Thursday, May 31, 2012

No More Polite Nodding

It was a god awful day in Seattle yesterday. A man described by his family as mentally ill carried a gun into a neighborhood cafe and shot 4 people dead, critically wounding 1 other. He then made his way downtown where he shot and killed another woman. After an intensive citywide hunt, he shot himself when cornered by the police.

I heard the first reports in the morning, half listening, about a shooting in the University District. Hearing that the shooter was still at large, my first thoughts were about my family, of course, and while my daughter's school is only about 5 miles from there, it wasn't close enough for concern. I know several kids at nearby Roosevelt High School, however, and I figured they were on lock down, but then went about my business. Later I heard about an "apparently unrelated" shooting downtown, a mile or so from my wife's office, closer, but still not cause for panic, although the skies were filling with helicopters.

Then I received a text message from my daughter Josephine: "Guy with a gun at (school). On lock down."

Holy crap.

Four of her classmates, two of whom I've known since kindergarten, had been working on a group project at a small park with a view of Lake Washington across the street from campus when they'd been approached by a man dressed all in black, including gloves, wearing dark sunglasses, carrying a gun. They ran, making it back to school to sound the alarm.

It turned out that this armed man wasn't the killer who was on the loose, but rather a man who had heard about the shootings and had decided to carry a weapon, for which he had a license, in his hand, to a school, I can only assume with vigilantism in mind. Josephine, who is friends with all of the student witnesses, said that the police had indicated they felt the guy was, you guessed it, mentally ill: another mentally ill man with a gun, this one hanging around my daughter's school.

News mentions about this second guy have dismissed him as an overly worried jogger. In fact, I've searched the SPD online "blotter" and found no mention of this incident. Am I to assume they just let the guy go?  I hope not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. After all, this is America, a place where mentally ill people are allowed to walk around with guns, even around schools, even around my child and her friends. And there are gun industry lobbyists, politicians, and others out there who aggressively support their right to do so.

More children die from guns each year than the death toll of 9/11. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Children's Defense Fund found that during 2008 and 2009:

  • The total number of preschool-age children killed by guns (173) was nearly double the number of law-enforcement officers (89) killed in the line of duty.
  • African-American children and teens represented 45 percent of all gun deaths in their age group, but only 15 percent of the total US population of children.
  • The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide.
  • More children and teens died from gunfire (5,750) than the number of US military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
  • Among the 23 highest-income countries in the world, the US was home to 80 percent of all gun deaths, and 87 percent of all gun deaths of children younger than 15.

Every American head should hang in shame, and every heart shout burn with rage. I will no longer sit politely and nod as earnest people try to tell me about how guns are part of the American tradition. Look what your damn tradition has wrought. Slavery was once an American tradition. So was lynching.

Guns in the hands of irresponsible people kill children. Guns in the hands of criminals kill children. Guns in the hands of mentally ill people kill children.  I have no illusion that we will become a gun free society any time soon, but it is time for across-the-board common sense gun control, a position that is supported by 2/3 of Americans.  Guns should be exceedingly hard to get. Gun owners should have to prove they know how to use and store them safely, that they are not criminals, and that they are mentally and emotionally stable.  I know there are already background check laws in some places, but there are so many loopholes they've been rendered meaningless.

Stolen guns kill children. Virtually all gun crimes are committed with stolen guns (80-90% according to estimates), while most of the gun crimes committed with legally owned guns stem from domestic violence. I keep hearing about "responsible gun owners." How about this: if your gun is used to kill someone, even if that gun as been stolen from you, even if that gun was used by an angry spouse, you should be considered at least partially guilty for that death, because as everyone knows, part of being a responsible gun owner is keeping your weapon secure. That failure of responsibility should make you an accessory to the crime.

