#890: Thursday Morning, Body Count 17

February 16th, 2018

My wife’s school has active shooter drills.

She teaches fourth-grade special ed at a small district in one of the suburbs no one brags about. There’s only one building. There are fewer than 65 teachers. The students are 73.7 percent Hispanic and 82.5 percent low-income according to the most recently available Illinois State Board of Education District Report Card.

My wife gets up early every weekday and hits the snooze a thousand times, going back to sleep with each one. I’m up with the first chime and stay that way, but I can’t really be mad at her. We chat and I wish her a good morning before she leaves. It’s our ritual.

She works late and, even with the thousand snooze-hits, is still at school an hour before anyone else. The students are silly and funny and aggravating and some are jerks and none of them know that every day they’re lucky enough to pass by the best teacher they will ever meet in their lives.

And they have active shooter drills. They practice hiding from murderers with AR-15s who want nothing but to slaughter children the same way we practiced hiding from tornadoes.

My parents said “Duck and Cover” drills for ‘50s nukes didn’t exist where they grew up. Their hometown contains the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing plant in the U.S., a first-strike target for the Russians. There wouldn’t have been enough warning to get under the desks. My parents’ deaths would have been the warning.

My parents and I were taught to hide from these things because they were unpreventable. There’s no way to control a cyclone or a foreign power’s arsenal. The children must hide when the adults can’t prevent.

And now we teach children how best to hide from Americans who bought machine guns. We have taught our children that the purchase of a particular metal toy is as inexorable as a cyclone and as world-wiping as an atomic bomb. By our deeds we’ve told the children we can’t stop some guy trading money for war machinery and more than we could control the weather or stop a nuke mid-fall.

The school is right to run these drills. We are wrong for making them necessary.

The CDC can’t even study gun violence. A rider in a 1996 appropriations bill saw to that, cutting the CDC budget by the exact amount it spent on gun violence research the year before, putting in a stipulation that “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control” and chilling decades of research.

The congressman who put in the rider later recanted his position, saying that research is the only way to find solutions that protect lives while preserving gun-owners’ liberties. Without that research, any policy is just guessing. And as the last few years have shown, we’re terrible guessers.

“What is truly senseless is to decry these deaths as senseless when the tools exist to understand causes and to prevent these deadly effects,” he wrote in a Washington Post guest column after the Aurora theater shooting, six years and a few hundred corpses ago.

I’m more pro-gun than most liberals. I’ve fired guns and I liked it. I’ve been to places where people need them, to fend off animals, to hunt, to live. Guns are vital to life.

But guns take life. Gun lobby money and purchased senators duped a nation into forgetting we can monitor sales and splice restrictions as finely as we want. If we can make different rules for cough syrups you can and can’t make meth from, if we can require licensing and continued testing to drive a car, if we can say “Sure you can buy a dune buggy but that thing ain’t street legal,” we can study gun violence as the disease it is and figure out ways to stanch this uniquely American bleed.

“This was a tool whose only purpose was to make holes in human beings,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote of the gun.

If a shooter comes to her school, my wife will stand in front of the children and an American citizen will use that tool on her. I know that. And knowing the people she works with, she won’t be alone.

I married a schoolteacher, not a cop or soldier. I shouldn’t have to have thoughts like that. Her worst injury should be that time she pulled a muscle making the fall musical set.

Our ritual morning chat on Thursday didn’t talk about Florida, or school shootings. We talked about husband-and-wife stuff. Lunches and dinners and trips to see my parents. I thought about drills and guns and a disease lobbyists won’t let the government study.

“Stay safe,” I called as the door clicked shut.

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