It Was Just a Gun

black ribbon

Written after the carnage at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris.  Kept this to myself until now.  I can remain silent no more, and neither should you, my friends and readers.  Contact your elected representatives and let them know that enough is enough.

It’s just a gun that I keep in a drawer
under a pile of sweaters
or in a box on a closet shelf
next to some old love letters

It’s just a gun that I keep in my purse
or my pocket with my keys
or stuffed in the bottom of my lunch bag
next to the ham and cheese

It’s just a gun that I’ll never use
unless someone starts attacking
but I feel a lot safer walking down the street
since no one knows I’m packing

It’s just a gun that I might pull out
someday if the bullets start flying
and maybe I’ll be able to shoot the guy
so it’s him, not me, who’s dying

It was just a gun that my grandkids found
in its hiding place under my bed
now I’m laying roses at the little one’s grave
I still can’t believe he’s dead

It was just a gun that somehow went off
while I was cleaning it one day
though I didn’t intend to kill myself
in my coffin now I lay

It was just a gun that I kept for defense
’tis my Second Amendment right
I never imagined I’d pull it out
in an angry pique one night

It was just a gun that I bought in a store
by the fishing poles and such
I just wanted to protect myself,
didn’t think about it much

It was just a gun, it was no big deal
til I pointed it one day
it’s only use, I realize now
is to take a life away

It was just a gun, he was only a man
a husband, father, brother
it only served one function:
to end the life of another

It was just a gun, she was only a kid
who lost her mom or dad
though the years go by, she can’t forget
and can’t stop feeling sad

It was just a gun that we kept in case
now the photos on the wall
and our memories are all that remain
of the loved ones we recall

It was just a gun that he used to kill
in a workplace, school or mall
now the loss of so many innocent lives
affects us, one and all

It was just a gun, he was exercising
his constitutional right
guns are here to stay says the NRA
or in Congress we will fight

It was just a gun, an inanimate object
after all, only people can kill
so dig those graves and carve those stones
while our cold dead bodies lie still

It was just a gun and we all have one
when they shoot at us we’ll shoot back
we’ll attend lots of funerals and buy lots of flowers
and our clothes will all be black

It was just a gun and we’ll kill someone
unless they kill us first
let the bullets fly, let the people die
let the world think we are cursed

It was just a gun so we all feel safe
with the power right in your hand
such a mighty thrill when “thou shalt not kill”
is forgotten throughout the land

It was just a gun, now it’s just a candle
that I light to his memory
and though time goes by, I can’t help but cry
o’er the day he was taken from me

It was just a gun that he bought in a store
Then, over the years, he bought several more
And no one checked on his mental condition
As he stocked up on belts full of ammunition.
It was just a gun that he carried one day
To floor 32 of Mandalay Bay
Then, over and over, through the hotel window
He squeezed the trigger and killed those below.

It was just a music festival
It was just a weekend trip
It was just a chance to party
Outside on the Vegas strip
Who thought we’d be running and hiding?
As the deadly bullets flew
Who thought we’d be bleeding and dying?
In an instant, our lives were through

‘Midst the “pop pop pop” and the chaos
Our dear ones were ripped away
As the families grieve what they lost
Let’s not waste another day
So let’s shout it out, all the nation
To the House and the Senate, too
Demand gun control legislation
And repeal of Amendment #2.

Remember Sandy Hook – San Bernardino – Bataclan – Pulse Orlando – Las Vegas

Repeal the Second Amendment Now!


Of Fire Drills and Lockdowns

Back when I was in elementary school, about a million years ago, I thought that fire drills were pretty cool.  Not only did they get us out of doing our work for a few minutes, but there was the whole process of the thing.  They were exciting!

I think it was the element of surprise that really got me.  One minute I’d be hunched over my purple math ditto, working through the steps of a long division problem, when suddenly I’d bolt upright upon hearing that jarring Clang! Clang! Clang!

“Alright, everyone grab your coat and line up at the front of the room!” the teacher would announce.  There’d be a mad scramble to tear parkas and hats off hooks.

