It’s All Too Much: You Don’t Want to Arm This Teacher at the Moment

June 1-6, 2022

Note: This piece was written in different sessions, usually while listening to The Monkees, or Death Angel’s “The Ultra-Violence,” and not the usual one-session stream of consciousness that is my usual blog brilliance.

Ms. McSwilly has been teaching 5th Grade math for over 40 years. She is just a few weeks away from retirement. On this day, she is discussing square roots with her students who are more focused on the AR-15 that’s slung over her shoulder. The gun and ammo were given to her to her by the government, who told her it was the best weapon to stop a school shooter. The government also paid for her training. That’s where she learned to keep her rifle on her shoulder at all times, to keep it out of the hands of students. Also, if a shooter burst into the classroom, she might not have time to retrieve it. Ms. McSwilly needed to be ready to shoot and kill in seconds. But on this day her headaches were back and she was losing focus. The classroom door opened as the school janitor entered to empty the trashcan. Ms. McSwilly spun around at the sound and unloaded three rounds into the man, killing him in front of her students.

Somewhere I wrote, “Life is a bedspring.” It was some metaphor for something. Now it feels like it was a bedspring in a mattress that needs to be replaced. Too many heavy dudes have been jumping on it. Too many bad headlines. The Russians are advancing in Ukraine. The Supreme Court wants to overturn Roe v. Wade. A white supremacist goes on a killing spree in New York. Another sociopathic teenager kills scores of grade school kids in Texas. Elon Musk wants to re-platform every hate monger on earth, including Donald Trump. My wife is choosing her boyfriend instead of her husband. And a tank of gas just drained America’s bank account. That bedspring just don’t bounce back like it used to.

When the mass shooting happened to Buffalo, I had to go into my “hate crime expert” mode, giving numerous interviews, including on CNN and Turkish News. Sadly, it was a fairly textbook case but I tried to keep the focus on the black community and the endless trauma people of color endure just being not white in America. When the shooting at Robb Elementary School unfolded, I just wanted to crawl in a hole with my second grader. Watching Ted Cruz suggest arming teachers made me want to throw up. The school drop-off the following morning was just about the hardest thing ever. Parents were in tears, extra hugging their kids, hugging the teacher, hoping that she would be able to protect them from a man-child with AR-15. The weight of the world falling on kids who shouldn’t know they are somebody’s target.

Andi had a great idea the day after the Uvalde shooting because we were both trying to figure out what to do in a nation where there are more guns than people and little will to stand up to the gun lobby. Her idea was to have “a day without children,” and let the country’s classrooms be empty for a day of protest. It was brilliant, but the school calendar was running out. Wanting desperately to please her, I tried the make the day happen two days later but the plan didn’t have time to catch fire and fizzled quickly. I felt impotent in the face of the entrenched status of bad news headlines.

I wondered allowed with my students what it would be like to have a year where nothing happened. You know, like the Obama years. Do we have the resilience to withstand what’s to come this summer? They say the personal is the political and both have been pretty traumatizing over the last few years. And, as we know, trauma can be debilitating, turning us inward into a state of learned helplessness. Getting up to fight seem pointless. Slide into bed and scroll through posts about Johnny and Amber instead.

It seems increasingly overwhelming and carbs (or whatever is your drug of choice) tastes so good. Bitcoin is down but suicide is up, way up. Is there a secret to resilience? A lifeline until happy days are here again? A reason to hunker down between mass shootings and GOP landslides?

Turns out there is; optimism. Not every solider that comes back from the battlefield is plagued by PTSD and not every kid with who is the victim of bullying shoots up his school. Research has shown a key factor in trauma recovery is simple optimism. A positive outlook is your hedge against the plunge into the black hole of despair. You might not know it, but reflecting on how (and that) you got through past shit will help you get through future shit. And there will be future shit. 

Worried that you might implode this summer and be Googling “Can I hold my breath until I die?” by Election Day? Here’s three things that will help keep you from losing it.

1. Get some friends. One thing all these shooters have in common is that they are loners. Most guys who go through job loss and divorce go out with their friends and get shit-faced until they’ve come though it. The guy with no friends (and easy access to guns) is the one shooting up his former office place. Get friends. Church, the bowling alley, adult kickball, even those LARP weirdos. Plug into your tribe. We all need each other right now. And not faceless Zoom or 4chan. Go have a beer, you wuss. We’ll get through this with karaoke.

