Bravery of children speaking out against gun violence needs to be supported, celebrated: Joanne Seiff

Rather than normalizing gun violence, adults need to support the enormous bravery of children who enter schools, hoping for a peaceful learning experience, every day and speak out through events like the March for Our Lives, says Winnipeg writer Joanne Seiff.

Kids are saying they don't want dangerous schools and adults need to listen, says Winnipeg writer and mom

Protesters Daisy Hernandez of Virginia, right, and Hunter Nguyen of Maryland hold their hands up as they wait for the beginning of the March for Our Lives rally on March 24 in Washington, D.C. Kids who are speaking out against gun violence need the support of adults, says Winnipeg writer Joanne Seiff. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This week, my six year old twins got their second invitation to a "Dartpocalypse" birthday party — an indoor Nerf battle, with foam dart wars, complete with shields and "blasters."

We didn't know what this was, and got to the first party a little late. My kids saw the flashing lights, the noise, the shooting, and their classmates aiming projectiles at each other, and turned around to leave. Neither of them wanted to be there — and as parents, we were relieved that they didn't see this as entertainment.

They're not the only kids who feel that way right now. Across North America, kids are saying they don't want dangerous schools.

Students across Canada and the U.S. walked out of their classrooms on March 14 to call for tougher gun control laws and to commemorate the lives lost in school shootings.

Then, on March 24, in cities across the U.S. and Canada, thousands of students and supporters organized and participated in the March for Our Lives, to advocate for gun control and speak out against school violence.

These are kids who are proposing logical steps toward a safer environment. They're hopeful that adults will listen as they reject the normalization of gun culture and violent school incidents like the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

School violence not new, but deadlier now

I used to teach high school in the U.S. Twenty some years ago, in inner-city Washington, D.C., I student taught in a place where there was sometimes shooting in the hallways, or kids bringing guns or machetes to school. We had no active-shooter drills. There was a security guard or two, and a metal detector, which often did not work. Doors were kept locked to protect against outside violence to the point of making it dangerous in case of fire.

School violence isn't new stuff, but it's much more lethal now. 

It's a fallacy to think that "before" kids were safe, and now they are not. School is no safer than the rest of your environment. If you live in a dangerous environment — for example, a place with significant amounts of crime or lax gun laws — it's dangerous everywhere.

While the gun-control laws are different in the U.S. and Canada, it can't just be assumed that with strict laws, there won't ever be gun violence here. Washington, D.C., has gun control laws, but it doesn't stop illegal gun use and gun violence in crime-ridden areas.

Around 1,200 Grant Park students walked out of class of the morning of March 14, as one of more than 3,000 student walkouts around the world in response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last month. While the gun-control laws are different in the U.S. and Canada, it can't be assumed that there won't ever be gun violence here, says Joanne Seiff. (Dan LeMoal/Winnipeg School Division)

My kids have lockdown drills at their Winnipeg elementary school — clearly they are active-shooter drills, though they don't tell Grade 1 students that. Meanwhile, there's no guard or metal detector at the door of the elementary school — I can walk in as I please, much the way any shooter would.

Not a game

However, the Dartpocalypse invitations took my sadness about school shootings and concerns even further. After the second invitation, which my kids immediately turned down, we talked about guns. When is it OK to use a gun, I asked them?

  • Hunting: If you shoot your gun once or twice to kill an animal quickly without suffering, so you can feed your family.
  • Law enforcement: Both boys agreed that their uncle, a long-time police officer, needed a gun in case of a bad emergency. 
  • Protection: If your family was in very serious danger during a time of war, you might need a gun.

No one in our family thought firing a gun was just for fun, or something you should do as a game. My husband mentioned that his mother didn't allow gun toys other than small green and orange squirt guns when he was growing up. My parents had similar rules.

I'm not a complete innocent when it comes to weapons. I've shot BB guns as target practice, in a friend's basement. Her father hunted for much of their meat, and everyone agreed practising made hunting safer. As their dinner guest, I ate the meat her father brought home — and I knew that while he'd killed an animal, he'd done it with as much respect and compassion as he could.

I also lived in Israel as a teenager for a study abroad year. Teenagers there enter the army after finishing high school. While in high school at that time, kids had some military training each year, to enable them to learn about the army and its demands. I learned briefly about gun safety, and had a single session at a firing range with an M-16. I learned something terrifying, which I never forgot.

It didn't hurt to fire that gun. There was no recoil that bruised my shoulder like a hunting rifle. It caused me no pain. It was shockingly easy. That single firing range experience shaped me.

Important acts of protest

If firing an assault rifle is easy, it's incredibly hard to speak truth to power. I've been so impressed by, and full of admiration for, the students in both U.S. and here in Winnipeg who chose to walk out of their schools.

These are important acts of protest, solidarity, and memorial for children whose lives who have been lost. Some misguided school administrators choose to punish students for choosing to speak out. By exercising their right to free speech, activism and participation in a democracy, some have faced discipline from their schools — but this is only the start.

Support the enormous bravery of our children who enter schools, hoping for a peaceful learning experience, every day.- Joanne Seiff

Politicians, school administrators, and even community members may act as though maintaining the status quo is the most important thing — more important than the loss of children's lives or our safety from violence.

Luckily, kids aren't so stuck in their ways as to perpetuate these wrongs. Kids know better.

My six-year-olds wanted me to say that shooting at their classmates wasn't OK. They felt that getting used to loud noises and explosions and flashing lights wasn't something they cared to do. You know what? I agreed.

Some may belittle this and suggest that Nerf darts don't hurt. Guess what? Neither does firing an M-16.

Support the enormous bravery of our children who enter schools, hoping for a peaceful learning experience, every day.  Help them speak truth to power when they speak out at walkouts and events like the March for Our Lives.

Skip the violence in favour of celebrating birthdays with some peace, love and cake instead.

Joanne Seiff is a Winnipeg writer, mom and the author of three books.

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Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.