Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back to school

Wayne LaPierre owes an apology, or at least an explanation, to Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school employee who successfully talked down a gunman who entered her elementary school with an assault rifle and some 500 rounds of ammunition. Remember it was NRA spokesman LaPierre who responded to the Newtown shooting by advising us that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to rely on a good guy with a gun. That's right, he said that more guns is the ONLY way to stop violence. Antoinette Tuff instead showed that engaging in an hour-long empathetic dialogue with a dangerous gunman might be an equally effective way to stop a bad guy with a gun. In fact, her method could be a more effective way of preventing violence, as no one was harmed in the incident.

Tuff's interview is a textbook explanation of how to calm down a disturbed individual. You do that by listening carefully to what he was saying, and by telling him, as Tuff explains, that she understood what he was feeling. Then she started sharing some of her own stories, and establishing a personal connection with him by noting that her mother's maiden name was the same as his, and that she remembered his previous visit to the school. Here was a person determined, as he said, to end his life and take many people along with him. Tuff assured the gunman that he did not have to die that day, and that he might have something to live for, and he agreed to surrender peacefully.

Few people would deny that guns have their uses, and most people agree that armed security is appropriate in some situations. What we need to be wary of, however, are people who claim that the only way to respond to violence is with more violence. There are lots of other ways to deal with violence, and many effective means of resolving conflict that do not require force. We need to study those methods. Listening to Antoinette Tuff tell how she did it would be a good place to start.


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