Guns kill children.  The simple fact is that the countries with the strictest gun laws have the lowest gun death rates. Yes, I know that there is a theory out there that a well-armed population prevents crime, with Switzerland, where male citizens under 30 are required to keep government issued guns in their home, often trotted out as an example. Believe me, those guns are strictly regulated. They are issued to citizens in lieu of a standing army (which was the real intent of our 2nd amendment). Those citizens undergo rigorous military training. Yes, like the rest of Europe, the Swiss gun crime rate is quite low compared to the US, but it's far from clear that widespread gun ownership has anything to do with it. Experts say it is not an accident that Swiss gun crime has fallen since the 1990's when stricter gun control laws were enacted.

Please don't bring your 2nd amendment argument around here, not today; I'll jump down your throat. Frankly, I don't give a damn about your right to own a gun. I don't give a damn about your right to shoot animals. I don't give a damn about your fantasies of protecting yourself with a gun: that's the thinking of a mentally ill man in black who carries guns around high schools.

Guns kill people. Guns kill children. No more polite nodding.

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Floor Pie said...

Right on, Tom. I was helping chaperone The Boy's class field trip in the area of the shooting and we ended up getting pulled into a nearby private school's lockdown. Terrifying. But a good opportunity to talk to the kids about guns.

Courtney said...

Perfectly stated, I agree wholeheartedly. I can't believe anyone could disagree, although I know plenty do. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Anonymous said...

How many of the people yesterday where Children that this man shot? Guns or mentally ill people don't target children. Guns in the wrong hands kills anyone at the other end. Any gun used against people can kill. Maybe children are the victims, because they are with adults who have issues and or they are handling guns that they know nothing about. If we would just teach gun safety the way we teach drivers ed. maybe there would be less killing of children.

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . No children were killed yesterday, but all it would have taken was one itchy finger for my daughter to have lost 4 classmates. And you are wrong. Mentally ill people with guns target thousands of children each year. Children with guns target thousands of children each year. Angry parents and "loved ones" with guns target children. We need legal ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, criminals, and minors. And you are absolutely right: people should have to prove that they can be "responsible gun owners" if they are to be allowed to have guns; part of that would be mandatory training.

Paula said...

What do you think about toy guns? Are they harmless fun or do they affect long term perceptions about guns and violence. I'd be interested in hearing your opinion Teacher Tom.

Teacher Tom said...

@Paula . . . I don't know of any research connecting playing with toy guns and the likelihood of committing future gun violence. (If anyone knows of any, I'd like to see it.) There is, however, quite a bit of data connecting childhood exposure to gun violence in the media, and through video games, to future violent behavior.

Here is a link to the post I wrote on Gun Play a while back:

Kristen said...

I grew up in a home with many guns. Ammo and guns were kept seperately and only Dad knew where the keys were.

There was NO gun play allowed in my home. Guns kill. We didn't have water guns, we did not 'finger shoot' anyone. We didn't point a gun at anything we didn't want to shoot and we only shot what we wanted to eat.

I think there is a way to have guns. Playing with them like they are toys is not one of them.

Teacher Tom said...

@Kristen . . . Your dad sounds like responsible gun owner who taught his children to respect them. I wish all gun owners were like him.

Kristi Lou said...

I live in Wisconsin where folks are allowed to conceal & carry. Why oh why oh why should one feel the need to conceal and carry? Especially around children, alcohol, large gatherings, etc.? We are a gun free home and shall remain a gun free home. An intruder in our home might be hit with a 9-iron, but never will we need to worry about our daughter finding a gun and wondering what it's like to pull the trigger. We can only hope her friends' parents will be as thoughtful. Right on, Teacher Tom!

Amber Greene said...

Hi Tom,
Here's an article I wrote about gun play and how we might TRY (this is contentious too!) to "transform" gun play if we as parents and educators either don't like it, find it difficult to manage, or don't want 'violence' (real or pretend) brought into our homes or 'played out'.
If you can add your thoughts to this, that would be GREAT! Perhaps you have some other ideas on how you manage it too....

Bending Birches said...

thank you, tom. I 100% agree, especially after reading about a man in our town-- at 8 am, next to an elementary school, who shot himself in the head in front of children being crossed by a crossing guard. Police were nearly on the scene already, as someone alerted them after seeing a man walking down the street visibly holding a weapon. I find it baffling that we are lawfully permitted to carry unconcealed weapons.

