I’m writing this on the morning after the Parkland School massacre — the 18th such event in the first month-and-a-half of 2018. That’s about one every three days. As a teacher, I have to face the fact that indeed, it could happen to me.
I teach history at Mercer County College. I love my work there. My students are among the finest young people it has been my privilege to teach in a long career. The thought that they could be subjected to such horror — at any time and with no warning — vividly focused my mind as I watched CNN’s coverage of all those terrified children fleeing from their school in Florida. I wondered helplessly ‘what would I do if, God forbid, it happened to my class — to my school?”
We can never know the answer to questions like that until it happens. I hope I would find the courage to try to defend my students. If so, I would probably die. That’s not too much of a tragedy because I’m an old man who has had a wonderful life. But, even so, Republican politicians would haul out their shop-worn script and offer their ‘thoughts and prayers,’ sanctimonious hypocrites that they are.
I’m writing this now — today — because I want it to be on record well in advance that if ever I should be so unfortunate as to fall victim to this nation’s gun madness I don’t want mealy-mouthed, utterly useless thoughts and prayers. They are nothing but the whitening on the sepulcher of a rotting morality.
I know why the Republican power block refuses to address sensible gun control. They are all either in the direct pay of the National Rifle Association, or terrified of its supposed political influence. Even the two senators from Florida (both Republicans) were so supine and cowardly as to say it is “too soon” to think about gun control. They ALWAYS say that!
Each and every time this happens they say that
How many dead children and teachers will it take to move the calendar forward to ‘not too soon’ — to ‘the time has finally arrived?’ Can the Republicans give us a number? I’d really like to know so that, if it happens to me and my students, perhaps in my final moments I can think “good — we are another few off the count — that much closer to the magic number — we aren’t dying for nothing.” It might be some consolation.
Schools can’t solve the problem. The college where I teach has done what it can. It has installed a simple, but effective method that allows us to lock classroom doors. Security has drawn up response plans. There is an alert system that would send out notices to cell phones, but we cannot turn the college into a fortress. That is impossible.
We cannot set up checkpoints to put every person entering the campus through airport type security. At least I don’t think that’s possible, and I hope we never come to trying it. We are running out of options though, at our end — at the school end.
Some years ago the NRA tried to counter anti-gun publicity by saying, “guns don’t kill people — people kill people.” It wasn’t a response that worked very well because the obvious reply is “right — people WITH GUNS kill people.”
The NRA has always tried to conflate gun control with gun elimination and that is a blatant, cowardly lie. We aren’t talking about handguns and hunting rifles. Sure, you can kill someone with one of those. For that matter you can kill someone with a screwdriver. However, the conversation is not about screwdrivers or hunting rifles. It is about high-powered assault weapons such as the one used in Parkland and in so many other mass killings.
There is simply no good reason why a private citizen needs to own one of these. Period. That a person can be on the terrorist watch list and still legally purchase such a weapon is a clear example of utterly insane gun laws. It is absolutely irresponsible, callous, and cowardly how the pro-gun Republican legislators speak. It makes one hope there really is an after-life in which such politicians will be chained to a post while the numberless ghosts of dead children point bloody fingers at them and ask “why?”
They might do well to reflect that eternity is a very long time.
In a few days the news cycle will move on. Donald Trump’s latest crazy tweet will be in the headlines and Parkland will be just another bad dream. The Republicans with their thoughts and prayers will breathe a sigh of relief, and say “well, we got past another one.”
The dead will still be dead however, and their ghosts will be waiting. It might be that some terrible day my own ghost will join their number. If so, I will have at least left this testimony behind — that I have called out the guilty and named you hypocrites, slime, cowards — complicit in the murder of children. No doubt CNN will dig up this essay and read some of it on the air. That too is some consolation. God knows there is little enough otherwise.
Toby Grace is Out In Jersey magazine’s Editor Emeritus.