The Kids are Extremely Alright
I remember what it was like to be scared at school. Today's kids know that nobody besides them is going to fix it.
I was a high school freshman in Texas when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered thirteen people -- twelve students and a teacher -- at Columbine High School in Colorado. It was, in retrospect, the third time a national tragedy had interrupted my schooling.
The first time was the Waco Branch Davidian raid (Mrs. Russell rolled the TV stand into our classroom and we watched what seemed to me to be a whole city afire for hours); the second was the Oklahoma City bombing, after which my fifth- and sixth-grade classes held a memorial around the Mary Orr Intermediate School flagpole. Then, a few years after Columbine, I would sit and sob in the little yellow Beetle my parents had bought me, listening to the live, unfiltered ABC news radio feed of the September 11th attacks -- full of silence and cursing and, worse, mortal terror -- before walking into Mansfield High School in suburban North Texas and watching the whole thing play out again and again on another rolled-in television, this time in our journalism lab classroom.
I had, at school, watched four terrifying seminal moments, live or close to it, and yet at the time it never occurred to me that I would ever contemplate the question: Where were you when -- ?
It was a question that adults asked each other, or which kids asked their parents for history class assignments. Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Where were you during the moon landing? When Nixon resigned?
I couldn’t see myself in history when it happened: Where were you when two teenagers in Colorado murdered a dozen of their classmates and a teacher?
The things adults said after Columbine sounded silly, but they also scared and worried me. They said that two teenage boys got big guns and massacred their people and something about it had to do with black hair and trench coats and video games and Marilyn Manson music. I liked boys who dyed their hair and wore dark coats and listened to loud music and played video games. Hell, I dyed my hair and listened to loud music and played video games.
How should I have made sense of this weird, modern confluence of horror? Waco and Oklahoma City and September 11th seemed so far from anything I could fathom, but Columbine, well, it was right there. It was in the stairwells and hallways and classrooms I already knew; more than that, the grownups told me it was the boys I already knew -- the boys who hid old ham sandwiches deep in each others’ lockers for gross laughs, who skinned their knees in the bus lane trying to learn new skateboarding tricks -- who would be around the corner, waiting with murder on their minds.
I don’t remember anyone suggesting that the problem was anything other than poor parenting and first-person shooter games; these boys needed God, goddamnit, and a good whooping when the everlovingkindness of the Savior would not suffice. I guessed, back then, that the grownups in charge would do something to keep kids like me from getting shot up dead in school. That they’d know what’s best. That they’d take care of everything. Keep us safe.
Then, in 2012, Adam Lanza killed twenty six- and seven-year-olds at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. He killed a half-dozen more teachers.
There were thirteen years between Columbine and Sandy Hook; in that time, the grownups had not kept us safe, and I wondered if they’d ever really meant to do so. There had been the shootings at Virginia Tech and Wedgewood Baptist in Fort Worth, and an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and many dozens of other mass murders, and in the meantime the grownups had argued about whether George W. Bush should be president, and whether we should start (another) war in the Middle East, and whether Michelle Obama’s arms were a problem, but we just really couldn’t land on something solid when it came to the mass murder of American kindergarteners.
And, most bizarrely, sometime between Columbine and Sandy Hook, I had become a grownup. And I still didn’t know what to do about this stuff. There seemed to be no way to talk about a thing that the National Rifle Association had already staked out so much ground on; anyone who even thought about reasonable gun control was some kind of mindless liberal dip-bot, on the payroll of some kind of Hollywood bigwig (insert anti-Semitic dogwhistle here) with batshit ideas about not murdering babies at school.
The conversation hasn’t shifted since I was a kid unaware of her place in history; if anything, it’s become ever more dismal.
In light of the fact that a load of miserable goddamned ding-dongs regularly take to our schools, churches, malls, music festivals, abortion clinics, and big box discount stores to do mass murder on people just trying to live their fucking lives, the question currently appears to be: Should we just go ahead and let any miserable goddamned ding-dong tote around a murder weapon because teeny-tiny wee white cracker Babby Jesus intended for every last beardy brother-in-law in America to bullet-pummel left-wing panny-boys into mincemeat puddles? The answer, of course, is yes if you’re a Republican lawmaker in Texas, but it’s extra YES if you’re Rep. Briscoe Cain, the Lone Star State’s leading hee-haw twerp.
