The War

All my growing-up years, guns were in movies and (I imagined) in the hands of people less interesting and educated than me.  I had no idea why anyone would want or need a gun.

I moved to the city eleven years ago.  I remember hearing someone got shot in the parking lot of the drugstore where I usually shop, the parking lot right by where I often have dinner with friends.  Most of those shootings were personal, like most shootings in the city are personal.  It’s possible to get in the way, but most of the time, people in the city who shoot at you have a reason.  I find that comforting.

The difference between my city living (moved here by choice) and my students’ city living is that I estimate half of them have lost a friend of family member to gun violence.  Half.  Half of the sixteen-year-olds I teach have gone to funerals where the deceased was shot to death.  I still find that hard to believe.  I haven’t lost anyone.  Except a student.

I have friends who have guns and go hunting.  I understand the desire to participate in the old “Lion King” circle of life, hunting and killing and eating, but I don’t understand why you would actually do that when not killing works just fine.  I asked to hold my friend’s shotgun once.  It was heavy.

Two of my students were shot.  One killed, one paralyzed.  That was maybe four years ago.  Guns were real to me then.  If guns were harder to get, things might be different.

Rumor has it that my students who were absent this week got caught with a gun.  Two of my solid students– one a joker, one a quiet guy.  Smart enough kids, active in sports, rarely in trouble.  They’re in jail.  Maybe they sold drugs, maybe they robbed someone, maybe not.  I don’t know.

I am always so numb with exhaustion by this point in the school year that I feel very little.  After I learned my students were in jail, which I tried to muster up some energy to process, I heard about the Connecticut stuff. How many gun incidents could I get upset about in one day?

I read recently that the less privileged you are, the more likely you are to limit your violence to your own community.  Is lack of power so depressing that people  don’t have the energy to turn their anger outward?  It amazes me that with wealthy suburbs accessible all around, when people in the impoverished parts of the city get angry, they use their guns on each other.  Even when we’ve had riots, poor people started where they were and destroyed that.

Of course, I don’t wish they’d take their guns to my parents’ neighborhood.  But it amazes me that poverty brainwashes people that they turn their anger on themselves, time and again, with guns, with drugs.  Capitalism is good at doing that, I guess, convincing people that if you don’t have money, you are an embarrassment.

What I do wish is that the anger in poor communities could be channeled into demanding jobs and services and better schools and health care and parks and policing and grocery stores with the same sense of entitlement shown by people who grew up with money, who know no one is ever going to call them “entitled.”  “Entitled” is a word for people you look down on.

It makes sense to me that white men are more likely to be alienated.  For many years in our culture, they were barely allowed to have emotions at all.

During the last few years, public schools have cut back on mental health services, and this is an outrageously irresponsible move.  If kids don’t get mental health care at school, small problems easily erupt into bigger ones.  I think anyone who shoots another person is mentally ill, by definition, but that’s just me.

And, yes, guns should be more reasonably regulated: buying and selling records and insurance required, plus federal background checks for everyone, at every point of sale.

Americans love violence, they love shooting each other, they love guns.  Europeans took hundreds of years to lose their lust for killing each other.  They went at it large-scale for generations, until World War II finally kicked them down so hard they quit for a breather.  Although we aren’t close to that point, it isn’t the wild west around here, either.  We have grown a little.

After more gun violence, we go back to our own trenches, to teach how to tend anger.  To keep being polite.  And like people throughout history, with irrational optimism, we pray for peace.

Crosshairs

Of course, nobody told this guy to shoot a Congressional representative.  Still, when I saw Palin’s graphic, I thought of every first-person shooter game with gory blood spurting graphics, and I thought of JFK.  And I know if I found crosshairs drawn over a map of my classroom, I’d consider that a violent threat, because students have actually threatened me.  It’s different to see an image like that when you know the “target” gets threatened on a regular basis.

This is part of the reason people noticed Palin’s imagery.  Then there’s the fact that she makes such a big damn deal of waving her guns around and talking about how awesome it is to shoot them.  Maybe we liberals are oversensitive, or maybe she set herself up.

Threats from students are one of the few infractions I really go to the mat for.  I’ve never been physically attacked by a student, or had my possessions messed with (that I know of).  But several times kids have threatened me.  “She’s going to be sorry.”  “Something’s gonna happen to her.”

I’ve dragged the threateners down to meetings with our disciplinarian.  I explain that some things you can’t joke about.  For example, having a bomb in your luggage at the airport.  Then, “I know you didn’t mean that you were going to do anything, but you can’t say things like that.”  True or not, now the kid has an out to make peace with me, without losing face.  We also talk about how threats mean you will be the first suspect, even if you don’t do anything wrong.  (Palin’s problem.)  Tomorrow I have a flat tire, and I immediately suspect this kid of puncturing it, rather than assuming I drove over a nail.  Wouldn’t that suck?  Kid agrees.  Apologizes to me.

I don’t think any of my students actually followed through on a threat.  I think they lost their tempers and wanted to show off.  I have taken every threat seriously, though.

Once I had  a student yell to another student, “You’re going to get a bullet in you!”  She had been picked at and picked at.  She was fun to tease because she would easily spaz out in a theatrical way.  I didn’t believe that violence was in her character– in fact, I guessed she was too distractable to follow through with any violent feelings.  She was slow to anger and quick to forget.  I told her to go to the bathroom and calm down, and I meant to have a longer talk with her later.  I never got around to it.  Maybe I shouldn’t have trusted my own judgment so much.  I’m still troubled by that incident.

People with mental illness can get violent, and they don’t necessarily need inspiration.  I’m not comfortable knowing I might have even a tiny, backhanded, accidental part in encouraging violence.  Avoiding the appearance of encouraging lunacy should not be a move to avoid responsibility.  It’s part of a mature commitment to clear and responsible speech.