2. Volunteer. Mr. Rogers famously said, “Life is for service.” Stop whining and do something to help. Not only is your aid desperately needed, it makes you feel damn good. The work I do on hate crime and Ukraine issues is unpaid but if feeds my soul. I just went to a Moms Demand Action gun violence event and those mothers were motivated to be the change they want to see. It was intoxicating. These narcissists who just want to “live their best lives,” taking and never giving, are draining energy and missing out on the magical spring of optimism, service to others.

3. Make a list. Setting simple goals is such an easy thing to do. After a session with my therapist, where I was feeling overwhelmed by my financial situation, I acted instead of wallowed. I bought a whiteboard and started organizing my bills and made lists of things to do to improve my situation and then began erasing said things as I did them. A few days ago I called both my senators to ask them to close the loopholes on gun background checks. It took five minutes and it made me feel like I was moving the ball forward. Just get shit done.

There’s so much happening right now. When we’re all super old, we can read about the history of the 2020s and be like, “How the fuck did we survive that?” But now is the time to be like sharks. Keep moving forward. Forest fires? Timmothy McVeigh wannabes? Custody battles? Trump tweets? It will all be in the rearview mirror at some point and me and all my rowdy friends will have a laugh and say, “Look how bad-ass we are. You kids today suck.”

This was going to be a piece about how if you arm teachers, we might pull a January 6 on all the assholes that have defunded education, like Ted Cruz, but, halfway through, I decided to write about resilience. There’s no flowchart for this moment we are in.

Your loved one was just killed by an angry white man with a gun. OK?

August 4, 2019

When will it end? After Columbine. After Sandy Hook. After Las Vegas. After Parkland. After El Paso. #YOURCITYHEREstrong

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I was preparing for an interview on CNN about the slaughter in El Paso when the news broke about another shooting in Dayton, Ohio. Another white male with a gun and the weekend body count climbs. Imagine if all these victims had been killed by someone shouting “Allah Akbar!” There’d be some action taken then. But when it’s a white guy, hey it must be the fault of video games or Satan or something.

I’ve been writing about mass shootings since the 1990s. My co-authored 2000 book, Renegade Kids, Suburban Outlaws, took on the wave of school shootings that ended the twentieth century. Since then I’ve written about the topic ad nauseam, including the specter of right-wing violence that was likely behind the kill zones in both El Paso and Dayton.

I’m so weary. There is a void in leadership. Trump is propped up by the gun lobby and his white nationalist base that not so silently cheers the slaughter of innocents. There must be a parallel universe America where Trump and Moscow Mitch McConnell are hung for sedition and the leadership of the NRA is put on trial for war crimes. But having to stomach another wave of these assholes’ “thoughts and prayers” circle jerk is no longer possible. These are your people, Trump. Tell them to stop and say it like you fucking mean it. WASPs demand that Muslim people disavow Islamic terrorism every single day. I want every freakin’ white man to tell these shooters to stop and I want to hear them do it constantly, 24-7-365. Wake up out of your sleep and tell these white men to stop killing us!

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Here’s where “great” America is now. I know that if I take my family to the movies, to the park, to the mall, to a house of worship, or to any school, there’s a chance a white male, angry at the world over some perceived loss of some perceived right, may kill them in front of my eyes. Because my family is brown, I know that elevates the chance they will be ripped to shreds by some human turd who hangs out on 8chan reposting articles about the “white genocide.”

This is the reality. I’m at a show and I’m keeping my eye on the exits in case the shooter comes in from the back. When my Mexican wife is teaching her students how to conjugate verbs in Spanish, I wonder if some fan of the president is going to come in, screaming, “Go back to where you came from!” and spray the class with his moronic rage, slicing her in half with “legally bought” ammunition. When I drop my daughter off at school, I wonder if some young man, inspired by the Sandy Hook shooter and his soft targets, will go for the “Fuck the World” glory and I’ll have to identify my precious child from all her friends at the morgue. Isn’t America great?

