In writing this blog, I try to stay away from headline stuff. I like my Friday postings to be the literary equivalent of roasted marshmallows as opposed to say … well … boiled parsnips. Just writing the words “boiled parsnips: is enough to trigger the old gag reflex. But this weekend, the nation is focused on the tragedy in Parkland—a preventable tragedy if anybody in the “see something say something” world had been paying attention. And I’m focused on it, too, because, in this instance, it came too close to home.
Last Friday at the Savannah Book Festival, I was one of 26 authors participating in their school outreach program. As my hosts drove me to Windsor High School, my daughter, back home in Seattle, sent me a text saying, “More worried about you two being at a high school today than I would normally be.” We were just then pulling into the parking lot, and I texted back saying that a cop car belonging to the school resource officer was already in the parking lot. In other words, “not to worry.”
Half an hour later, I was settled in the library talking to a collection of 30 or so interested and attentive kids. Part way through the talk, a voice came over the loudspeaker saying something about the school being on lockdown. One of the advantages to being mostly deaf is that you miss a few key words here and there. I assumed that this was a lockdown drill, and in view of what had just happened in Florida two days earlier, doing a lockdown drill struck me as entirely appropriate.
The ancient sacred charge of the storyteller is to beguile the time, and since it looked as though we were going to be stuck in the library for the next little while, I kept on telling stories until I ran out of steam and it was time for everyone to have a Krispy Kreme break. (Yum!) When my escorts and I were allowed out of the library, the school was fast filling with cops—big burly cops with big guns on their hips. I tried to say thank you to a couple of them for the job they do, but they weren’t the least bit interested. They were all there in super serious mode—way more serious, I thought, than just a drill. And I was right. Out in the car I learned that it hadn’t been a lockdown drill at all. Someone had phoned in a threat.
So I’ve been on the front lines this week, and here’s what I have to say. Thank God for those big burly guys with guns on their hips who came to take care of whatever needed taking care of. They weren’t interested in my saying thank you because they were there to do a job.
Yes, I know, the boogie-man here is supposed to be the super-evil AR-15. Well, no. The boogie-man is actually the deranged nutcase shooting it. What about that mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas? The death toll would have been far higher if that NRA member next door hadn’t grabbed his own AR-15 and used it to fight fire with fire; bullets with bullets! What would have happened if that assistant football coach in Parkland, an NRA member, had been allowed to bring his weapon to school and had been able to use that to protect his precious students rather than losing his life by protecting them with the only weapon he had available—his own flesh and blood? By the way, in case you’re wondering, both of those guys are my heroes!
I do not like walking into buildings where I see virtue signaling signs pronouncing “THIS IS A GUN FREE ZONE!” That sign is tantamount to saying, OPEN SEASON ON INNOCENTS! When people who obey rules see that sign, they’ll leave their guns at home. Bad guys who don’t obey anybody’s rules will bring theirs. Guess who loses in that unfair fight?
During sixty days in 1970 while under threat from a serial killer, I wore a loaded weapon on my hip and was fully prepared to use it. In fact, one day I did use it. I fired all six shots from a 22 revolver at a rapidly retreating rattlesnake who was still laughing as he slithered up over a rock wall and disappeared. But I figured the killer would present a much larger target, and I was motivated. I think that realization—the one that says, “If it’s him or me, it’s definitely going to be him!”—toggles a survival switch in your soul, and I don’t believe you can ever unring that bell. Having made peace with myself on that score is one of the reasons I’m able to write police procedurals. I have a very clear understanding of that life or death, Shoot/Don’t Shoot dilemma.
As I write this, I’m well aware that there are lots of people in this country who disagree with me. Some of them have probably already stopped reading this post and are about to send me e-mals (That’s not a misprint by the way. An e-mal is a mean-spirited e-mail.) explaining that they will no longer be reading my blogs or books because a: I’m stupid; b: have no right to believe the way I do, and c: have no right to express this opinion. That’s fine. As the song says, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.” And have a nice day.
But here’s the thing. There are people in this world—trained, dedicated people—who are prepared to go to war to protect our kids rather than having them led like lambs to the slaughter. I say by all means let’s let them do so, because that politically correct snake-oil philosophy of “see something; say something” just doesn’t cut it.
And to the people of Parkland who have been so tragically affected by this appalling incident, many of whom stand on either side of the great gun divide, all I can say is: I’m sorry–so very sorry.