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Boycotting schools for better gun laws? A great idea that won’t work

Boycotting schools for better gun laws? A great idea that won’t work
[Photo: Flickr user US Department of Education]

The former education secretary for the Obama administration, Arne Duncan, says it’s time for parents to boycott schools until we have stricter gun laws. “What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe?” he said in a tweet. “My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”

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A nationwide boycott for the more than 50 million K-12 students in the United States would, of course, be a logistical nightmare, especially for working parents. While Duncan acknowledged those concerns, he also dismissed them in an interview today with the Atlantic:

I more than recognize how difficult and impractical this is. But the Montgomery bus boycott went on for a year. These were poor people who denied themselves access to public transportation, and they managed to do that for a year and change the world. I would argue that it is also very difficult and impractical to send your kids to school and have them shot and killed.

So, those are very important considerations, and we have some time to think those through—and we’ve had a lot of people saying they would step up and help. But, I think, if this was easy, it would have happened, and it’s going to take something hard. When we were part of the administration, we played by all the rules after Sandy Hook. We did a study, we did a report, we worked with Congress, and guess what we accomplished? Nothing.

Duncan is right. Studies and reports aren’t going to save lives. The government has been shamefully negligent in changing gun laws, and there is no doubt that extreme action needs to be taken.

But there is a big difference between the Montgomery bus boycott and what he is proposing here: 40,000 people boycotted the Montgomery bus system, a far cry from over 50 million kids. As an alternative for boycotters to get to work, leaders organized carpools, while the city’s African-American taxi drivers charged only 10¢ for those participating in the boycott. And of course many just chose to walk. What’s the alternative for parents and kids in a sustained school boycott? Quitting their jobs and home-schooling their kids?

I’d like to think this would work, but the comparison doesn’t seem fair, the practicalities insurmountable, and the aim vague. For instance, what is the gun-law watermark that would be strict enough to declare victory?

The students leading the #NeverAgain movement have made impactful and impressive strides in keeping school-based gun violence in the national conversation in a way that hasn’t happened before. I see the most practical hope in those kids who are turning 18, and in the adults who support them, continuing to force the issue with politicians, businesses, and in the voting booth.

Like most parents, I wish there was a quick and dramatic large-scale fix for school violence. But I don’t know that this is it.

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