A lot of folks went to bed nervous on April 16, wondering what schools were going to be doing in light of armed-and-dangerous Florida woman Sol Pais making a “pilgrimage” to the site of the Columbine massacre for the twenty-year memorial. The solution for most Denver-area and foothills schools was to close in advance, and Arapahoe Community College made the same call at about 7 a.m. the morning of April 17, while Pais was still considered at large. We had a gun day.
This is the first gun day I’ve ever experienced. There have been lockdown drills nationwide, mostly for iGeneration-aged students. There have been bomb threats and active-shooter warnings to close down individual schools. There have been, of course, additional massacres, which as a nation we’ve come to accept as just a part of our collective reality. Mostly, our legislative bodies offer thoughts and prayers, and angry people get angrier about gun-control advocates having the audacity to exist in their world, where their rifles are worth more than any human life and they cannot wait to tell you and anyone who will listen. They can’t even wait until the students gunned down in a different school in a different town have even been identified by their newly bereaved parents.
They flock to the Internet to crow about the arsenal they keep in their kitchen because slave-owners from the 1700s thought muskets were the height of technology and the ready access to them needed to be enshrined. Oh, also? They show up en masse to vote for any politician who can say “Second Amendment” with an earnest smile, regardless of whatever else they might stand for. So long as the NRA slaps a bumper sticker on some millionaire’s back, rest assured that empty suit will draw about half the vote. Because this is beyond “the new normal”; this has become a world in which we have gun days.
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Mine was the generation that witnessed the 1999 massacre, watching the panic in a Colorado high school unfold on the televisions bolted into the corners of our algebra and world history classes with our jaws dropped a hundred, a thousand miles away. It’s permanently branded into every millennial mind and has struck fear into every Gen X and Boomer parent. Weren’t we safe? In our high school? It was an unbelievable sight, and probably the last chance anyone had to make a real difference. They didn’t, and now we have gun days.
A friend of mine from across the country in Virginia offered: “Hey, at least they’re being proactive?” So I sat and digested this concept for a little while before realizing that we weren’t being proactive at all. I thought, no, this is reactive as hell. We were looking at closing schools in an entire region for potentially an entire week because half our populace nationwide is addicted to the concept of being able to own an Uzi if they damn well please. So after the first gun day of which I am aware at ACC and certainly the first by which I have been affected, I have to salute the uber-powerful NRA lobby, the remarkably single-minded tenacity of an enormous swath of voters, and the sheer apathy gleaming dully in the beady, atavistic eyes of the people who have allowed gun days to become a reality.
Snow days have eaten up a lot of classroom time this winter, to be sure. and have exasperated some administrators and delighted some faculty and certainly a lot of students, young and old alike. Sometimes nature just hits pause on our day-to-day lives, and we have to stop and look at the awesome force that shuttered our classrooms, shut down our highways and blanketed our lands. Now, guns are as much a force of nature in America as any blizzard or bomb cyclone. You won, guys.