Human Rights

Unarmed Woman Prevents School Shooting With Words, Not Bullets

How one brave woman without a gun saved many lives.

The story is hauntingly familiar. A young white man with untreated mental illness enters a school, armed with an assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition. It’s a news story we come across all too often in America, but this one has a different ending

When 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill entered a Georgia elementary school yesterday, he was prepared to die and take others down with him. He wasn’t prepared, however, for school clerk Antoinette Tuff, who talked him out of the whole thing. Upon seeing the gunman sneak past security, Tuff immediately engaged him in an hour-long conversation that, by its conclusion, ended with discarded weapons, safely evacuated children, and a nonviolent arrest of the would-be shooter.   

Heroic Tuff reasoned with a man in the midst of a mental breakdown, telling him about her own life and struggles and reassuring him that he didn’t have to go through with his violent plans. She told him she loved him and was proud of him after convincing him to drop his weapons, and communicated with the police on his behalf. Hill ended up firing about six shots at policemen, but was ultimately arrested without anyone harmed.

This story and Tuff’s incredible bravery is one more reason why “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” rhetoric is not only inaccurate, but a dangerous argument that does nothing to advocate for children’s safety. Armed school guards never would have had the reason, compassion and sensitivity to protect the school the way Tuff did.

Remember that phrase, “Use your words,” which every child hears the first time he hits his little brother? Tuff’s actions imply that perhaps the NRA and legislators should consider that age-old mantra instead. It’s true that this course of action doesn’t apply to all situations—stricter gun laws and better mental healthcare are a must in this country, too. Ultimately, if we prioritized “a good guy with a gun” as a last resort instead of a first response, there’s no telling how many lives could be saved.

It should also be noted that because of the nonviolent resolution of this almost-catastrophe, Michael Brandon Hill is still alive. He can be questioned and his illness can receive the treatment it requires. In our current trigger-happy crime culture we rarely have the opportunity to understand the motivations of our most violent criminals, and therefore are left clueless as to how to foresee and prevent the next tragedy.

For a story with such a horrifically foreboding beginning, the ending is an inspiring relief. Over 800 elementary school children went home safe to their parents that day. Countless lives were saved, including the life of mentally ill Michael Brandon Hill—who will now rightfully face charges and be afforded his American right of due process.

The dominant notion that blood and death are the only way to solve conflicts isn’t always true. We as a society should value and respect the courageous individuals who are the best of the good guys—the ones who can take on a violent threat without a gun.

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