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Gun Violence: Almost the Norm for Some

Photo by Cody Williams | CC BY 2.0

Laura Ingraham has returned to Fox News after losing some advertisers on her program following her criticism of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor David Hogg (“Laura Ingraham returns, says boycotters’ efforts are ‘Stalinist,’” Salon, April 10, 2018).

According to the BBC (“Guns in the US: The statistics behind the violence,” January 5, 2016), gun deaths from 1968 through 2011 exceeded the number of all those killed in wars in which the US was involved (1.4 million compared to 1.2 million). In 2013, there were 77,505 nonfatal gun injuries in the US and 33,636 gun deaths.

Each time a school shooting, or other mass shooting takes place in the US, I am immediately transported back to the 2000-2001 school year, a year that would be the last time I worked in a public high school setting.

That year ended with my departure from public schools and a mention in a federal court case connected to an alleged incident. It began with my taking a call from a school counselor in a neighboring school district who wanted to let me know that a student, who the counselor felt had some issues worthy of discussion, would soon be registering at the school where I worked. That in itself was fairly unusual since most transfer students come with their school records and nothing else. What made the issue even more worrisome was that a school administrator had also received a call from the counselor giving that administrator similar information about this particular student.

I put the calls in perspective and pretty much forgot them after signing up the student for courses just before the upcoming academic year began.  And then the trouble started!

One night that winter I received a call from the police department located in the school district where I worked, asking me to come into the station that night (it was already around 10:00 o’clock) to discuss a threat that had been allegedly made by the student in the school cafeteria that day. Because an ice storm was raging outside, I told the police that I would be in first thing in the morning to discuss the issue before the school day began.

Readers will recall that just over one year before, the Columbine High School massacre had taken place with 15 killed and 24 wounded. Schools were in a state of hyper preparedness. Zero tolerance reached insane proportions with some elementary school students being sent home as punishment for bringing things as innocuous as cutlery to school. People were afraid and the expected knee-jerk reactions took place with alarming frequency.

Back at the police station, I was informed that the student who allegedly made the threat was being questioned in an adjoining room and had been accompanied by his parents. When I left the station, I walked across the street to where the school district’s student services department was located and asked that an evaluation be completed with the student in question. That request was rejected by that department’s supervisor as being premature.

The remainder of the school year was marked by a series of bizarre incidents. A parent, along with her daughter, came into my office crying that the student who had made the alleged threat had looked at her daughter the “wrong way” and the mother and daughter were now fearful of the consequences from the “look.” Some teachers who had the student in class claimed all sorts of incidents were taking place, including finding the student in a school stairwell in a fetal position. A group of friends of the student had black trench coats in their lockers, a symbol of a group of students who were allegedly associated with the Colorado school gunmen. But the real shit hit the fan when the student’s English teacher assigned a free writing exercise in class. A few days later the teacher entered my office with the journal writing exercise and she was alarmed about its contents. I called in the school psychologist and social worker and a consensus was reached to forward the student’s writing to the school principal. Once the principal reviewed that writing, she placed the student on a home tutoring program that amounted to his being expelled for a free writing exercise, something that a federal district court judge rejected as inappropriate. Another evaluation was requested and a psychological workup was completed.

But none of this mattered to the judge who censured the school staff that had been involved in working with the student. The student was taken from my caseload and given to another school counselor over the objections of the student’s father.

Fast forward to the present when school shootings have entered our consciousnesses in ways we could not have anticipated before April 1999. That strict gun control legislation was not passed by Congress following the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre leaves me more than speechless! There seems to be no level of atrocity that this nation cannot become accustomed to! And up until I stopped working in community colleges a few years ago, I automatically scanned each classroom, materials and syllabus in hand, as I entered at the beginning of each semester for places to retreat to and potential exits in case of a school shooting. During my last semester teaching at a community college, one of my students was murdered in cold blood by gun violence, along with his best friend, at his front door when he returned home for a visit on a weekend. It all had become just that insane!

 

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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