Gun violence: It can happen anywhere

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Early in my teaching career, I taught high school in Red Bluff, California, a small town in the northern end of the state, filled with ranchers and lumber mill workers. The people there were not unlike those you find in middle America, filled with all the values and patriotism often on display in places like Ohio or Indiana.

Kids there were often raised with guns. They brought them to school, checked them in with the assistant principal, and then picked them up to bring to my class for their demonstration speeches. They knew how to handle a gun, take them apart, clean them, and put them back together again. In October, they were even reminded to leave their hunting rifles in their trucks when they came to school late after hunting deer in the morning.

These are the kinds of people who learn early what a gun is really meant for, bring honor to the Second Amendment, and were the first to express their outrage over the misuse of guns. The problem was, any teen in that town could get their hands on a gun within an hour if they wanted and if that teen was mentally unstable, it could be disastrous. I know because I was once almost the victim.

The student entered my classroom after school had let out for the day and just as I was getting ready to head home for my afternoon run. I asked him where he had been lately since he had stopped coming to class. He was a sophomore I knew well because I had him the year before. As a freshman, he was quiet, polite, and struggled to maintain a “C” grade. He was the kind of kid who already decided his life was going to be spent working at one of the lumber mills.

However, on this day, he was a much different person. He had long since shut down in class, arriving late, placing his head on his desk, and not participating at any level. He was brooding, looked angry, and I had suspected he was on steroids based on how fast he was bulking up. What I did not know was what a living hell his life was outside of school.

So on this afternoon, he enters my room and starts pacing about, much like a caged lion in a zoo. He was agitated and kept tugging his jacket down past his waist line. I knew he was hiding something and since it was on the back of him, I suspected he might have a handgun.

The campus was pretty much empty. There was no one in the office to call and this was long before cell phones. I tried asking a few questions in a calm manner and got nowhere.

After several minutes of this, he begins to speak. He tells me he can no longer go to my class because he cannot stand me. He tells me when he looks at me, I remind him of his step father so he tries to put his head down on his desk, only my voice reminds me of him. Next, he tells me he can’t stand his step father and wants to kill him. He explains to me in minor detail how the man has abused his mother and him for years.

Now he is sobbing, but he refuses to hear me explain how I can help him and his family if he lets me make a few calls right away. He won’t have any of it. He’s back to pacing and rubbing the back of his head with one hand while holding down his jacket with the other. He is telling me how much he hates his life and how it is all the fault of his stepfather and how he can’t stand me for reminding him of him.

Two hours later, Travis has calmed down.  He is expressing how sorry he is for keeping me in the class and wants me to know he really isn’t mad at me. He never showed me the gun I was sure he was carrying, but was letting me know he knew he was holding me against my will.

I ask if I could drive him somewhere to get some help and told him I was still worried about him.

He assures me he is fine, but I know he isn’t, but I also know his six inches in height and 100 extra pounds of muscle are nothing to argue with. He tells me he is sorry and promises to be back in class tomorrow.

I go home, say nothing about what happened to my wife. I’ll call my principal, go check in with the school psychologist when I get to school the next day, and just be thankful he didn’t snap and kill me.

By the time I get to school the next morning, the school psychologist is waiting out front for me and informs me the young man shot himself in the stomach after he left my room. He used his stepfather’s gun and miraculously survived the self-inflicted wound. It was confirmed he was carrying the gun when he was alone with me.

This 16-year-old kid was on no one’s radar. He had been sexually abused by his stepfather for years and was made to say nothing because he was told his mother would be killed if he ever told anyone. Mom was beaten regularly as well and still, no one knew about any of this because like many others, the sick bastard went to great lengths to cover up his depravity and used his age and power to keep others quiet.

The student was using steroids because he made the decision he was going to end the crap he and his mother were living one way or another. He was determined to be the one to impose his physical will on the man who had hurt him and his mom for far too long. Instead, he tried to end his life.

I get the fears good honest gun owners have about a government that limits access to guns or places greater restrictions on the Second Amendment. However, their fears, I believe, are secondary to the fears citizens have of becoming a victim to what can be avoided. We do not need to send our children to school and worry whether or not they will come home that day or be in a local morgue. We want to be able to attend public events knowing we are safe from the type of violence that plagues so many today.

We all have a right to the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is not found in a gun. It comes from a feeling of contentment, knowing your needs are being met by a society that cares for the greater good of all over that of the individual.

Gun advocates hate hearing about how Australia has succeeded where we have failed miserably. They have had one mass shooting. As a result of it, their government listened to the demands of people who insisted such a horrific event never happens again, and none has.

Meanwhile, Columbine was not enough. Nor was Aurora or Newtown or any of the countless other mass shootings we have experienced. Las Vegas will not change anything until we finally realize it is better to do something proactively, even if it means giving up something some love, than it is to roll the dice and see if you or a loved one, friend, colleague or neighbor becomes a victim.

The time is now to implement much stricter gun ownership laws as well as laws that allow the modification of weapons and limits the type of ammunition made available for sale just so guns can be more dangerous.

If our elected leaders will not do this, then it becomes vital for all of us to hold them accountable and replace them with leaders of sound mind and logic who will choose the health and well-being of the nation as a whole over the big money of the gun lobby.

Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of Las Vegas shooting