In the pre-Columbine days of the late 1990s, I attended a graduate program in a small town in upstate New York (didn’t finish, but that’s a story for another time). For one class, each of us was assigned to bring in an object that was personally significant; I probably brought a doll since I’d done an internship in the doll collection of a museum and was in my glory. I’d probably remember what I had brought with more certainty if a classmate hadn’t brought a gun to show off.
There were two men in our class, both pretty unpredictable when it came to tempers, but fortunately, we women outnumbered them and so felt safe for the most part (and the two men in the class ahead of us were utter gentlemen). Not that we would have imagined anyone shooting up a classroom – having books thrown at our heads and physical intimidation were more the norm. And I doubt we would have imagined anything happening in a full classroom – we were far more wary of the parking lot or the computer lab in the wee hours.
And then the Unpredictable Mr. Smith decided to bring in his grandfather’s rifle. We had no idea if it was loaded, but we knew that he was pointing it at us. I remember the collective holding of breath and taking my eyes off the gun just long enough to check to see if the exits were accessible (one was, but if 15 people tried to get through it at once?) and consider the potential outcomes of jumping out the window (not good – we were high enough up that we’d probably break something in landing, if we were lucky enough not to hit our heads on the rocks and roll unconscious into one of the cleanest, loveliest lakes in the state). Had he decided to shoot, rather than just let us know that he could if he wanted to, there would have been casualties – “like shooting fish in a barrel” except that the fish were students and the barrel was the classroom. We had to – literally – sit and sweat it out. It was terrorizing and terrifying.
And as for the “good guy with a gun” theory, had someone else been armed, the situation would have escalated, and it would have been really ugly. But again, this was a time when most of us wouldn’t fathom being in mortal danger while attending a class (and I’m of the opinion that we really shouldn’t have to worry about being in mortal danger while going about our daily business). We have no sanctuaries any more, and the gun lobby is okay with that. To millions of people, their right to gun (which isn’t really a right – show me your militia, I’d love to come see a training session. The sheriff’s posse does it, and so can you!) is greater than the right of many millions more to go about their business peacefully.
Sure, guns are part of American culture, but there must be limits. Not everyone is qualified mentally or functionally to have firearms – why is that so hard to accept? On a no-fly list? No gun. History of violence? No gun. Law-abiding, responsible citizen with no history of violence? Here’s your gun – go forth and educate!
The NRA should be glad to know that the student who brought (and pointed) the gun at his classmates faced no consequences other than being asked to not bring firearms to class again. That did nothing to help the rest of us sleep or feel comfortable in the same room as this guy, but unfortunately that’s par for the course for people on the receiving end of threatened and actual violence.