September 23, 2013

Gun rights advocates fear textbook will turn their children into gunless pansies


The Second Amendment is perhaps the most contested passage in all of American literature; unsurprisingly a reader’s interpretation will often have more to do with their own political views than it will with the text. Nevertheless, you still have to scratch your head at the latest controversy surrounding the twenty-seven words that make up the amendment.

Gun rights advocates in Texas have launched a full on assault (verbal, thank goodness) on the Denton Independent School District over the district’s decision to teach the textbook U.S. History: Preparing for Advanced Placement Exams. The book’s great crime? Instead of quoting the Bill of Rights, the textbook summarizes, “The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.” This abbreviation has led to many parents and advocates demanding the book be removed from schools.

The desire to control what children read has often lead to interesting, and sometimes ridiculous debates. The Harry Potter books were decried for their depictions of witches and wizards, possibly suggesting a pagan and anti-Christian viewpoint. And, of course, controversy is never far from Huckleberry Finn. And, in a similar vein to the recent outcry in Denton, there was a great debate over how textbooks should cover evolution throughout Texas.

Missing from the gun advocates’ protests is the fact that the textbook in question is merely supplementary material for the district’s official text, American Pageant. That textbook quotes the entire Bill of Rights, including that precious Second Amendment, verbatim. So, the treacherous U.S. History: Preparing for Advanced Placement Exams is perhaps not so harmful after all, so long as students do their assigned reading.

With this in mind, perhaps these gun rights advocates aren’t the close reading champions they appeared to be at first. To reach that next level in critical reading they must learn that evaluating a text can be like firing a gun: context is everything.

Then again maybe we can’t blame them too much. If I owned a gun, I would be worried too after President Obama and Congress passed all those gun control laws.


Sebastian Sarti is a Melville House intern.