Ker said...

Eddie Izzard, in Dress to Kill, does a whole bit about guns:

The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

I'm so sorry to hear of this. I live in Canada where you need a gun safety course to own a gun. Many of my neighbours have them for hunting deer and turkeys, and keeping pests off their farms (coyotes, groundhogs). We didn't let our son play with toy guns but my mother once said, you can keep toy guns out of the house, but you can't cut off his finger...and it's true in a way. He'd find sticks that looked like guns, and I don't know about your little ones at school, but my kindergarten students build them out of lego and link cubes.
I find the data fascinating, that the most violent countries in the world are the ones where guns are NOT strictly far as I know, gun-related deaths are still the exception in Canada, although we all practice "lock down" drills the way we do fire drills. Great post. Lots to reflect upon as always.

Devolution said...

Hey Anonymous... how do you teach gun safety to the mentally ill. Maybe these kids would have been safe had this guy had some gun safety courses?

PatrickF said...

As a clarification: The two shooting incidents in Seattle yesterday were NOT related. They were two separate shooters, one of whom shot and killed himself, the other is in police custody. I post this not as criticism, simply to make sure the facts are stated correctly.

Teacher Tom said...

Actually, PatrickF, that was the initial report, but if you read the article I've linked to, you'll find all the shootings were committed by the same mentally ill man. I don't know if you live here or not, but you can't turn on the radio without hearing the story. It's still horrible, but the fact that it was one guy rather than two makes me feel slightly better.

followthatdog said...

I am with you 100%.

Shelly said...

Thanks, Tom. After reading the comment by Anonymous, I just want to point out that the five people who were killed by the shooter yesterday were each someone's child, and yesterday they all became victims of senseless gun violence. You can't really argue that fact.

Tim Hickman said...

This is one of the most ignorant blog posts--and many of the following comments--that I've ever read. Guns don't kill people; people kill people, and they will always find a way to do so, whether it's guns or something else. If the concern is really "safety" like your blog purports, then why aren't automobiles outlawed? More than 65 times the amount of people killed in firearm related incidents are killed in automobiles each year! Irresponsible people are everywhere, "stable" or not, "mentally ill" or not, "children" or not. Taking guns away from any of the aforementioned demographic groups doesn't keep anyone from being irresponsible, nor does it keep anyone from being killed. How is killing an intruder with a nine-iron morally superior--or "safer" for that matter--to killing an intruder with a pistol? What if the intruder has a gun? Are you going to hit him faster than he can shoot you? No gun rights people want to kill people with their guns; they simply want an alternative to trusting that [the intruder] doesn't have a gun himself, or having to wait for the police to arrive. If you're really "open" to other viewpoints, you should read the book, "More guns, less crime." The statistics you've cited will be dispelled and you'll find yourself realizing that what you've come to believe--largely because of the media's fixation on the fear of firearms--is pure fiction.

Teacher Tom said...

@Tim . . . Mentally ill people WITH GUNS kill people. Children WITH GUNS kill people. Criminals WITH GUNS kill people. Guns are killing machines, designed to make it simple for anyone to kill. Yes, I suppose someone who is really determined will still kill, but come on, guns make it so much easier and make success so much more likely. Making it harder for mentally ill people, children and criminals to get guns will reduce the number of gun deaths caused by the mentally ill, children, and criminals. It should be very hard for these categories of people to get guns. Even the NRA agrees with me. I don't know what's so hard to understand about that.

As for the 9-iron, any police department will tell you that a gun in the home is far, far, far more likely to be used to kill or injure a family member (as opposed to a 9-iron), either accidentally or in a domestic dispute, than it will be used to deter a crime. But that's really beside the point. I said nothing in this post about taking guns away from responsible gun owners. I just believe, as a society, we have a right to assure that gun owners in our midst know how to use their guns safely by requiring them to take courses and pass tests, know how to store and secure their gun properly, and pass a rigorous background check. I find it shocking that any "responsible" gun owner would object to these conditions.

