Close to Home

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.

41 thoughts on “Close to Home

  1. I remember when I was in school the thing we had to worry about was being caught chewing gum or running in the hall. Passing notes was a no-n0, too.

    I don’t understand how things have developed and now you might get killed in school. I live about 60 miles from Newtown, CT, and listened to the news that day. It was unbelievable. I heard one of the newscasters say “A class is missing.” How could that be? I soon found out.

    I’m avoiding as much of the news that I can and trying to think positive.

  2. It is so good to see an author on this side. I’ve read post after post from authors bashing the NRA and President Trump about this. Actually making fun of “thoughts and prayers.” Thank you.
    I’ve read every book you’ve written. Keep writing.

  3. I agree with you 100% and also feel that good people begin as good children, raised well by parents, then they in turn will raise good children. Now we have the opposite with generations of children born without a thought to their future by the parent(s). Also need to toughen up the teaching community as too many as too squishey.

  4. We started doing these drills during my last years before retirement from elementary school. They were still doing them when I substituted. I worked in a small school with no police in the town so it was doubly scary. There were a few kids that I could see going into the school shooting it up, and we actually had one that tried. Another student told his mother and she worked on the staff. She reported it and he was stopped on his way to school while we were in lock-down. All the doors of the school except the front one are locked and that’s a real pain to deal with when you’re a sub with no key to open them. A camera was installed by the front door. I have to admit, I’m glad I’m no longer working there. Guns are a way of life around here and there are also scary kids here. We also had a parent threatening the school. The resource officer was there and put my room in lock-down. She didn’t show up. Thank god!!

  5. Thank you so much for being a voice for the rest of us who have no words. God bless you and keep writing so I may keep reading XXOO

  6. It is unfortunate that we are now learning that the armed policeman on site did not enter the building to engage the shooter. Maybe he didn’t consider it part of his job for which he was paid $100,000 annually.

    Hal was a Broward County deputy for a couple of years.

  7. Thanks for confronting the two-ton elephant in the room. You express so eloquently what I think and feel. I admire your courage in sharing your beliefs on the subject. I’ve always loved your writing and after meeting you several times and hearing you speak I’m an even bigger fan. My father was a policeman and later an FBI agent. People often don’t realize the sacrifices that people in law enforcement make. Thanks for reminding people.

  8. Thank you for your thoughts. Plenty of authors and celebrities have been slipping in comments about the right, NRA, etc.. Many live in special communities, work with guards nearby, have armed bodyguards.

    As for the comment about parenting, I am an old lady, and know lots of people. One child in a family of wonderful people can go off the rails, be mentally ill in some way. Their siblings are normal, whatever that means. I do not understand the policeman in Parkland not being engaged. People interested in damage attack their surroundings. Nightclubs, workplaces, homes. As for weapons, years ago in the San Joaquin Valley of CA, a schoolbus full of children was kidnapped and the entire bus buried! They escaped, thank godness.

  9. This gun thing is truly a disaster. How do you hire a gun toting teacher, by figuring out if they are a wannabe mercenary soldier, a member of seal team 6? And then, of course, they must have the correct teaching credentials. No wonder so many families choose to home school, that is if they don’t work a day job to feed the family. There are so many levels to this dilemma it is just easier to blame one person they already hate. As my sister said to me, the national pastime now is finding fault…………in everyone else. Thanks for posting this. My condolences to all students, teachers and parents, directly involved or having this picture show in their heads.

  10. Not many people stop to consider that teachers are regular people – many already have taken the classes and conceal carry. Now they could just take their guns into the school instead of leaving them in the car.

  11. I agree with most of your blog. Having disarmed a student who brought a handgun to a church school to show off to his friends, before anyone had lockdowns, drills, or on-site guards, having someone bigger and stronger there would have helped. (BTW- the gun was loaded, safety off- I was shaking for quite awhile but still had to finish teaching!) But no one needs to have access to a military- grade weapon, crazy or not. No one needs to make their legal weapon illegal. We have to start somewhere and those to areas are a start. Rick Steve, who hosts a travel show on PBS, wrote a blog on 2/22 about what steps are needed to go through in Spain to just get a handgun or rifle. While the bad guys may still sneak through, it would be more difficult for just anyone to get their hands on a weapon. Background checks, wait periods of 60 days, and mental health assessments would be a good start.

  12. I, too, agree with you !
    I did cringe though when reading your blog. I’m stunned that the authorities let you and your “entourage “ leave the building during a lock down. When I taught school, no one could leave and everyone had to basically hunker down during a lockdown!

  13. Only a few cogent comments.
    There is no “gun violence”, in these cases, there is only Criminal Violence.
    An AR15 is not properly considered to be an “Assault Weapon”.
    The men and women of our Law Enforcement and the Military doing their jobs are truly the pillars of our society. Thank them when you get a chance.

  14. I spent several hours today touring the Holocaust Museum in Richmond Virginia. They have several loops recorded of survivors talking about their experiences in the death camps and the memories they cannot forget and the family members who were murdered. The walkway is a representation of the train tracks that carried millions to their death. It was a very intense experience and I was very happy to see two high school classes being toured through. This is what happens when you disarm a populace. Never forget.

  15. Thank you for your blog today. It feels so good to read someone’s comments that make sense and are not a bunch of idiodic blather on this serious subject!
    Hope to see you in Mesa next month.