We were really good at lining up.  After all, we had to do it every day to go to lunch and then again to be dismissed to the school buses.  Lining up was always by size place, with myself and a couple of other shorties leading the way while the two guys who had an early growth spurt and had already passed the six foot mark bringing up the rear.

Lines of students of all ages, from the tiny kindergarteners to the big sixth graders, would stream out of the doors onto the playground.  Each class would gather around its teacher on the blacktop to wait for the all-clear.  Meanwhile, my heart would race with excitement as the clanging continued to scream from the open doors.  But it usually wouldn’t be but a few minutes until the alarm was turned off and all of us were shooed back into the school.

The one type of fire drill that really annoyed me was the one that occurred on the school bus.  The driver would announce the drill and then walk around to the back of the bus and open the emergency exit.  An alarm would sound and we all had to jump off the back of the bus.  As a fat, uncoordinated kid, I had a lot of trouble executing that particular maneuver.  It looked so far down to jump.  And it would hurt my feet when I hit the pavement.  And I might land on my knees.  More than once, a sympathetic bus driver would reach up and lift me down.  God bless them and their hernias!  I hope they had good chiropractors and excellent health coverage.

It never occurred to me that there could actually be a fire or any type of emergency in the school.  We all knew it was just a drill and we enjoyed the excuse to waste some time.

My parents, who grew up during the Second World War, tell stories about enduring air raid drills in elementary school.  All the kids knew how to “duck and cover,” cowering under their desks until the air raid sirens stopped their frightening bellow.

Air raid drills back in the forties were entirely different than the relatively benign fire drills of my own childhood.  With an air raid drill, you never knew if it was for real or not.  My grandfather was an air raid warden who enforced the “lights out” rules at night.  The Japs could try to get us at any time, just like they did in Pearl Harbor.  Even in the sixties, when I started school, the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation was ever-present and there were therefore yellow air raid shelter signs attached to the outside of schools and many apartment buildings in my native New York City.

In my junior high and high school years, however, we had to deal with a series of bomb threats.  One of the administrators would pull the fire alarm and a couple of thousand of us would roll out of every exit in waves. We’d cross the access road and wait up on the hillsides and athletic fields while the fire engines screamed onto the school grounds and cops with bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the halls, and checking out every classroom, nook and cranny.  This process typically took an hour or more.  It was exciting at first, particularly when a bomb threat caused us to have shortened school periods or to actually lose a couple of class periods entirely.

But then it would happen twice in one week and there’d be yet another bomb threat the next week, and it started to get old.  If it were mid-winter, they wouldn’t pull the fire alarm; it might be below zero and there was no time for everyone to go to their lockers to retrieve their coats.  Instead, one of the assistant principals would make an announcement over the public address system that we were all to proceed to the gym immediately.  It was quite a sight when everyone in the entire school, adults and kids alike, was packed cheek to jowl into the bleachers.

The rumors flew as to why this was happening.  The general consensus was that one or more students were responsible.  Kids were calling in bomb threats from the pay phone, or they didn’t come to school that day and called them in from at home.  (Imagine what could happen today with smart phones!)  We never found out what was going on, but we all knew that the Vietnam War was raging and that there was a certain contingent of the student body who believed that any form of disruption was right and proper under the circumstances.

Today things are different.  The air raid drills of the war years and the bomb threats endured by my fellow baby boomers are long gone.  There is the occasional fire drill, of course, to comply with the law.  But what today’s kids have to put up with is the school lockdown.

In the wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook, the danger these days is not from bombs raining down from the sky or thrown into the cafeteria by war protestors.  No, today we have to worry about the kid who comes to school with a gun or the outsider who breaks into the building, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons and murderous intent.

So our children have become accustomed to the teacher locking the door and turning out all the lights while everyone hides as best they can, packed into corners and closets.  It might be nothing or it might be disaster.  One never knows.  Everyone is supposed to be quiet and huddle together.  Kids desiring to send panicked text messages are warned that the light from a cell phone could give them away to a killer.

