Don’t let what you CAN’T do get in the way of what you CAN do. That goes for your children, too.

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A story out of a middle school in Alabama has made the rounds recently. The principal of that school suggested that parents send their kids to school with canned food, which they could hurl at an attacker in self defense.

Predictably, the gun community (particularly certain segments of it) responded with scorn and derision: “Idiotic”. “Stupid.” “Naive.” And, of course, the perennial favorite in the bumper-sticker philosophy department: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

None of that is true. In fact, I think the recommendation to throw canned food at an attacker is actually a pretty good one, given the culture with which we’re dealing. Allow me to explain.

First, we have to be absolutely clear on this: no one is going to give kids guns to protect themselves. It seems silly to have to point that out, but there are some in the shooting world who seem surprised by that revelation. Yeah, I know, when you were in high school you were allowed to have your guns in your locker during hunting season (we were too, though our lockers were too short to fit a rifle or shotgun; most of them were simply stored in the window rifle racks of the pickups in the parking lot. No, really.) None of that changes anything: kids in classrooms aren’t going to have guns. Period.

What about the teachers? Certainly they could, and that would be a damned sight better than hurling objects at an attacker, right? Well, yes — but there’s that old bugaboo called “reality” once again: many states have laws that specifically prohibit that practice, and those that don’t (Oregon is one that doesn’t) prohibit the practice through their teacher contracts (which is what every public school district in Oregon does.) We have a very long way to go to change the culture in the educational industry and we’re not making a lot of headway. For whatever reason, the teaching profession is quite hostile to firearms and will likely remain that way well beyond my time on this earth.

That’s not to say it won’t happen someday, however, and it’s also not to say that we shouldn’t try! We’re working, slowly but surely, to change the attitudes of the general public. The problem, of course, is that the prohibitionists are trying equally hard to demonize firearms and their owners even further (which, sadly, some of “our” side seems to be bent on doing to themselves.) We have a long fight on our hands, and it’s not going to be won anytime soon.

Armed school guards? Some districts have them, but again some districts refuse to consider them. Even so, an armed guard or two may not be in the right place at the right time to prevent the carnage that one motivated nut can cause. Armed guards are certainly part of the solution, but they’re not the total solution.

In the meantime, kids are getting killed. Partly because there’s no one there to protect them, but also because of an educational culture which says “don’t defend yourself”. Children are encouraged to be passive and punished it they meet violence with physical (or sometimes even verbal) resistance. Kids need to be part of their own protection, and that’s where — finally and happily — things are beginning to change.

Many districts and police authorities in this country have moved away from a “duck and cover” sort of response (which is really nothing more than cowering in the corner and hoping the bad guy doesn’t see you.) Today the state-of-the-art in school attack response is some variant of evade-barricade-arm-respond (fight); though the terms are slightly different between agencies and jurisdictions, the concepts are the same.

The idea is to make the victims an active participant in their own rescue. You probably don’t realize how much of a change in attitude this is, but it’s huge. For the first time in a couple, perhaps several, generations of school kids the mantra isn’t “hide and hope”. Now it’s “do something, anything, which gives you an edge.”

Which brings us to the canned food.

A room full of students lobbing heavy angular objects at someone can’t help but have an effect on that person’s ability to harm them. Is it ideal? No. Is it the most efficient response? Probably not. Will it be better than doing nothing? Yes. Is it better than just about all the other options you’ll find in a typical classroom? Yes.

People in the firearms community who are making light of this school’s suggestion are simply ignorant of the dynamics of personal defense. That’s what happens when people get fixated on the tool (the gun) instead of the concepts and goals. The goal is to have as few innocents injured as possible, and the concept is to disrupt the attacker’s ability to present a lethal threat in order to achieve that goal. Yes, it sounds silly and it sounds like a cop-out, but throwing canned food gets those students who can’t be armed with anything better a little closer to that goal than they would be otherwise. It also gets them to consider other things in their environment which might help: the fire extinguisher on the wall, for instance. Creativity is an important part of improvised defense!

The most important thing, to me, is that this is a way to educate our children that they don’t have to sit idly while someone kills them; that they don’t have to rely on others for their own safety and protection; that their lives are worth fighting for.

Aren’t those the reasons we teach people how to use firearms for self defense? Of course they are! We say almost exactly the same things to people who have chosen to empower themselves by carrying a firearm, so why shouldn’t we say that to those who don’t have that option? Are their lives worth less because they don’t have a gun on their hip?

I would hope the answer would be ‘no’, but judging from some of the idiotic remarks made when this story broke I have my doubts.

Canned food is better than nothing, and right now what our schools have is pretty much nothing. Instead of  hurling insults, we should be helping them to understand those things that they CAN do and not let our perceptions of what they CAN’T do interfere with that.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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