A Matter of Time and Bullets

Image by Ivan Aleksic.

The text message arrived at nine in the morning. My daughter’s grade school was in lockdown. As a kindergartener, she had made it nearly two months into her school career before she experienced her first lockdown.

Fortunately for us, the school shooting was not at her school, but at the high school down the street. (A student and a teacher would be murdered that morning before the teenage shooter was shot and killed by police.)

Like all American parents, I had prepared myself as best I could for the likelihood of a mass shooting at my daughter’s school. One thing you have never heard me say is, “It can’t happen here,” because, of course, it can. It can happen everywhere. It is only a matter of time and bullets.

Americans feel a great hopelessness around the subject of school shootings. Normally, we can do something about threats to our health and security. We can get vaccinated, strap on a seat belt or a condom, wear a mask. But with regard to school shootings, there is nothing we can do. Nothing we–as a nation–are willing to do, anyway.

School boards pretend to address the issue by supposedly making schools harder to access. They mandate lockdown drills. They redesign hallways and classrooms (either more hiding places or fewer hiding places, it depends). They put cops in the hallways and arm teachers (I teach convicted felons in a state prison and I am not armed, but your daughter’s first grade teacher may be). Of course, if someone wants to get into a school, he is going to get in. The high school down the street was supposedly school-shooter proof. But all the shooter had to do was shoot out the glass in a steel door and he was inside.

In my daughter’s class, students are taught to lock the door and huddle in a corner. During a parent-teacher conference, I noticed that the wood doors have small glass windows that could be easily broken, thereby allowing access to the inside door knob. I commented on this and the kindergarten teacher looked at me as if to say, Yeah, there’s really nothing you can do if someone wants to get in here.

This is a uniquely American problem, one rooted in our depraved Cult of the Gun, in absurd legislative rules that prevent the passage of common sense gun legislation, and in an insane refusal to put curbs on the ability of corporations and their lobbying groups to spend money in politics. When it comes to money in politics, the U.S. and Finland are the only nations with contribution limits but no spending limits. To tell a candidate how much he or she can spend on a campaign flies against the spirit of unfettered American capitalism.

It is a pipedream to expect that Americans will vote to get money out of politics or place common sense restrictions on gun ownership. It is foolish to expect Americans to renounce en masse the Cult of the Gun. Such steps are deemed unnecessary because of our boundless faith, for Americans worship either God the Creator or The God of Progress; one or the other is bound to come to our aid–eventually. God the Creator loves us and will look after us; all we have to do is mend our wicked ways (ban abortion, keep our white blood pure, etc.,) and the bloodshed will cease. And as for The God of Progress . . . well, someday, perhaps when things get bad enough, when enough students are gunned down, They will step in and halt the slaughter, and Reason will rule the day. Just wait.

But if past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, then it should be clear by now that we will do nothing about our gun problem, no matter how high the bodies pile up. Nothing besides pray and wait.

Really all we can do is hope that the next text message is about the school down the street.