Here’s my promise. Any candidate that promises to use every tool legally available to shut down the NRA and the terrorists in the gun lobby has my full support. I don’t care if it’s Marianne “Huh?” Williamson. It’s sure not Joe Biden. I know the ice caps are melting and people are tweaked on opioids, but bullets are flying in God’s houses and the people’s streets. I’m not a fan of binaries, but it’s time to draw the line. Which side are you on? If you are not acting to defend my family from gun violence, you are in bed with the terrorists who want to destroy our basic right to safety.

I’m so tired of writing about this. I’m tired of our complacency and our stupid hashtags. I’m writing a manifesto of love, but if you aren’t onboard to stop these white men from killing families like mine, don’t expect much love from me.

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Generation Z will turn this gunship around.

February 23, 2018

A week ago I was ready to gather my family and get the hell out of this gun-crazed country. What a difference a week makes. Teenagers across the country walking out of their schools, demanding adults finally make the changes to insure their safety. Students in the Florida state house as lawmakers refuse to ban assault weapons. Kids begging President Trump to “do anything” as he held a crib sheet reminding him to act empathetic. Children throwing their bodies on the wheel and the ground in front of the White House. High school juniors going toe to toe with Senator Marco Rubio about his NRA allegiance, fearless in their contempt. It’s enough to make an old geezer like me think there might be some light at the end of the long dark tunnel.

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A week ago it felt like America was destined for a pointless mass shooting each week as another gun-male took his pathetic anger out on more innocent civilians. Then a girl named Emma Gonzalez channeled the rage of a nation held too long under the terroristic threat of the National Rifle Association. She didn’t blink and she didn’t bow. It was the tipping point. This student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the worst this country has to offer stiffened her spine and single-handedly opened the floodgates of frustration and fury and put the NRA on the back foot.

Let’s just get this out there before this becomes about the “gun debate.” The NRA doesn’t care about the Second Amendment. I doubt most of its members even really know what the Second Amendment says. The NRA cares about guns sales. They are a lobbying organization for gun manufactures who depend on utilizing any tactic to ramp up weapon purchases. “Obama is gonna take away your guns!” “Hillary wants to repeal your right to carry a weapon!” “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a lots and lots of good guys with guns!” “Buy a gun for everyone in your family! Buy three!”

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The perfect example of this push to sell more guns to a freaked-out America is this moronic call to arm the teachers. This “solution” is even coming from our idiot-in-cheif in Washington. Besides the fact that the NRA spent over $31 million to get the “billionaire” elected, I would bet half of that in cash that Trump has never even fired a gun. I’m a teacher and I’ve actually fired a gun. Lots of them. In fact, I had training with the FBI on some the weapons that are being debated right now. I feel completely comfortable firing a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun but not inside the hallways of a campus full of screaming students.

What these NRA kooks ignore is that the majority of these mass shooter gun-males are on a suicidal mission to “go out on their feet in a blaze of glory.” As long as they take out a few kids before Professor Rambo shows up, they’ve achieved their goal. The thought of a well-armed faculty is not a deterrent, it’s an incitement.

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That’s why the voices of Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tar, and all the other Lakeland, Florida students are so powerful. They don’t have time for the latest round of pointless bullshit from our “leaders.” Their lives are literally on the line. The march they organized (within one week of the slaughter of their classmates) on March 24 is being called the “March for Our Lives” and it will be the first real expression of the collective will of the post-millennial generation, Generation Z, and it’s going to be a game changer.

This fall, the babies born in Y2K will be heading off to college. Those 18 and younger, make up the most diverse and plugged-in generation ever. Most of them can’t vote yet, but don’t think that will quell their political voice. Look at how they’ve turned the tide in one week. The NRA is now public enemy number one (no matter how loudly Wayne LaPierre screams about “SOCIALISM!”). I pity any politician that has taken NRA blood money. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) took $122,802 from the NRA and should be shamed from office in November. Let their gun money hang like an albatross around their necks.

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We social movement scholars put a lot of weight on 1968 as a watershed year. Yeah, the student uprisings and unrest facilitated the election of Richard Nixon and six more years of the Vietnam War. But it also gave us the 26th Amendment, insuring that 18, 19, and 20 year-olds would forever have meaningful political power. 2018 could be Generation Z’s 1968, hopefully without all the assassinations. This is my daughter’s generation and, if she is any barometer, their energy will drive these old men into submission.

