Readin’, wRitin’, and Rifles

More recent proof that schools, guns, and the way we're teaching our kids don't add up

I’m about to reopen the Pandora’s box of opinion column writing:  this “Patch In” is going to be about guns and school.

Readers of my Wilton column, “From the Driver’s Seat,” will remember the firestorm I kicked up when I took on the subject of  I wrote last year. That one got picked up nationally and landed me on something called the “Bang List” of an ultra right-wing pro-gun group. Faithful readers might be saying, “Uh oh, here she goes again.”

What emboldens me enough to delve into the topic again, exactly one year later, are recent news stories about a couple of gun-related events in schools around the country.  One was the terribly tragic tale of an 8th grader in Texas who was killed when he brandished a gun he’d brought to school -- police shot him twice after he reportedly threatened to kill everyone with what turned out to be a pellet gun.

According to published reports, 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was thought of as a good kid, one who’d never gotten into serious trouble before this incident, despite living in a rougher neighborhood not immune to gang issues. Police said that despite their urgent requests for him to put the weapon down, Gonzalez failed to comply and they were forced to shoot him; they also said they acted “appropriately” for the situation.

Questions remained as to where Jaime got the gun and what prompted the actions that many called ‘out of character’ for the boy. What drove him to make that choice to bring a gun to school?

Another story about kids and guns caught my eye in the last week or two. Ten-year-old Nicholas Taylor of Smyrna, Tennessee was punished for mixing school and gun play of a different sort: after he turned his lunchtime slice of pizza into the shape of a gun and pretended to shoot it, the boy was punished for threatening his schoolmates. He was made to eat separately at a ‘silent table’ for several days and had to take gun safety class with the school resource officer.

The key difference in these two events, aside from the sad fact that a child was killed in one? The word pretend. 

The fascination of some individuals in this country with protecting gun rights, mixed with the entertainment media’s glorification of violence comes into sharp contradiction with the extreme politically correct over-reaction of other groups who try to prevent kids from even expressing curiosity about the word ‘gun’.

When I was a younger, first-time new mom, I had planned on being rabid about the way we treated the subject in our home. I vowed to raise our son to think that even saying the word ‘gun’ was bad, and swore we’d never have guns as toys. Heaven-forbid he ever formed a gun with his finger and his thumb, it wasn’t something we’d ever allow him to do twice!

And then I wised up. Correction, I read the book The Trouble with Boys after attending an amazing lecture by the book’s author, reporter Peg Tyre, and then I wised up. Among so many worthy topics on the subject of gender and school, Tyre writes about the kind of play kids (especially boys) use to work out their ideas about social justice, good vs. evil, and right from wrong. And she examines how educators can overreact to kids who talk about it while at school without first determining whether there are more serious issues at hand.

Her writing helped me work out some more nuanced ways about talking about guns with my children, about understanding what pretend gun play was, and about how I could talk to them at different developmental ages about what real guns do when in the hands of the wrong people.

We’ve since had fun playing with water guns and Nerf guns at home, and we have also learned to talk about how toy guns are different from the real thing. We’ve talked about what to do if they ever hear a friend offer to show them a gun and how we feel about the issue. My children know why we’ll never buy a water gun as a gift for a friend -- to us it’s up to their friends’ parents about what gun-like toys are appropriate in their own homes. And my kids know to be gracious if they ever receive one as a gift themselves.

Sadly, there are times when real guns do cross over into the schoolyard, and in extreme cases like Columbine or other events that make the news, our nation’s oppositional approaches and attitudes to guns show just how skewed -- and screwed up -- the situation is.

Rather than more intensive laws to better control access to firearms; rather than better education about handling, care and dangers of firearms; and rather than a more enlightened, educated approach to children and their concepts of real vs. pretend guns, we’re left with sometimes messy, sometimes tragic results.

Seems we might want to revisit the basic A-B-Cs of how kids and guns should or shouldn’t mix and because the equation isn’t adding up now. Instead, we’re hearing more stories of kids sneaking guns into schools -- sometimes with tragic results -- and looking at a failing grade when it comes to common sense.