And I do want to address the comparison between guns and cars. This is one that comes up over and over. Cars are transportation machines that when used improperly can kill people. I do believe that our legal driving ages should be raised, our drunk driving laws should be strengthened, and that it should be much more difficult to acquire and much easier to lose your right to drive a car, because they are so dangerous. Guns, on the other hand, are killing machines. They only have one purpose: killing.

Finally, I assure you the statistics I cite in this post will in no way be dispelled by anything I read. They cite the raw numbers of deaths of children by guns and compare them selectively to deaths by other means in order to put them in perspective. We have loosey-goosey gun laws in our country and we have the highest gun death toll, by far. Comparable nations with strict gun laws have lower death rates. "More guns, less crime," is a dangerous, unproven theory. For the life of me, I can't see how relaxing our laws even more will result in a safer society -- it is not born out by reality.

lil' red said...

A brilliant post, Teacher Tom... living in Australia I have to say that in my 34 years I have never actually held/touched a gun - the closest I would have been to one is walking past a policeman in the street. Thinking of you from over here, so glad your family is safe... I'm off to give my kidlets an extra cuddle :)

Tammy said...

Years ago while living in Detroit, a drug crazed man loaded with guns and ammunition burst onto my daughter's playground at school. The little kids, (my daughter was in 3rd grade at the time and was a little kid) stayed inside for recess that day. There happened to be a solar eclipse occuring at the same time. The staff felt that little eyes may be harmed if they allowed them outside, but the big kids 5th - 8th graders were all on the playground preforming science activities that went along with the solar elclipse. Now comes in a loaded to the hilt gunman running from the cops. As soon as the cops took in the situation, they killed the man. In front of all the 'big' children who were outdoors, and all the 'little' children who were at the windows watching. My daughter is now 26 and has three chldren of her own, but that day still haunts her memories at times. We left Detroit shortly afterwards and moved to rural America. I can only wonder what would have happened had the police officers not accessed the situation so quickly and one or more of those children became hostages or statistics. It still makes me cringe. I found out years later, Quite by accident that the crazed gunman hepped up on drugs was 13 years old. THIRTEEN YEARS OLD! He was not a gunMAN. He was a kid, a deadly kid, but a kid. Makes me sad. Your blog was well written Teacher Tom. Thank you!

GianneCurry said...


And for some smiles: I wanted to stop by and tell you we finally made our own water wall. Thanks for the inspiration once again!!

Gianne at

Anne T said...

Both of my parents have been shot with firearms. My father by his 13 year old brother in a hunting accident, my mother by her jealous boyfriend at point blank range at the age of 15. We were not allowed to play with any kind of gun as children, no water pistols, nothing. My father was an avid hunter, it was how we afforded meat to eat. His rifles were under lock and key when we were growing up. When each of us turned 14, he took us out and taught us how to shoot safely as a life skill. I have never shot a gun since, though my brother uses guns for hunting and target practice. When I became pregnant with our first child, my husband rifles were removed from the house and won't be coming back until our children are teenagers, if then. My father taught me that guns are deadly and the only reason to aim one at something or someone is if you are going to eat it or it's
about to kill you. You need to be a rational, stable human being to make rational, stable decisions when it comes to guns. Of course we should make sure only those that have proven that they can handle them have them. It does absolutely nobody any good to have a gun in the hands of an untrained and/or mentally
unstable person. And if you really believe that you need a gun to protect yourself or your family, surely you believe you need to be able to operate it properly to do that.

Christina D. said...

Amazing. Thank you.

meg- grow and resist said...

Fantastic post! Thank you for writing! I am so tired of the whole car argument, the 'we are a nation of gun owners', the 2nd amendment arguments, all of it. Crap like this doesn't go down where guns are outlawed. Period.

Kiera said...

