Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who became nationally known for severely limiting the union rights of teachers and other public employees, has indicated support for arming those same school officials who apparently cannot be trusted to collectively bargain.
As Americans search for answers and policy solutions in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Gov. Walker has apparently decided that the problem is not too many guns -- it is that there are not enough.
Giving guns to teachers should be "part of the discussion," he said on December 19. Walker refused to endorse an assault weapons ban or other limits on the types of guns or ammunition that can be sold.
Teachers Need Guns, Not Unions?
Walker's infamous Act 10 legislation drastically curtailed the collective bargaining rights of most public employees in the state, prompting months of historic protests and a recall effort. The governor justified the harsh legislation -- which he never mentioned during the campaign that installed him in office -- largely by demonizing unionized teachers as overpaid and underperforming.
The six teachers killed in the Newtown massacre, all members of an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union chapter, have been widely praised for their heroism, with many shot while trying to shield their students.
"This has kind of pulled the curtain away to show who teachers really are," AFT President Randi Weingarten told In These Times' Mike Elk. "Teachers' instinct is to serve, to protect and to love. And you saw that in full view in Newtown this week."
For Weingarten, the way to prevent additional mass shootings is not through arming teachers. Unions have historically not taken a position on gun issues, but in the wake of the Newtown massacre, AFT is now taking up support for gun control.
"Teachers lost their lives protecting their kids, lunging at a gunman with an assault weapon. We should be getting guns out of society," she said.
Wisconsin Site of Two Mass Shootings in 2012, Walker Given NRA Award
Two of the last six mass shootings in the United States have occurred in Wisconsin.
On August 5, a white supremacist killed six people and wounded four others at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, then killed himself during a shootout with police.
On October 21, a man entered a day spa in Brookfield and murdered three women, one of whom was his wife, and wounded four others before taking his own life. The killer had a domestic violence restraining order against him, and despite Wisconsin law prohibiting domestic abusers from purchasing guns, he avoided a background check by purchasing the gun from a private dealer.
But the state's Republican Attorney General does not think Wisconsin has a gun problem, and Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature have marched lockstep with the gun manufacturer's lobby.
In 2011, Walker signed into law a version of the Florida-style "Stand Your Ground" bill implicated in the Trayvon Martin tragedy as well as a new concealed-carry law that allows the public to carry guns inside the State Capitol, even while restrictive access rules prohibit cameras or signs. Legislators are now allowed to bring guns onto the Assembly and Senate floors.
In April, the National Rifle Association (NRA) gave Walker the Harlon B. Carter Legislative Achievement Award, honoring him for passing the "Stand Your Ground" and concealed carry laws. (The NRA also spent over $815,000 helping Walker win his recall election last June). As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, both laws echo American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) "model" legislation, and ALEC has been one of the key avenues by which the NRA has exerted its influence over state law and policy.
ALEC is also an organization through which corporate interests have pushed anti-union legislation, most recently in Michigan, where legislators copied the ALEC Right to Work Act almost word-for-word.
But with the latest school shooting prompting unions like AFT to put their weight behind gun control, ALEC now is not the only place where union rights and gun issues intersect.
And unions will not be the only ones to note the absurdity of responding to gun violence with more guns, particularly by putting them in the hands of the same teachers who some public officials believe cannot be allowed to collectively bargain.
This article has been updated to reflect the NRA spending $815,000 on independent expenditures.