  16. You are so right in my eyes. I couldn’t have said it better. I appreciate your honesty and your line of thinking. So, this is one fan that will never turn away from you as my favorite author.
    Thank you. I will be sharing your blog with others.

  17. As a retired teacher, I would not want to be expected to carry a loaded gun. However, I do respect your point of view and you make excellent points. Thank you for writing. I always learn so much from your books. Just finished Proof Of Life. I enjoyed meeting Rambo/Lucy. Great character. I hope she’ll return with Beau.

  18. I thought of Beau and you when I read in the Seattle Times that someone had reported a Confederate flag flying at a home in the Greenwood section of Seattle. A reporter was sent out to check and saw it was the flag of Norway. The man living there is the son of Norwegian immigrants and works on a boat. He put up the Norwegian flag for the Olympics. I remember Norwegian-American boat operators appear in several of Beau’s adventures.

  19. I totally agree with you! I don’t have a gun, but wish I did, but that is another story! I will be sharing your blog on FB and hoping that some of my friends will also read it!

  20. Thumbs up to the post.
    But… The Gun Laws are way too lax in USA.
    From where do the school shooters get the guns from?
    Where do the people get the guns, that either give or have their weapons taken by family members, relatives, friends, strangers etc?

  21. I do not agree that more guns will make us safer, or that armed teachers will do anything but add to the confusion in a school mass shooting. I do not agree that civilians should be able to buy military weapons. I do think that there should be an age limit on who can buy guns. I think that, as with driving, there should be training, tests, age limits, and insurance for anyone who wishes to own a gun. I think there should be background checks and waiting periods I don’t think anyone with a history of mental illness should be able to get a gun. I don’t think any such rule changes in this country would violate the second amendment. I do NOT advocate doing away with the second amendment; that will never happen in this country anyway. But we need to be much smarter about how it is implemented.

    It’s sad to me that the right to bear arms is elevated above anyone’s right to life (also guaranteed in the Constitution), and that our children all too frequently pay the price for this. It almost amounts to idolatry. How are we different from ancient civilizations that burned their children alive as sacrifices to their gods? We have as a society apparently decided that we are OK with children being slaughtered in job lots as long as everyone who wants one can have a gun with essentially no restrictions whatever. I think this is nuts!

    The “good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun” trope didn’t work out so well in the Parkland massacre: not only did the armed resource officer not respond in a timely manner, but I read that 3 nearby police officers did not respond either.

    I feel like a lone voice here. I know that solutions to this societal problem are not simple either to conceive of or to implement. I’m sure we will continue to see school, theater, mall and rock concert massacres. My biggest hope is that the Parkland students will continue to agitate for change and vote for it when they are old enough, and that others their age will join them. I think we perhaps have reached a tipping point on the gun issue. The next generation will perhaps decide differently about this than my generation has.

    All that said: I will not stop reading your books. I don’t hate you for having a different opinion from me. You won’t get rid of me as a fan that easily! I’m very sure that many of my favorite authors have opinions similar to yours. I’m not going to stop reading them just because we don’t agree about guns (or about anything).

    Looking forward to your next book!


  22. I completely agree with Kim Helliwell’s comments..hope you and your other posters will respect our opinions as we respect yours.

    • Kim, you are not the lone voice on this debate. I also do not believe that arming teachers or introducing more guns into our country is the answer. I live in fear of even voicing such an opinion. Until 6 months ago, I lived in Arizona – an open carry state. I had a summer place in Show Low, AZ and would frequent a cafe. One Sunday morning, I looked around and saw nearly 80% of the clients carrying guns openly. I looked at my husband and said, how do we know that the man sitting next to us is not the one who is going to go crazy? You don’t. So the argument of introducing more guns is not the answer. Could someone have shot him before he killed “too many”? Sure, but is that where we are at? When will we be the one killed before they get “too many”? Don’t the rest of us in a society have the right to feel safe without being surrounded by guns? When are our rights heard and this problem is addressed like many of the other countries – Australia for one. More guns is not the answer. Mental Health treatment, background checks, no sale of assault weapons (period), and here’s one…everyone gun owner must buy liability insurance for if their gun kills someone at least the family has some level of compensation to move forward. I enjoy your books, but I don’t agree with your post. Thanks for allowing me to express my opinion.

  23. I think having reasonable and respectful discussions is the only way to arrive at sensible solutions. Thank you for your comments.

  24. I appreciate having reasonable and respectful discussions. That’s the only way we’ll arrive at sensible conclusions. Thank you for your comments.

  25. jajance, what I have read on your blogs and books.
    Sorry tired, tinnitus + sound sensitivity + not english/north american.
    What I have read in your books and blogs, I think they represent you quite good.
    I will surely disagree with you on some stuff. But you are a good person.

    To quit reading your books, you would have to suddenly change to a person who hates everyone, that is not a white christian and does not vote as you do.

    That I can not see happening.

    Marla and Kim Helliwell, I agree with what you write.

  26. I was listening to a Seattle news station where they were interviewing the author of a new book . Homicide view from inside the yellow line”. The author’s name is Cloyd Steiger and is a retired Seattle detective. He now works as chief investigator for the state Attorney General. I was startled when they told the last. Sounds like one of your characters. You probably knew all of this, but just in case—-.

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