An article published in the New York Times this week cites the negative psychological effects that school lockdowns have on children.  Kids as young as five and six years old have nightmares about bad men with guns attacking their schools.  At home, brothers and sisters play “lockdown” by hiding or running to the basement at a prearranged signal.

“Some parents wonder whether the trend has laid a backdrop of fear and paranoia across their children’s education,” states the Times article. When I first viewed the article, it was just beginning to receive comments.  Upon my second reading, it had logged 194 of them.

I noticed that the comments were full of the usual indictments of the Second Amendment, pleas for gun control and counterarguments from gun enthusiasts.  Some parents wrote of the futility of huddling in corners and closets, citing the Sandy Hook murders as a product of such “massing.”  Others wrote of the inevitable scarring that results when children are required to exit their schools with their hands on their heads to show that they have no weapons.

Another commenter remarked that children “understand that the fabric of society has worn thin when it comes to school shootings, and that they are on the front lines.”

In other words, today’s schoolchildren understand that they may be in danger at any moment and that neither teachers nor parents can protect them.  Their grandparents’ air raid drills and their parents’ bomb threats are long ago events that may as well be described in history books.  Even the “drop and roll” maneuver and training in the use of fire extinguishers have become quaint anachronisms in the era of mass shootings.

In the age of the lockdown, it is a wonder that children are able to concentrate on their studies long enough to learn anything.  Instead of school being a nurturing, comforting environment, it has become a scary place where the real creeps into their nightmares and their nightmares become real.


The Next Time

In the wake of Monday’s tragic news, my plan was to support the Sparks NV community by writing a post describing some of my delightful visits to that city.  Somehow, however, this doesn’t seem like the right time or place.

Along with the rest of the world, I was shocked to learn that a middle school student brought a gun to school and used it to murder a beloved eighth grade math teacher, to seriously wound two fellow students and then to kill himself.

The media is full of speculation about how this happened, but there seem to be more questions than answers at this point.

Where did the child get the gun?  The news stories are assuming that he brought it from home, that it belonged to his parents and that he somehow had access to it.

What would drive a 12 year old to such extremes of violence?  The word “bullying” is being bandied about as if it were a dirty little secret that may be spoken of only in whispers.

Meanwhile, the national gun control debate has once again bubbled to the surface as if to rip open the scars over an all too recent wound.

Columbine.  Virginia Tech.  Sandy Hook.  Sparks.

Year after year, the school murders reappear in the headlines.  And each time it happens, we are shocked all over again, as if it were happening for the first time.  And we mourn.  We grieve with the families of the victims, the students and parents and teachers who will never again be the same, the communities that are sent reeling.

We talk about how this horror could have been avoided and what we can do to prevent there being a next time.  But then there is a next time.

Should armed guards stand watch at all times that school is in session?  Should teachers be permitted, or even required to carry firearms?  Should school staff and even young students participate in “active shooter” training?  Has being a kid in America really come to all of this?

The issue of providing better mental health care for our youngsters inevitably comes up.  Everyone should know the signs of mental turmoil and distress (although what adolescent doesn’t experience this?).  We must destigmatize mental health concerns and make it easy for students to get help.

And we talk about that old bugaboo, “bullying.”  We satisfy ourselves with lip service to a zero-tolerance policy and then wonder why teachers and parents look the other way when students engage in physical, verbal and online harassment, why they teach their kids that they have to suck it up and be tough, that “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never harm you.”

As the weeks go by, the tragedy at Sparks Middle School will slowly be forgotten, subsumed into our increasingly jaded collective national conscience.  And much like issues such as the federal budget and the Electoral College, it will be “out of sight, out of mind” — until the next time (and the time after that and the time after that).

But those who were there on Monday, and their families, friends and colleagues, won’t ever be able to forget.  And neither should you.

Please call upon your elected representatives on the federal, state and local levels to turn their attention to the relevant issues, and not to give up until every kid and teacher who leaves for school in the morning can be guaranteed to return home in the evening.

Do it now.  So there’s not a next time.

RIP Michael Landsberry:  Husband, father, Marine, math teacher, coach.  Hero.