nightclub and Sandy Hook shootings.   

Harman does not believe that banning the sale of the AR-15 will decrease the instances of school shootings, since people who want to obtain a semi-automatic rifle for acts of violence will do so illegally.

“Who obeys bans? The people who obey laws,” said Harman. “The people who don’t go in and shoot up schools…If there’s more legislation, the people who want to accomplish those purposes [shoot students] are going to find different means.”

One controversial part of the Florida gun bill was the decision to allow teaches with gun permits to carry concealed firearms in the class. Harman is in support of this law, since he believes that having teachers armed is necessary to neutralize the threat of an active shooter.

One controversy after the Parkland shooting is that surveillance footage showed a Brauer County deputy standing outside of the building where students where students were being shot, rather than entering the building. Harman believes a teacher with a firearm would have been much more likely to put himself or herself in danger to save the students.

“I think it’s better to have teachers armed on the scene, who are willing to risk their lives and maybe even give their lives of these students,” said Harman.

However, Tweet is critical about arming teachers, particularly about President Trump’s idea of giving bonuses to teachers who are trained to use firearms. Tweet is trained in Karate and knows how much training it takes to defend against someone who is armed.

“I would have to be trained like a police officer to know how to draw a gun and shoot a shooter effectively…And I don’t see that as useful as a solution as preventing these things from happening in the first place,” said Tweet.

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