From #metoo to #neveragain, #thetimestheyareachangin. Get ready you old people, the kids are not alright and they are not going to wait for you to get your shit together. Your old road is rapidly aging. I’m ready to lend a hand. What about you? What side of history do you want to be on? These children can’t do any worse than we have.

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America is eating its young. Maybe it’s time to get the hell out.

February 15, 2018

As parent, my gut instinct is to get my family out of America as soon as possible. There are lots of places this doesn’t happen. This country is fundamentally broken. If we didn’t address American males’ obsession with gun violence and the “right” to own weapons of mass carnage after the Sandy Hook massacre, we never will. That 2012 Connecticut shooting left 20 six and seven-year olds dead. Is my three-year-old safe in daycare today, or will find out on the news that some boy or man exercised his 2nd Amendment right by blowing her and her little classmates heads off?

Yesterday’s carnage in Lakeland, Florida is just the latest. Seventeen dead. People are offering the “thoughts and prayers” (accomplishes nothing) and #GunReformNow is trending on Twitter (accomplishes nothing). Pundits and presidents talk about how the shooter was “deranged” (accomplishes nothing) and it will be open season on anyone with a mental health issue (accomplishes oppression, because people suffering from mental health issues are actually less violent than the general population.) It’s the same circle jerk that will dominate the news cycle until the next “big story.” Stormy Daniels? Trump’s tweet? Another shooting? Does anybody remember the Las Vegas shooting? 2017? Hello?

When my co-authored book about suburban delinquency and gun violence, Teenage Renegades, Suburban Outlaws, came out in 2001 we were (like now) picking up the pieces of young gun casualties. The book addressed the lessons learned from the cluster of school shootings at the turn of the century that peaked with the 1999 slaughter at Columbine (13 killed). I was honored to be a part of the national discussion about toxic masculinity, bullying, and the easy availability of high powered weapons. We licked our wounds and went to work and school shootings declined.

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The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School yesterday dwarfed Columbine, something young males have been promising for 19 years. We’ve averaged about one of these events a week in 2018. (I wonder how bad next week’s shooting will be.) That this teenage shooter was linked to a white supremacist group also connects the body count to the elevated racist climate in Donald Trump’s alt-right America, where violent white males have become emboldened (God, I’m sick of using that word). But while we focus on the race of the shooter, we will miss the more important discussion about the gender of the shooter.

All these mass shootings are committed by males. There was a school shooting earlier this month in Los Angeles by a 12-year-girl but it was ruled unintentional. Except for the Brenda “I don’t like Mondays” Spencer case in 1979 (2 dead), girls don’t go on shooting sprees. I’ve written endlessly about the connection between masculinity and gun violence, including in this blog. Let me bring the message home.

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The same toxic masculinity that allows a boy or man to take an AR-15 to school and vent his rage at the world on some “soft targets” is displayed by our elected officials who think they are defending something by allowing that boy or man access to an AR-15 in the first place. There is a reason that women (and female politicians) are at the front of the sensible gun law cause. Women don’t need AR-15’s to make their dicks hard. Women, and men not suffering from EPE (Extreme Penis Envy), want sensible gun laws to reduce (not eliminate) the regularity of this horror. When it was black children being shot in America’s cities, their solution was just to lock everyone up (for anything possible) and put them to work in the prison labor industry. When the juvenile shooter demographic flipped to white, well, they must be crazy and you can’t really do anything about that. Do not expect men to fix this gun problem. Do not. It will be women who get this done.  But they have a mountain of patriarchal bull to remove first.

I’m sick of the gun “debate.”

I’m sick of hearing about “deranged individuals.”

As parent, I’m thinking it might be time to get out while we still can. America is sinking under the weight of its own testosterone. Our male politicians, funded by the gun lobby, have gerrymandered political boundaries to such an extreme that there is no longer much hope of compromise. Districts are permanently Republican or Democratic and moderates are jumping ship. We’re in permeant deadlock with a president who only cares about his ratings and applause from his sub-moronic base. Welcome to Idiocracy. You can pick up your kid after school at the morgue.

On the bright side, the contentious Baby Boom generation is dying off. If the Millennials can put down their phones (and their guns) long enough, this country might survive to its tricentennial. Your “thoughts and prayers” make me sick, but your action plans have my full attention. In the meantime, I’m exploring my options.

“America when will we end the human war?” – Allen Ginsberg (1956).

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ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING IN AMERICA