Friday, May 16, 2014

Guns, Schools and Soapboxes

I've debated writing about the events of last week ever since they played out, partially right in front of my eyes. I've debated writing about the larger issue of gun violence for years.

Though I generally share my opinions about most topics freely and without hesitation, this is one of the topics that I tend to hold back on, for several reasons.

The main reason I tend to refrain is that this is one of those topics that always starts fights. I have friends, a great many friends, who oppose my viewpoints in just about every way imaginable on this issue. I live in a very pro-gun part of the country, a place where elected officials who voted for magazine restrictions were recalled from office directly as a result of their defiance of the gun industry.

Anytime anyone mentions anything about guns, the soapboxes come out and the yelling starts. It isn't productive, it gets us nowhere, and it seems to only reinforce everyone's belief that their opinions are the only right ones.

Reality tells us that the middle ground is usually the best one, but no one is even willing to take a step towards center. It's all or nothing.

So, I don't talk about it much. I don't have any delusions that I can or will ever change someone else's mind.

I am, however, going to talk about it today because it is something that we just can't keep avoiding. We have to talk about it, and we have to because of what happened here last week.

Last Friday, after I picked up Little Boy from Kindergarten, I was driving across town. As I came up to another school, I realized that something was wrong. Something was very wrong. There were police cars everywhere, ambulances and fire trucks rolling up without sirens on. A group of officers gathered on the steps of the school, guns drawn. They were entering the school just as I passed by.

A newspaper photographer jumped out in the street in front of me, trying to get a shot of the student being brought out in handcuffs.

The school is a K-8 one, the student involved is 13.

It was reported that he had a gun at school by other students. The school resource officer couldn't locate a weapon. Everyone was called, he was taken into custody. The school was placed on lockdown, the students eventually evacuated to a school nearby.

The gun turned out to be an Airsoft gun, one that looked just like an ordinary handgun. It had been painted black and the orange tip that is supposed to indicate it isn't a real gun had been removed.

The actual gun recovered.
Longmont PD.
The gun wasn't a real gun.

Many gun rights advocates jumped on the story (which involves many other issues that I am not getting into here, and will not get into at any point here).

Some said that it wasn't a big deal because it wasn't a real gun.

Some said that it was an overreaction on the part of the other students, the school, the police.

Some said that unnecessary hysteria was created all for nothing.

Some questioned the display of force by law enforcement.


What were they supposed to do?

Other kids saw a gun, a gun that looked like it was a very real, very deadly weapon. Are we supposed to believe that all elementary school children are sophisticated enough with weapons, fake and real, that they can immediately tell the difference between a fake gun and a real gun?

Most adults couldn't tell the difference, particularly if they just caught a glimpse of this gun from a distance. I know that I wouldn't be able to.

Some have said that once the student was removed from the building, the threat was gone. I don't even see how that could be a legitimate argument. He didn't have the gun with him, it was hidden somewhere in the school (officials still have not released the location where it was eventually found). The most immediate user of the weapon was gone, but there was a potential that another child could have found it before an adult did. At that point, no one knew that the gun wasn't real are we really supposed to believe that the rest of the school day should have been allowed to go on like everything was normal?

No. That would have been far more irresponsible than evacuating and searching the school.

We may not like the fact that the school was on lockdown, that the kids were evacuated. We may not like the fact that there was an immediate response to what happened. We may not like the fact that this is exactly what drills are run for. We may not like the fact that kids are told ahead of time what to do if a gunman comes into the building.

We may not like a lot of things, but we live in the post-Columbine world where things like this happen.

We live in Colorado, where schools built after Columbine have specific layouts in case of an armed intruder.

We don't just run drills for fire here, we run drills for tornadoes, we run lockdown drills and we run full blown evacuation drills. We do it not because we like it. We do it because we have to.

We do it because something like what happened Friday absolutely can happen. It did happen.

The fact that the gun ended up being fake is almost completely irrelevant.

The kids who reported it thought it was real. Most adults would have thought the same. Everyone responded exactly the way they were trained to, and no one was injured.

Let's not use this incident to climb up on a soapbox. Let's not pretend that this wasn't a big deal. Let's just be grateful that no one was hurt. Let's be grateful that everything went the way it was intended. Let's use this as an opportunity to discuss the danger of threats with our kids, regardless of the lethality of those threats. Let's make sure that they understand that a fake gun that looks like a real gun will be treated like it is real until proven otherwise.

And maybe, just maybe, let's have the debate about whether fake guns should be manufactured to look like real ones in the first place.


  1. Last line. Yes.

    I'm in awe that anyone would consider the police response an over reaction. Really? Really.

  2. I can't imagine any other way the police or the school could have responded. They did what they were trained to do. It seems unfair to criticize them.

  3. As always, you are spot on with this.


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