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School shootings, workplace violence and guns.
Something has changed and it's not the guns.

by T. Stephen Eggleston

I went to school in a different time, the late 1950's and 1960's. It was a semi-rural area, and most people in the area had guns.

I was also a nerd before there was such a thing as a nerd. If I were in school today, I would have been labeled ADD and drugged into complacency. As it was, I was bored to tears because school was not a challenge. I was a target for every bully in the school from grades 1-12, including the teachers. One classmate expected me to show up every morning and accept my beating. I did it.

I looked at every schoolday morning as a death-row prisoner must look at their last day on Earth, except I knew I'd have to repeat it tomorrow. Like many other kids in my school, I had easy access to guns.

If any kid ever had motive, means and opportunity to blow away their teachers and classmates, I did.

The LAST THING I would have dreamed of, however, would have been to shoot someone. I watched Elmer Fudd point a shotgun, point-blank at Buggs Bunny and pull the trigger. All that happened to Buggs was a soot-covered face. Somehow, however, I knew you didn't point a shotgun at a person.

I knew you didn't kill.

Killing a human being just wasn't a concept in my mind, or in the minds of my fellow students. A respect for life was something we knew instinctively in our souls.

Most of the boys in my neighborhood had guns. Surplus 7.62mm Mausers were sold at the local department store for $12.00. Ammo was available at Robbys surplus store. You needed no I.D., permit or anything but two bucks to buy 150 rounds of surplus NATO ammunition. We spent Saturdays at the local trash dump shooting at rats and pretend Nazis. Other days we played war games, had BB battles, played cowboys and Indians and Cops and Robbers. For these, of course, we'd leave the 'Real' guns at home. We somehow knew they weren't toys.

We built pipe bombs filled with our own home made black powder. We made bazookas that would shoot a dirt clod a quarter of a mile and generated hydrogen in pop bottles full of aluminum foil and lye so we could float surplus weather balloons (ordered from the back of the Sgt. York comics) high in the sky and shoot them with flare guns just to watch them burn.

We knew that White Phosphorus (Willie Pete) could burn a hole in an engine block because we did it. We made rockets from steel broom handles and used them to launch our homemade fireworks.

Our toys had sharp edges, things that would burn you, shock you, crush your fingers and get lodged in your throat. We had knives, hatchets, axes and other potentially harmful tools.

We lived next to forests with snakes, rivers with undertow and all manner of other deadly things. We had fishhooks, spears, crossbows (mostly home made) poisons and other potentially fatal objects all around us.

Based on the above, our recent 35th class reunion should have been attended by grieving parents and widows. SURPRISE, we're alive and well.

The difference between then and now….?

Adults, however misguided they may appear in hindsight, who cared -- really cared.

My father took me hunting when I was 8 years old, but only after I demonstrated that I knew how to handle a gun and was a crack shot. When his dog Mack brought back my first kill, a little bunny rabbit, my life changed. That lovable furry little critter that I would have loved to pet and cuddle was cold, bloody and dead. Nothing teaches a child more respect for life than holding death in his hands. From that day forward I had a deeper respect not only for life, but for what a person with a gun could do to that life in an instant. I was upset for weeks, and that respect for life is with me today.

We don't teach children fear of water, we teach them to swim. Are parents doing their children any favors by saying things like, "I never want my child to ever even see a real gun." We all know the lure the forbidden presents to children. Do we really want to foster this curiosity, or should we teach our children a healthy respect for the things that can hurt them, or others. Are we doing them a favor by completely insulating them from anything that could cut, bruise crush or burn?

My parents had their problems, and they both passed while I was in my early teens. We were not wealthy, and my father was working most of the time. When he was there, however, he left no doubt in my mind that he cared.

Could this kind of environment possibly have something to do with the fact that none of my classmates turned into serial killers. It couldn't have been the guns, because we all had them. On the first day of deer season it wasn't unusual to see a rifle or shotgun in somebody's locker when they came in at 2:00, just in time for the last class.

One kid built a beautiful crossbow in metal shop using a leaf spring from a car. The thing would shoot a hardened steel rod through two layers of cinder block at 25 yards. He got an "A."

Of course times were different then. WWII vets saw atrocities and had traumatic experiences. They went away as young men and returned as trained killers. These were our parents.

We watched war movies, read really gross and violent comics (Sgt. York would be deemed too violent today.) As teens we grew up with the horror of the Viet Nam war on television, and for many of us, in reality. We were forced to kill, and many of us, to die. We lived with the threat of the bomb, practicing 'duck and cover' drills as if that school desktop would save us should the Russians attack. What we have to ask ourselves is not why times were different then, but how.

Guns haven't changed. Guns are pretty much the same as they were at the beginning of the century. They were easier to get then, but the mechanics have pretty much remained the same.

Children haven't changed. They are still born without avarice, hatred, intolerance and bigotry.

Could it be the parents who have changed?

Is this the same set of draft-dodging "generation ME" parents who also settle workplace disagreements with violence? No wonder the kids are screwed up! But that's another rant!

T. Stephen Eggleston, aka The Eggman


a related story on school violence: http://www.is.wayne.edu/stuarthenry/schoolviolence3.htm

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