Six-and-a-half years ago, a routine patrol in Afghanistan’s Panjwa’i district turned into an ambush.
I can still hear my name, screamed — «Martin! MARTIN!» — as I turned and saw three members of my platoon under attack in the field behind me. We were taking fire from three enemy positions, some as close as 20 yards, the same short distance as a pitcher’s mound to home plate.
I, along with some of my fellow soldiers, returned suppressive fire. Just as the first of our men safely reached us, I was suddenly hit with what felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger swinging a sledgehammer into my leg.
This is what being shot by a high-powered assault rifle feels like.
Assisted by an extremely calm and poised sergeant, I was able to move to cover in a canal as bullets cracked and whizzed by my head and exploded in the dirt around me — another sound that I will never be able to forget. Luckily, a medic was already there to start administering aid to my bleeding wound.
There was only one problem: The medic froze.
This man, who had spent at least the last year of his life training full-time for this exact moment, could not move.
Quickly, other medics came to me and made sure I received proper medical attention. And it’s a good thing they did — the bullet had traveled through my left thigh, shredded my left hip flexor, and moved through my left butt cheek before ultimately stopping halfway in the right one. Big picture: The bullet missed my colon and spine by half an inch and traveled over a foot inside my body. Without the other medics’ care, I may not have survived.
When I heard the news of the Parkland school shooting, I couldn’t help but think of how those students experiences resembled the firefights I had been involved in.
The fear and chaos that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas faced is no different than what my fellow soldiers and I faced in Afghanistan.
It’s a fear that I still remember as though it were yesterday, the same fear that caused that Army medic to freeze. And it’s the same fear and chaos that every teacher and student will face when confronted with an active shooter, so long as these tragedies continue to happen.
After the Parkland shooting, debate flows freely on how to prevent these tragedies, with many legislators proposing a program that would allow teachers to enroll in training to carry a weapon on school grounds.
The theory goes like this: In the event of a school shooting, trained, armed adults on the premises would retaliate and, in theory, neutralize the shooter before damage could be done.
But as someone who has seen my fair share of close-range combat, let me tell you: It doesn’t work like that.
Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life-and-death situations until the moment it happens.
You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. Even an Army medic, a person whose full-time job is to prepare for such a situation, might freeze. And now we’re expecting teachers — after being given the most of basic trainings — to handle that same situation perfectly. (I say “perfectly” because anything less could mean even more tragedy and death.)
It’s not realistic.
This isn’t a movie where the bullets always miss the hero. These teachers aren’t action stars.
These are average people who, more likely than not, have never come close to experiencing anything like the chaos and pressure of trying to protect themselves and others under active gunfire.
Members of the military and police spend hours, days, and weeks at a time training with their weapons. They train on close-quarter tactics with partners, teams, squads, and platoons. They practice methodically, over and over and over, for the length of their entire careers.
We’re talking about individuals who are specifically trained to respond to these situations — and even they sometimes get it wrong.
The margin for error in combat is razor thin. Even with the best of intentions, a teacher with a gun can not only fail to protect their students, but they can create a tragedy of their own.
What if, during the chaos of an active shooter situation, a teacher shoots an innocent student? What if the teacher is shot, which is likely (according to the FBI, police officers who engage an active shooter are wounded or killed in 46.7% of incidents)? What if, on a regular day, a teacher goes to break up a fight in the hallway and the firearm accidentally discharges?
The potential collateral damage isn’t worth it. There are just too many negative outcomes, all of which are far more likely than the slim chance that a civilian is able to stop an active shooter threat.
My point is not to undermine the bravery of our teachers, but to be realistic about what that bravery can do.
Our country has seen example after example of teachers and students shielding others from gunfire.
“Heroic” doesn’t begin to fully explain the bravery of the person behind those actions. But even the most heroic individual, without proper and consistent tactical training, can cause even more catastrophe when armed with such a deadly weapon.
Politicians who are blasé about the complexity and rigorous training required for these types of engagements and who underestimate the physical, physiological and psychological toll a combat environment brings to those involved should be forced to place themselves in these types of simulations.
Then, they might understand that arming just anyone with a gun can be much more dangerous and costly than anticipated.
Ultimately, I’m saddened by the fact that we’ve reached a point where people in this country want teachers to arm themselves like moonlight deputies. Undeniably, gun violence is a complex problem we all want to solve, one for which I don’t have all the answers.
But I’m confident that arming teachers isn’t part of it — now or ever.