Cain’s tweet was a response to Democratic presidential candidate and former El Paso Congressman Beto (Robert Francis) O’Rourke’s promise to take weapons of mass murder away from the average American miserable ding-dong who might, not to put too fine a point on it, fantasize about using this kind of weaponry for … well, the purpose for which Briscoe Cain specifically and publicly fantasized about using it, specifically and publicly, to do a whole murder on someone who says a thing he doesn’t like, specifically and publicly Robert Francis O’Rourke, better known as Beto.
“But,” you might say, if you were inclined, as far too many of us who have wrangled ourselves free of the indoctrinal trappings of our Texas public educations are, toward the use of logic and critical thinking, “isn’t Briscoe Cain a member of the Republican Party, and isn’t that the party what is always whining about how higher education and the Tweeterz and the newspappery is a bastion of rank censorship for people who can’t handle ideas which conflict with their personal worldview, the party which specifically and frequently wails that those delicate snowflakes should just hike up their wee drawern and deal the fuck with it?”
Ah, a great question -- if one one thinks that hypocrisy is a gotcha for such ding-dongs. Of course this is hypocrisy; of course it illustrates the fundamental dipshittery of the gun cult. But none of these shitbags give the first airy fart about intellectual or theological consistency. Do *all* lives matter? Let’s go to the replay. Let’s ask the Man in charge.
You may have heard of the Gospels; you may even have read them! What you may not have realized, probably, is that Jesus H. Saltine-Christ, J.D., M.A., M.F.A., M.B.A., MP.H., Ph.D., and certified masseuse (he’s working on his AIRROSTI certification), deeply struggled with the question of whether everybody should have little hand-held explosive killing tubes with which to lay one’s ideological enemies low, to wit, six-feet-down low, to be clear, murdered-dead-death-a-dead-thing-low.
Did God Hisself intend for the creations-in-his-image to carry around to the burger shop a means of mutual, mortal destruction on the off chance we don’t like the cut of a neighbor’s jib some cloudy Sunday? The answer, for America’s most prominent conservative thinkers, is yes.
Some members of Cain’s Republican party have been less eager to resort quickly to public, murderous rage at the barest implication that, in one of ten million futures, President Beto O’Rourke manages to wrangle Congress into passing a gun bill that includes the possibility of a government gun buyback. To wit: Texas Governor Greg Abbott is sort of having some bad feelings about all that murder, but he isn’t yet sure that murder weapons being readily available to the murderers is the root cause of all this murder. It may be, he has suggested, that the issue is mental illness.
To be extremely fucking clear: the issue is not mental illness; people with mental illness are vastly more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. President Donald Trump, wrong as he ever and always is, has suggested a deeply creepy Big Brother-style tracking system for people with mental illness that will do naught for ending gun violence but which will stigmatize and silence people who need care, and which will further institutionalize government intrusion into our personal and private spaces.
You know this. I know this. You don’t need 1500 words of me drilling this down to know the deal. We — none of us — need this video from Sandy Hook Promise to lay bare the disgusting asscannery of a gun-obliged GOP.
And yet here we are. At some point we have to decide that we are grownups who are going to do something, or we must concede to young people who really will force the issue. To my mind, there’s no torch to hand over -- this is a fight that young people who, in the most horrifying ways, know that they must lead, and there are plenty of young people who are taking charge regardless of whether they have permission from anyone else.
The best thing grownups can do right now is to sit down, shut up, and support a movement that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Our grownups let us down; let’s do everything we can to make sure this isn’t the story our kids tell to theirs (if they survive).
Where were you when?
Where were you when you decided that another generation of kids didn’t need to be scared to go go school or to church or to the mall? If you don’t already know the answer, I hope your when starts with wherever you are when you’re reading this.
Where were you when you fucking did something about it?