In a post-Newtown world, is it appropriate to sell books that celebrate gun ownership in our schools?
The World Encyclopedia of Rifles and Machine Guns has been placed in a number of local staff rooms. In a few cases, the books have proven so popular the distributor returned to schools with extra copies. The $15 book, subtitled An Illustrated Guide to 500 Firearms, is not being sold to students. It's part of a package of books and other products regularly offered to school staff at discount prices.
"Books like this obviously would not make it in the door if they were for student consumption," says Winnipeg School Division communications officer Dale Burgos.
One WSD high school stocks the book but keeps it in a locked room that can only be accessed by staff.
"Adults can buy them and take them home," says Burgos, pointing out the decision to allow the book in that school generated discussion among staff.
"Some said that it was inappropriate," Burgos says. However, "it can very well be purchased by a teacher who teaches history."
The book was delivered to Manitoba schools before Christmas. On Dec. 14, 26 people were massacred at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School. Debates about gun control have raged in the United States and elsewhere since the shootings.
Richard Stanton, regional manager for Reader's World books, says the title is a hit in Saskatchewan. They've sold 600 copies in less than a month.
"We've got quite a large hunting community," says the Saskatoon-based Stanton.
The book is also popular in rural Manitoba, he says.
School administrators make the decision whether or not to allow this book (or any other) into their staff rooms. Local distributor Chris Polle says he deliberately mentions the book title to principals and vice-principals.
"I ask if it's appropriate," he says. "If they don't want it, I don't include it."
The encyclopedia is part of a bundle of other offerings. Included are A Taste of Home cookbook, a couple of computer guides, Bible Basics, a Green Eggs and Ham floor puzzle and calculators. Merchandise is changed every four weeks.
Polle says he has only refused to sell one book in his 15 years with Reader's World. His father, a retired minister, was flipping through a joke book before Polle started delivering it to schools. It contained explicit sexual content.
Polle called head office. "I said, 'Did you guys read this book?' "
He has had other books declined by schools and daycares. One institution refused to stock a children's Bible.
"It's always their choice. If they don't want a book, it's up to them."
Again, the books won't be sold to students. Unless kids are hanging around staff rooms, they'll never see the title. But is encouraging the gun culture ever appropriate in a school setting? Shouldn't we be extra vigilant in the wake of Newtown?
Nelba Marquez-Greene, a former Winnipeg resident whose six-year-old daughter was killed Dec. 14, posted a raw message on Facebook Thursday.
"I am hanging on for my son," she wrote. "I will not lie to you. It is getting harder, not easier as the days go by. On more than one occasion the darkness has enveloped my spirit: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
"I don't know too much of anything, but this I do know: If we don't find a way to bury at least some of our differences, we will, as a nation, continue to bury our children. We need to work together. We need to work together in a manner that protects our rights, our cultures, our liberties, our constitution and our children. It doesn't have to be either or.
"These arguments have been framed as 'us' versus 'them' so we don't listen and learn from one another. Why bother teaching our children to be kind and empathic in elementary school if we reward our leaders and talking heads in media for inciting division among us?"
Reading an illustrated book about machine guns won't turn anyone into a killer. But freeing our schools of anything that could be seen as glorifying weapons is an obvious way to turn words into actions.