This column was first published on Dec. 23, 2012.
When I was in elementary school, back during the Ozzio-Harrietic Period, we had "the horn," which gave off a deafening blast. If it went off with a steady tone, that meant it was a fire drill and we had to get out of the building in a nice, orderly fashion ("No running!") But if it sounded with an intermittent tone ("HONNNK! … HONNNK! … HONNNK!"), it was a bomb drill and we had to crouch down in the hallway and cover our necks because the evil Rooskies were planning to drop an atom bomb on our town. Which meant, for starters, that all the big windows in our classrooms would explode into a million shards, and some of those shards would surely slice right through the venetian blinds that were our first line of defense against a Soviet attack, and cut our heads off.
Which was scary. But I'm not sure it was as scary as the idea that nowadays some armed-to-the-teeth maniac might burst into your school and shoot everybody dead, going from room to room, which is what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown six years ago.
Bad enough that high school kids have had this kind of thing hanging over their heads since the Columbine massacre, in 1999, but now even the little kids in grade school (and their parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) have to think about it too. And even though efforts were made to shield the public from the knowledge of exactly what happened at Sandy Hook, some of the surviving kids doubtless saw things they won't ever be able to forget, things that just can't be explained away: "I know you saw all your friends dead on the floor, Johnny, but we have this thing called the Second Amendment, see, and …"
Now schools all over the country are becoming more and more like convenience stores in high-crime zones — locked doors, cameras, buzz you in if you look OK through bulletproof windows. And the kids are going to be living with more rules and procedures and lock-down drills, all of which may keep their bodies in one piece even while it takes an unavoidable toll on their psyches.
What the hell have we turned into?
Massacre after massacre, but not only do we as a nation do nothing; we don't even talk about doing something. To his credit, President Obama set up a task force — although he was being so cautious that he made us guess that "change" might be the new euphemism for gun control. He was carefully avoiding saying "gun," let alone "NRA."
As for the National Rifle Association and whatever "constructive" ideas they may have presented shortly after Newtown, how much can you expect from an outfit that puts only half of the Second Amendment up on their headquarters building — because they don't like the other half, the part about "a well regulated militia"?
There are extremists on both sides of this issue, and neither the gun haters nor the gun lovers are going to get what they really want. There has to be a middle ground somewhere.
We sure as hell can't go on like this.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 317-2222.
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