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On the gun show controversy

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Dear Editor,

This weekend there is a gun show at the Pueblo Gym. The gym is on a site owned by the Los Alamos Public Schools. This means that very soon, forty vendors will gather for the purchase and sale of guns on our tax-payer supported school property.

A discussion has begun about whether or not it is appropriate to conduct gun sales on school district grounds. I began this conversation a few days ago when I emailed Superintendent Gene Schmidt and the five School Board members asking that LAPS discontinue its support of this gun show, where, by the way, children 12 and under get in free.

Here is some background. Pueblo Gym is on the site of a now-closed middle school. The building is leased to the Lab and to the Los Alamos Schools’ Credit Union; there may be other lessees. This gym is rented on a short-term basis to organizations, in this case the Los Alamos Sportsmen’s Club. One thing is certain; our school district is allowing a gun show on its property. In fact, it has gone beyond “allowing” to outright support for gun sales. This has been made very clear from comments school officials have made to the press and communication I have had with the superintendent and a board member. A few things are still unclear. I was told by the superintendent and another school official that the Los Alamos High School Navy Junior ROTC class is co-sponsoring this event, therefore making the gun sale a school-sponsored activity. However, a representative of the Sportsmen’s Club told a reporter that beginning this year, the NJROTC is no longer affiliated with the gun show.  (I find it interesting that in at least one article, a representative for the gun show refused to be identified.)The District also assures us that Pueblo Gym is not at all a school site, that it is wholly a leased facility. I question this, because for years that gym has been used by classes and school groups. I wonder if it still is; I have not received clarification.

Of course, school officials have attempted to justify their actions. In their response to reporters and in their correspondence to me, they have set forth their arguments in support of gun sales at Pueblo Gym. Keep in mind that none of these get to the real issue: is it both good and wise to allow the sale of guns, many of which are similar to those that have murdered dozens of children in schools around the country. Here is what school officials have to say:

  • Since this is a leased property, district gun policies need not be followed. Officials here quote chapter and verse of law and school policy.
  • The gun show is oh so safe. Guns have an open chamber and will be locked – “usually done with zip ties.”
  • The gun show is insured and this insurance “actually exceeds the requirements of state law.”
  • “It is not the place of the School District to enter the debate on legal gun ownership.”
  • The gun show promotes responsible gun ownership.
  • “It is well-run and seems to benefit the community… It serves a community need.”
  • There is no other place in Los Alamos to hold the gun show.
  • “We don’t discriminate to whom we lease it.”
  • “I don’t buy the argument that all guns are bad.”

Here is my response.

First of all, this is not about whether the gun show is safe. It probably is. But it does not matter how much insurance there is or how many zip ties are used. I do wonder, after reading the long list of safety precautions to be taken this weekend, why, if guns are so safe, so much must be done to protect us from them. But here is the issue: the Los Alamos school district is partnering in, and profiting from, the selling of guns, and it should not be.

It does not matter that this might serve some community members’ interests. If this is not the right thing to do, it does not matter if everyone in Los Alamos wants a gun show. In this country, the majority, if this is one, does not always win; we do what is right, not what is popular. The truth of the matter is, there are many, many of us who are offended by the sale of guns on our school property. The bottom line: guns are being sold on school property, and they should not be.

This is not about looking at lease applications with a blind and impartial eye. Would we indeed rent school space to any group? It is legal to belong to a white-supremacist hate group or to the Socialists Workers’ Party. Would the schools lease to them? Would we allow “Come to Pueblo Gym” signs to be posted all over town for the sale and distribution of alcohol or tobacco? Of course not. The bottom line is that we are supporting the sale of guns on school property, and we should not be.  This is always the issue.

This is not an argument about gun rights. We all know that gun rights have expanded in this country. This is about whether it is both right and wise for the Los Alamos Public Schools to participate in any way in the purchase and sale of guns.

Here are some things that this debate is about.

In the past several years, dozens of children have been killed in schools in this country. One message that we want to send to children and their families is that there is a place in our community that is truly gun free: that is our schools. All schools and all school property. Every day. What kind of mixed message does it send when a nine year old is told over and over again at school about the dangers of guns and what we must do when confronted with gun violence. We practice lock-downs and evacuations, and then this same child gets free admission to a gun show in a school gym.

What does it say about us that the school administration has become more and more cautious about how we deal with our students, and yet we are willing to support the sale of guns on school property. There is an irony in this, irony rife with hypocrisy. Teachers are told that they should never allow a student in their cars – not even a ride home for a next door neighbor or their child’s best friend. Teachers used to be able to easily pick up a school district car in order to take a small group of students to a lecture in Santa Fe. No longer. Teachers are reminded to never engage in any email exchange with students. Teachers are never to touch a student. No longer can we put a hand on a student’s shoulder when helping him or her with schoolwork. We are not to give hugs to a child in distress. And yet, and yet, it is just fine to sell deadly weapons in our school gym. This is what this debate is about. It is not about Los Alamos School Policy 5154 or NMSA 1978 30-7-2.1.

The ethical issue is at the core of this. But there is also an argument to be made that these gun sales are simply neither smart nor wise. Los Alamos, our “city upon a hill” is constantly under scrutiny. There are those in Washington and in the NM legislature who would like to do nothing more than cut lab funding or provide fewer resources to the schools. What fodder this is for them. Are we truly willing to risk school funding in the interest of gun sales? There are districts around the country that have debated this issue. One after one, they have opted to opt out of gun sales. On Wednesday, I spoke to a policeman in Santa Fe and asked him if he has ever heard of a gun sale on school grounds. His jaw dropped, and he replied, “I have never heard of anything like this. Not anywhere.” Well he has now. Superintendent Boyd in Santa Fe notes that “it would be highly unlikely for any type of gun show to be approved on SFPS property.” Perhaps we upon this hill ought to look to our neighbors for wisdom.

Imagine if the worst were to happen and a shooter killed or wounded students in one of our schools. And then, when the report came out – as it surely would - that we support gun shows on school property, the scorn directed upon our community throughout this nation would be boundless. Is this community willing to take such a risk? What happened in Georgia the other day could happen here, but probably with deadlier results. We participate in the selling of guns, and we must stop. This is the issue, not whether “every firearm that is permitted into the gun show this weekend will have three requirements.”

We are trampling on the memory of children killed in Newtown and at Columbine. Supporters of the gun show ought to talk to the parent in Newtown, Connecticut who spoke with me this afternoon. Or they should have listened in on the two phone conversations I had this week with the mother of a boy killed at Columbine.  Listen to what they think about gun sales on school property. This is what this debate is about. It is not about someone’s right to own guns. It is about remembering these children and vowing that our Los Alamos schools, everyone of them, will not only remain gun free, but that the sight and sounds of firearms and money exchanging hands in a school gym will not be what makes this community so special.

I urge you to contact LAPS School Board members or Dr. Eugene Schmidt at e.schmidt@laschools.net.

Nancy Schick

Los Alamos High School teacher, retired

2005 New Mexico Teacher of the Year