John Q. Public January 11, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Yeah, tough question. Been through similar experience, and having daughters who don't believe in old gender distinctions raise the issue anew. As a matter of public policy, I think one issue often overlooked is the distinction between life in urban/suburban/rural America. The second amendment was passed when America was mostly rural, and individuals didn't have law enforcement they could rely on to quickly respond to issues. As a geographic reality, parts of Texas, Wyoming, Nevada, other states etc. can't have the cops show up on their doorstep that quickly. That's why people in these areas favor gun rights more than say Mike Bloomberg, who thinks the NYPD can defuse bad situations. But even in NYC, traffic issues enable bad people with guns to hurt those without them. One's opinion on guns will differ depending whether anyone in their family has been victimized by someone else bearing a gun.
Joe Doakes January 11, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Part One . . . First the good news. Guns save lives and protect property. They make it so the really bad among us, and nations too, think long and hard about harming us as individuals and this nations territory and national interests. But let’s focus on guns in a private citizens hands. My old man would not permit to have a toy gun. The reason? We had real ones and he would take me shooting and teach me about how lethal, deadly, and necessary they are. As I write this the threat of a firearm in an occupied home is what keeps most of us safe, even though the perpetrator has no idea behind which door a loaded pistol, rifle, or shotgun may be; even though some in this neighborhood do not want to own one and take responsibility for their own protection. In short, those people benefit from others deciding to own guns. Essentially the potential criminal is about to play lotto, with a 50/50 chance that they might pick a home with an armed citizen. That’s why they work so hard to pick homes with no one in them. Which is what we ant them to do. Because all I care about is my family, and yours too.
Joe Doakes January 11, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Part Two . . . That’s why the Second Amendment is worded the way it is . . . the Founding Fathers did not want to force anyone to do anything they did not want to do, religious objections and the like, so they stated a goal and then set forth a stern and fixed limit as to the power of the government to ban the possession of Arms(Guns) . . . to repeat . . .“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Recently the Supreme Court agreed with this notion, yet it still supported those notions of law that permits the government to take away those Arms if they are possessed by someone who has proven themselves a criminal by the penal law. Those laws are on the books and I’m happy to say ready to be used to do their job in the unfortunate event they are needed.
Joe Doakes January 11, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Part Three . . . A few things I’ve learned over the decades. If your gun is not under your direct control, it must be secured from unauthorized use and access. Unload it and lock ‘er up baby. Don’t shoot what you can’t see. I’ve read dozens of tragic stories of citizens, and police officers too, shooting their own children as well as through walls and hitting some innocent person, remember, a bullet goes where it is aimed not where you want it to go. So get yourself a little target practice, if it’s been some time between you and your little piece of iron. Lastly, and this is vital, suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem. There is nothing on this earth that is so important as to lose your life over other than your Country in a time of war. Girls. There are other fish in the sea. Men. Who needs ‘em! The job. Find another one the boss is a creep any way. There are resources out there to help, but they are not clairvoyant, you’ve got to take that first step! That’s it. As for John Q. Public’s thoughts. Been there done that. Got the T-shirt and one day I’ll tell that story too. (PS. When I say toy guns were not permitted, I mean guns that looked very real, I remember having a cap gun confiscated by my father when I broke the rule . . . to real looking . . . when I was a kid the super soaker was cool as well as the Star Wars blaster. Wish I had that now. In the original packaging. Boy, that would be nice:)
Tom Quatroni January 11, 2012 at 05:42 AM
When seconds count, Police are minutes away. Statistics say Police don't stop crimes, They investigate crimes. With that said. More guns have been purchased in the last 2 years then any 2 years on record. Remember the criminal will always have the weapons. By being armed & trained you even the odds. The best way to deal with kids & guns is to not make them the forbidden fruit. Get NRA's Eddie Eagle program in you school it teaches children what to do if they see a gun. Paraphrasing; Don't touch leave room and get an adult. Very simple.


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