I grew up in New Hampshire, in a small town where pretty much everyone owns guns for hunting, and I firmly believe that gun control should be one of our #1 priorities in this country. The prevalence of guns, of various shapes, sizes, and killing ability, is ridiculous. Nobody needs an AK-47 to shoot a deer. Nobody needs a sub-machine gun. For any reason. For anyone who believes the whole "guns don't kill people, people kill people" adage - that may be true. So how about we replace it with a new adage? "People kill people, but guns make it much easier to do so." If you really want to kill someone, I suppose you are going to try, but it is MUCH HARDER to do so with pretty much any other weapon. To do serious damage with a bow and arrow you need training and practice. To inflict mortal wounds with a knife or sword you need to get close enough to the person you intend to harm, which makes it much more likely that they will be able to escape. You cannot randomly spray a crowd of people with these weapons, as you can with a gun. THAT is the point about gun control - it is relatively easy to kill people with a gun, by accident or intent. And as to the argument that "if guns become harder to get/illegal, only criminals will carry guns," I have two answers. The first is: if guns become harder to get/illegal to own in all but specific circumstances, then there will naturally be fewer guns out there to be bought or stolen. It may take a while, but eventually the market for guns will lessen dramatically. The second is: the number of law-abiding people who have used guns successfully to defend themselves against criminals is VERY LOW compared to the number of people who have shot others by accident or design, in self-defense. As to its constitutional rights issue, the constitution can be changed, and has been changed, over the years. It's time to change it again.

Unknown said...

Oh, Tom. What an awful, scary, disheartening day. Thank goodness none of your daughter's friends were physically harmed, but my heart goes out to all of the families whose grown children were killed.

I agree that more effective gun control is needed. I agree that those who are allowed to have them need serious training.

But above everything else, there needs to be more love, education and kindness in the world so that people don't grow up with so much anger that they look for people to kill as a way to solve their problem and those who have mental illness aren't untreated or ignored.

Sending much love to the city of Seattle and to you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. I agree that if we cannot just ban guns, then it needs to be very difficult to own one, like maybe not selling them at Walmart. I also agree with a response you made to a previous comment about the connection between exposing children to violence and children committing violent acts- isn't it strange that we live in a society that is more comfortable with violence then sex? People are fine with blatant violence in children's cartoons and games, but we get uncomfortable and offended if they're exposed to anything sexual. Maybe if we were more comfortable with sexuality and less so with violence we'd have a lower teenage pregnancy rate as well as lower violent crime rates. Sorry to go off on a tangent. Loved your article, signing up for your blog!

Anonymous said...

Tom, you seem to like statistics.

Seattle has some of the most lenient concealed carry laws in the country, and has one of the lowest homicide rates in the nation for a city of its size.

Washington, DC, on the other hand, has a homicide rate 7 times as high as Seattle's, with the most stringent gun laws in the nation.

happynik said...

Amen. So well said. I will share this with the proud gun owners I know. We have guns but they are all in a safe, know how to use them and teach our children about how serious they are. Every gun owner I know is very well educated and just as careful, and I live in the heart of Texas, where it's almost a tradition to own guns. Thank you.

Liz said...

Gosh, reading this sent shivers through me, I am gobsmacked by the statistics.
I live in Ireland, although we do have gun crime, the cultural aspect you have in the US, is so scary and alien to me.

Kathy Slattengren said...

It's definitely time for a change in our gun laws. Someone's right to own a gun should not be more important than someone else's unalienable right to life.

We lived a few months in Holland and I felt so much safer walking around there. People can own guns but have to store them at a government building where they also have to go to retrieve them - for the purpose of hunting or target shooting.

Too many innocent people have been shot to death in the United States. We need to make a change to protect everyone's right to life.

Kathy Slattengren said...

Too many people are tragically killed in the United States by gun owners. Someone's right to own a gun should not trump someone else's right to life.

We lived in Holland for a few months. I felt so much safer walking around there. Their laws require everyone to have their guns stored at a central location where they have to go to retrieve them for the purpose of hunting or target shooting. Nobody just walks around the streets with a gun.

It's time for the United States to make a change in gun laws to protect everyone's right to life.

Miss_Lola_77 said...

Amen, Teacher Tom. No matter how you try to dress them up, guns have ONE SINGLE purpose--and that is to kill.

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