During my high school days, students brought guns to school without a second thought. Earlier this week students at my old high school in the Missouri walked out of classrooms in a plea against gun violence. What a difference a generation or two can make.
I’m not here to offer solutions or argue one way or the other. Rather I am painfully wondering what has changed since I last walked the grounds of the campus and why these violent actions are occurring against students.
As students we cobbled together wooden gun racks as part of the required shop class curriculum. Outside in the parking lot hunting rifles hung in the windows of old pick up trucks. Guns were simply a part of the social fabric of our world.
My high school was not in the sticks. My school sat squarely in the middle of a middle class suburb in a middle class city in the middle of the country. Norman Rockwell would have been right at home.
But life and attitudes towards guns were different from today’s world. Walking past a truck with a rifle hanging in the window symbolized deer season. The rifle being used as a weapon against a student never crossed my mind.
The recent deaths of 17 students in Florida reflect something is significantly different in the world today.
The helicopter shot video clip above the school this week showed nearly 700 students standing on the same outdoor rubber track I’d competed in the 440 and 800 in high school. Standing side by side and holding hands, I couldn’t help but feel closer to the event. In an unexpected way, this brought their angst and me closer.
Guns are dangerous – but I knew that walking by an old pickup truck on my way to a morning class. Yes, the AR versions are much more lethal, but which weapon is the real danger – the gun or the mind? Beside the given incredibly high value of life, what is the difference between 17 students shot with an AR and that of 4 with a less rapid-fire model? Both are tragic results but both point to something principally different in today’s world.
My wife learned to shot a pistol at cans in a quarry before she graduated the first grade. And her older brothers, all skilled shooters, drilled into her the responsibility and respect she should always show to a gun. Teaching and passing along the respect for guns in her family was an important rite of passage. To this day she carries this with her.
Which brings me back to my original question of what has changed? Is this a sign of the intoxicating draw and access to high firepower or the declining state of mental health or other another cultural / behavioral change?
I don’t pretend to know the answer. But what I do know is 700 students who share hallways of my former high school are genuinely scared of a monster – one who did not exist in my generation. Let’s find the true monster.