Every time there is a mass shooting, such as at a Parkland, Florida high school recently, people want to do something tangible to prevent similar future tragedies. After the Parkland shooting where a gunman used an semi-automatic rifle to kill 17 people, a member of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), a Canadian outdoor equipment and clothing retailer, organized an online petition to get MEC to drop its supplier Vista Outdoors—a multi-divisional outdoor equipment manufacturer that also makes the type of semi-automatic rifles that the killer used in the Parkland shooting.

Although MEC does not sell guns, it has carried other products made by Vista, such as Bollé goggles and sunglasses and Giro helmets. The petition organizer argued that MEC should stop selling all products manufactured by Vista, to put pressure on the company to stop making guns—so as to end gun violence. She was successful: MEC caved in and announced it will stop using Vista Outdoors as a supplier (although it will continue to sell the existing stock of its products).

While I agree with the goal of ending gun violence, including mass shootings, I argue that boycotting gun manufacturers, or trying to end the manufacture of guns, is the wrong, and ineffective, approach.

First, guns (including semi-automatic rifles) have legitimate uses, such as in the military for national defense and by the police against violent criminals, besides in hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense (the latter three of course don’t require semi-automatic rifles). Because these legitimate uses and the human nature—the volition to choose to do evil—gun (and other weapons) manufacturing can never end.

We can never trust countries such as China, Iran, North Korea or Russia to stop manufacturing weapons, even if their regimes changed (which would not guarantee they could not revert back to totalitarianism again).

Second, the vast majority of gun owners use their weapons for legitimate purposes. Those individuals who use guns to initiate force against, to kill, others, are a miniscule fraction of the population—and would find a way to get hold of weapons, even if boycotts could force legitimate gun manufacturers out of business.

Third, and most important, guns are not the root cause of mass shootings (although guns make mass shootings possible). To prevent mass shootings and other gun violence, we have to understand and act to remove their root cause.

No, the root cause is not mental illness. As Professor Bradley Thompson of Clemson University convincingly argues in his article “Our Killing Schools,” the root cause of mass shootings—which primarily have taken place at schools—are the public schools themselves. Or more specifically, the philosophy of Progressive education that the public schools (and teachers’ colleges) have embraced.

Thompson writes: “Progressive education rejects traditional schooling, which emphasizes learning a body of pre-established information. Progressive education replaces that with a child-centered approach that emphasizes a child’s self-expression and spontaneous impulses. Progressivism holds that children do not learn by thinking but rather by feeling and doing.”

He continues: “Dissuaded from making moral distinctions, … denied logic, knowledge and truth, and driven by unknown fears and anxieties, today’s young people are left with nothing but their untutored “feelings” and “emotions” as their guides through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Thus we should not be surprised when they respond with outbursts of rage and acts of violence when things don’t go their way.”

Having had first-hand observations at public schools (and at teachers’ colleges), I agree with Professor Thompson. It is the Progressive education philosophy prevailing at public schools that is the root cause of the mass shootings.

Organizing and signing online petitions against gun manufacturers may be emotionally gratifying but will not end gun violence. They may have some minimal influence on gun sales—although MEC not selling goggles and helmets is unlikely to make a dent and only inconveniences customers buying outdoor gear, as they need to seek alternative retailers.

If we want to end mass shootings, besides instituting better background checks on gun buyers, we should focus our efforts at changing the education system, starting with privatizing public schools, to stem the destructive impact of Progressive education. That would give all children a chance for a real education—one that emphasizes learning to use reason (versus resorting to emotional outbursts) and obtaining knowledge—the real sources of human flourishing.


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