Greg Gibson: A Slightly Different Angle.

My son was killed in a school shooting in 1992. Since that time I’ve been on what people often refer to as a “journey.” I’m not a big fan of pop psychology. Dr. Phil and Oprah can keep their “closure,” “healing” and the like, but in this case the “journey” metaphor fits. Every survivor of gun violence will be on a journey for the rest of his or her life. Each survivor’s journey is an individual odyssey. Some end badly, some end well. Some result in surprising discoveries.

The administrators at my son’s school knew the killer had a gun and ammunition, but they were too inept to stop  the shooting. I’m a writer, and I was so angry at their failures that I wrote a book about the murders, and about guns in America. It was intended to reveal the stupidity of those college administrators, and it succeeded in that. But it also made me realize that there was no redemption in revenge. Instead, I eventually made peace with the college, and became more involved in the gun violence prevention movement. I advocated for sensible gun laws, wrote op-eds, and did talking head duty on TV.

People were generally respectful of my experience as a survivor, but I was told repeatedly that my views had little grounding in fact, because I knew nothing about guns or gun culture. So, a few years ago, I got my Class A Large Capacity license in Massachusetts and bought a couple of handguns. I’d hunted as a kid and am a Navy vet of Vietnam vintage, so guns weren’t new to me. What surprised me was the fact that I found shooting therapeutic. I was mastering the instrument of my suffering.

Recently I published a piece in the New York Times about the idea, proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, that arming teachers would reduce school shootings. In this article I proposed to look into the matter of how much training it would take to transform an average gun owner such as myself (or a teacher or a rabbi with my level of skill) into someone capable of reacting instinctively and flawlessly to an active shooter situation. I was, in essence, trying to imagine myself in the library where my son had been killed. How much training would I have needed to save him?

The answer, of course, was “a hell of a lot.” In short order I became convinced that, instead of training teachers and rabbis to shoot like special forces operatives, it would be wiser and more humane if we could train special forces operatives to be teachers and rabbis.

My article was well-received by the people who already agreed with it. But unexpectedly, this writing project carried me to a place in my 26-year survivor’s “journey” that I could never have imagined.

As research for the article, I began taking lessons in defensive handgun use. By the time it was published, I had become engrossed in the training. I saw how complex and physically challenging tactical defensive shooting could be – like learning ballet or gymnastics but with lethal implications. Given my history, I was surprised at myself for being so interested in this intense and specialized activity.

Then the real surprise came along.

I’d been working away with my Ruger LC9s and my Sig Sauer P229, but I was having some difficulty with the way each gun fit the task. The Ruger felt too jumpy and small, and that first pull on the DA/SA Sig was a bitch. To make matters worse, I have small hands and I’m left handed. Sometimes it felt as if the guns were working against me.

Toward the end of the fourth session my instructor, who’d been steadfastly encouraging me through my difficulties, went inside his big black bag and came out with a pistol, a little smaller than my 229. “Try this,” he said. “It’s striker fired. It’s simpler to operate, and it’s ambidextrous. You can work the slide release and safety with either hand, and you can turn the mag release around to work lefty.” He put the gun in my hand and suddenly my hand was happy. I took a few shots – nice trigger action, comfortable to hold and shoot. “Wow. What is this thing?” It was a Sig P320. I took a few more shots, and then I didn’t want to give it back to him. For the rest of that afternoon and all that evening, I kept remembering how right it had felt to hold and shoot that gun.

If you’re reading this essay, you’ve probably had a similar experience. You find a gun that just feels right. But I’m a gun control advocate and a survivor of gun violence. It wasn’t supposed to be happening to me.

The next day I took my Ruger and my 229 down to my local gun shop and swapped them for a Sig Sauer P320C 9 mm. and a couple of boxes of shells. I drove home happy, feeling as if I’d satisfied a deep need or sorted out a troubling situation.

My training has gone smoothly since then. I’ve learned to extract the pistol from its appendix holster, put rounds in the target, clear a jam, and swap out magazines without posing a danger to myself or others. Soon I’ll be moving and shooting. My instructor says I’ll get faster and smoother. He says it’s all about establishing good habits and repeating them until they become muscle memory. I know I’ll never achieve the proficiency of those guys in the You Tube demos, but that’s all right. I’ve already had a remarkable and unexpected turn in my “journey.” I’ve had a romance with a pistol.

Will I continue to advocate for sensible gun laws and better education about gun safety, mental health and situational awareness? You bet! But I’ll be coming in on these issues from a slightly different angle now.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.

Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?

Want To Protect Yourself From A Bear? Betsy DeVos Tells You How.

You knew it was going to happen.  Sooner or later one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees was going to say something so crazy and stupid during a confirmation hearing that the comment would end up becoming the most-used line by every comic and satire show on tv.  And right now that honor belongs to Betsy DeVos, whose loony, right-wing views on just about everything no doubt qualify her to advise the 45th President on the educational needs of America’s 50 million school-age kids.

grizzly             But what I didn’t know about Betsy is that her expertise also evidently extends to wildlife and guns.  Because at some point during her confirmation hearing, she told the Senate committee that using guns to protect teachers and kids in schools should be a local decision, and to prove why this was necessary she mentioned a Wyoming elementary school that had been menaced by a grizzly bear so they probably had a gun. In fact, there is no gun in that school, nor are guns allowed in any Wyoming public schools.

Turns out that the particularly grammar school in question is circled with a big fence because it happens to be located on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, home to more than 700 brown bears. So I’ll give Betsy the benefit of the doubt and simply put her answer down to the possibility that like the guy who nominated her for a Cabinet position, she probably doesn’t know the difference between what’s true and what’s false.

But as soon as she shot her mouth off, the liberal watchdogs in the media took issue with the idea that an effective response to a threatened grizzly attack would be to use a gun.   The Washington Post trotted out a wildlife expert, Tom Smith, who using a bear spray was preferable to using a gun; he told PolitiFact that good bear sprays were available on Amazon for $40 or less.

Since I’m a gun guy, I always find it interesting when someone says there’s a better way to protect yourself against anything and everything than using a gun.  So I went to Amazon and checked out one of their bear sprays called Counter Assault, which claims on its website that its products have been tested by an outfit called the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) at its Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center located right outside Yellowstone National Park.

There’s only one little problem.  The test involves seeing if a real bear can get into a storage barrel or other device used to protect out-of-door food, garbage or some other item that might attract bears.  They aren’t testing sprays.  And if you have to figure out what would happen if you test-sprayed a bear and the test failed, that’s all the proof you need to be considered dumb enough to serve in the Cabinet of the President-elect.

Couple of years ago a guy came into my gun shop, told me he was going to hike in the Rockies, and wanted to buy a small, high-powered handgun to carry in case he was attacked by a bear.  Just at that moment a car drove past the shop, I pointed at it and asked the guy if he could hit that car with a gun.

“Are you crazy?” he said, “I wouldn’t even come close.”

“The speed limit in town is 35 mph,” I answered, “which is about a grizzly’s top speed.”

He didn’t buy the gun and neither should any school system that thinks the kids need to be protected against animal or human threats.  I don’t have any grizzlies where I live but we do have some pretty big black bears.  And the last time one of them came on my property he had a good time gobbling up the half pizza that we had dumped in the trash. Then Smokey went across the road and had another good time eating the bird seed that my neighbor had set out in his yard.  We had a much better time watching that bear than we will have watching Trump take the oath.