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Teachers with Guns

Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed.

“I’M A TEACHER,” I mumble under my breath. The instructor yells another command, and we collectively pull our triggers, setting off an angry crackle of handgun fire. Twenty-three paper intruders recoil quicker than senses can register. The entire scene has the atmosphere of sport; the targets do not bleed or shoot back. Squinting through the sun’s glare, I look for the impact point, the void that would bleed the life from my hypothetical foe.

“This person is killing your students!” an instructor berates, fuming at our inadequacy.

The humanoid targets are faceless, sexless, standing over six feet tall. An hour before, the instructors informed us that most school shooters are male students. But few students, even high school males, are this tall. On the range this comparison is unspeakable, but I can’t shake the thought: we are being trained for the contingency that we have to kill a student. “Fire!” the instructor yells again. The barrage continues.

Standing on each side are my colleagues in public education. Teachers and administrators all—but this week, we are recruits training to prevent a school shooting. We are learning to use a gun and, if necessary, to kill. This last part is never spoken, betraying our instructors’ fear that educators may not have the meddle to take a life. On this first day of training, feeling utterly out of place, I am apt to agree.

FEW MONTHS EARLIER, my district decided to arm staff members. According to a novel reading of Ohio law advanced by the state’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, in 2013, Ohio school districts have always had the option to arm teachers and do not need to make that choice public. Therefore, it is difficult to know how many districts have in recent years availed themselves of this option. Buckeye Firearms Association, an Ohio Second Amendment lobbying organization and PAC, claims that sixty-three of the state’s eighty-eight districts now have armed staff.

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“Rural spaces,” writes Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, “are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics. The truth, as usual, is more complicated.” With activists, historians, and political scientists as guides, Left Elsewhere explores the radical politics of rural America—its past, its priorities, and its moral commitments—that mainstream progressives overlook. This volume shows how these communities are fighting, and winning, some of the left’s biggest battles. From novel health care initiatives in the face of the opioid crisis to living wages for teachers, these struggles do not fall neatly into the “puny language,” as Rev. William Barber says, of Democrat or Republican. Instead they help us rethink the rural–urban opposition at the heart of U.S. politics. The future of the left, this collection argues, could be found elsewhere. With contributions from William J. Barber II, Lesly-Marie Buer, Elizabeth Catte, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Nancy Isenberg, Elaine C. Kamarck, Michael Kazin, Toussaint Losier, Robin McDowell, Bob Moser, Hugh Ryan, Matt Stoller, Ruy Teixeira, Makani Themba, and Jessica Wilkerson.