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As an activist pointed out on Twitter, legally carrying a gun didn’t save Philando Castile.
Students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—where 17 were recently killed in a mass shooting—spoke with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Many tearfully relayed their experiences of losing loved ones or struggling to endure the trauma of surviving gruesome gun violence. Calls for stricter gun control laws were frequently echoed and most agreed that the only way to stop the violence is to curb access to high-powered weaponry.
Donald Trump, however, responded by pushing a pro-gun agenda and arguing for a 20 percent increase in armed staff at schools. He even went so far as to argue Stoneman Douglas football coach Aaron Feis, who died while shielding students from bullets, would still be alive had he been armed.
“That coach was very brave, saved a lot of lives, I suspect,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Feis. “But if he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run, he would have shot and that would have been the end of it.”
His stance comes as no surprise. The president has been very vocal about his belief that more guns in schools would lead to increased safety. He publicly went on a Twitter rant, writing:
“….immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A ‘gun free’ school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!”
….immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 22, 2018
While there are many flaws with the president’s suggestion that increasing gun ownership among the school staff would somehow reduce gun violence, one Twitter user pointed out the additional risk carrying a weapon would pose to Black people who work at schools.
“I’d remind us all that Philando Castile worked in a school,” education activist Kelly Wickham Hurst wrote. “He had a legally purchased gun. Since he was Black and got profiled and told the officer he HAD a gun he was shot. Can you imagine people working in schools trying to get to work every day while being Black with a gun?”
I'd remind us all that Philando Castile worked in a school. He had a legally purchased gun. Since he was Black and got profiled and told the officer he HAD a gun he was shot.
Can you imagine people working in schools trying to get to work every day while being Black with a gun?
— Kelly Wickham Hurst (@mochamomma) February 21, 2018
Philando Castile, a cafeteria supervisor, had worked for Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota since he was 19 years old. A co-worker said that he had memorized the names of all of the 500 children he served and knew all of their food allergies. He was loved by his community and known for his hard work and dedication to the school. Castile was also a licensed gun owner.
However, on the tragic day of July 6, 2016, the fact that he was employed by a school or legally carrying a gun did not matter. Police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed him in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter during a traffic stop. It took just 40 seconds for the entire encounter that started with “Hello, sir” to end with the officer firing seven shots directly into Castile’s body.
“I didn’t know if he was keeping it [the gun] on him for protection, for, from a, a drug dealer or anything like that or any other people trying to [steal from] him,” police officer Yanez said in reports.
In this context, how can the president call for the increased arming of staff? While Black educators are still struggling to make their way into American classrooms that remain stubbornly white-run, he expects that they must also shoulder the burden of possibly being killed by police for legally carrying a weapon? Per Trump’s logic, Black school teachers, janitors, cafeteria workers, coaches, and other staff members should able to better protect their students if they are armed and a crazed gunman threatens students—but who will protect these same incredible, fearless Black staff from the police?
Which begs the question, in regards to Trump’s plan, how are school staff supposed to care for these weapons—haul them to and from to school every day? Leave them in a glass case to break in case of an emergency? What happens when police show up to arrest a suspected shooter and they find a Black teacher holding a gun?
The risk for legally armed Black people is hard to measure but undoubtedly considerable; estimates have found that unarmed Black men are more than two times more likely to be killed by police compared to their white counterparts. The type of racist, stereotype-based fears expressed by police officer Yanez would only be exacerbated in the event that more Black people carry more firearms.
While “protection” remains the number one reason why people own and carry guns, the truth of the matter is that gun ownership does not make Americans safer. Matter of fact, it has the opposite effect. There is no evidence that those who live in homes with guns are any less likely to be robbed, injured, or killed by criminals—but people with guns in their homes face a greater likelihood of being accidentally shot or dying in a suicide or homicide.
Schools, like homes, will be no safer with more guns. And Black school staff like Philando Castile are no more likely to survive encounters with an armed gunman, even if legally carrying.
The fact that Castile was shot and killed after telling the officer he was carrying a legal gun proves that.
Tiffanie Drayton is a geek culture and lifestyle reporter whose work covers everything from gender and race to anime and Xbox. Her work has appeared in Complex, Salon, Marie Claire, Playboy, and elsewhere.