Op-ed: A father’s take on tragedy

assault weapon school crossing

Seeing the Newtown headline come across my web feed was at once heart-wrenching and rage inducing. My first thoughts went to my son, an 11-year-old at a local middle school. I was selfishly relieved that it did not happen here in Florida while also knowing that it could have on any given day.

I was disturbed but not surprised. Using weapons designed for soldierly combat to murder defenseless—and increasingly younger–school children has now, somehow, become a fringe aspect of America’s gun culture. Even as overall gun violence decreases, the brutish act of mass slaughter seems to grow beyond control.

Nothing can bring back the precious lives of those lost in Newtown, but our minds immediately begin to wonder how future tragedies can be prevented. As usual, the corporate media has done a pretty good job of showing the polar-oposite views without really offering a rational discussion of solutions. That is if anything about this is based in rationality.

In the discussions I’ve seen to date, it somehow seems forgotten that there are two aspects to solving this problem: the causes and the effects. Each has to be dealt with as a separate, yet related entity. Knowing the cause – the reason why someone could fathom doing this may be unattainable, but it is clear that there are some serious cultural and mental health issues to be addressed in the wake of these tragedies. Effects, of course, cannot be changed after the fact, but steps can be taken to limit them if someone does decide to commit such a horrifying act. And then some solutions may help to fix both things.

I am not a gun owner and yet I’ve trained extensively using the military version of the AR-15, the M-16. During my stint in the Marines, I qualified as an expert shooter numerous times and had the weapon on my person for six months straight while deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. Make no mistake about it, these weapons are designed to efficiently kill humans and they do it well.

As with any firearm, use against unarmed children and adults in a closed building makes it absolutely lethal, compounded by the fact that assault weapons are more efficient—they can shoot a lot more bullets before having to reload. For a practiced individual, switching 20-round clips is as easy and quick as the click of a seat belt.

Luckily, I have only ever had to fire my weapon at a target, not a person. My training gave me a deep respect for what the weapon is: a combat tool designed to exterminate humans. One should always treat it as such. A “proud” owner of an assault rifle should almost certainly not be trusted with the weapon, as they should dread the day—if ever—that it must be used.

I stand on the fence for much of the secondary debate, however it seems clear that there is absolutely no reason that a mentally unstable person should have had access to any weapon for any reason. Nancy Lanza has already paid the ultimate price for her wretched stupidity, and I am only sorry that she did not have the chance to directly face the parents of each of those children who she enabled her son to murder.

For all their want of the freedom to bear arms, conservatives and the NRA have got to do a better job of policing their ranks before their very own culture, which promotes casual access to guns, enables events that will result in their own worst-case scenario.

Placing armed guards in schools may be a deterrent, limiting the effects but in the end this is nowhere near a solution to the cause of the problem.

Two weekends after the Newtown tragedy my son shot a 12-guage shotgun for the first time (my step father had planned a “guys” clay shoot at a local range while my mother hosted my sister’s wedding shower). I stood over my son during each stage of the shoot, watching him like a hawk to prevent any missteps.

A stranger in the stand next to us looked over as my son broke the clays, exclaiming, “That’s awesome!” but I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

This op-ed was originally published in The Crow’s Nest, USF St. Petersburg’s student-run newspaper on January 7th, 2013.


  1. During my years teaching at a middle school, we had an “open campus”. After the aforementioned events you wrote of above, I counted the number of doors the building had; there were seven. They were always unlocked or open until the year after I retired: 2008. That year, the district had decided to follow suit and have schools locked down during the school day like St. Louis schools had done. The all too familiar surveillance monitor with a call button is what each building’s front door was to have installed district-wide. All other doors were locked or chained. At the time, I remember thinking what a toll this would take on the secretaries, who are already overworked. Children, parents, and delivery persons would come and go continuously through that door daily. Yet there was still the question that couldn’t be answered. How would the secretaries truly know that this person was a parent, grandparent, or older sibling?

    The following year, many times I picked up my grandson early at his elementary school. We have different last names. The first time I had to pick him up, I learned that I wasn’t on the list of people who had authorization to pick him up. It was an oversight by my son; however, they didn’t call Dan to verify that I could pick Tommy up until after I was in the office. This seemed to be a flaw that could have been fatal, I thought. Immediately after thinking this, I quickly pushed that thought from my mind. Still, it was true. I should not have been allowed in. Furthermore, how do they really prove you are the grandparent, parent, sibling, or delivery man? If you establish the rule that these people having to provide i.d., what if they left it in the car parked a few blocks distance away? What if they left it at home or even more didn’t have one? There are no perfect answers.

    I also thought about my former school and how spread out it was. Did the students now have to walk through the entire school from the sixth grade center to the cafeteria like they did on rain days, causing a lot of disruption to the classes in session? Would teachers be allowed to go out and smoke or go to McDonald’s to pick up their lunch? What about after the cafeteria ladies left; could a gunman kick in the door or a window of their now unoccupied kitchen without being noticed? Was there any former students that would even have the will to do this? After thinking all these thoughts, I felt like I had to shake my head clear, because there were just too many flaws, moreover, odds were it would never happen.

    For years, the government paid for an armed police officer to walk the halls of the middle school and high school and teach D.A.R.E but not for elementary schools. Several years before I retired the police officers left unbeknownst to the faculty . The teachers were not told nor the public. In fact, I read references to the “resource officers” after they left in newspaper articles. Where were they hiding, I wondered. The truth, I found out later, was that there weren’t any armed policemen anymore. Central office did not want to pay for it out of their pockets, so the program was dropped quietly, so it would not cause a stir or advertisement that the police officers were gone.

    I knew a couple male teachers who took it upon themselves to illegally bring guns to school under their cars front seats. It all seemed surreal. Now there has been Sandy Hook Elementary School, Oikos University in Oakland, and Virginia Tech.in the news , and I am reminded it is real, it happened, and it will happen again. And that terrifies me, enrages me, and makes me feel rather vulnerable all at the same time.

    • It is pretty sad. While I do want kids to be secure at schools, I see armed guards as a last resort. Who wants to live in a society where armed guards are required to ensure the safety of its citizens?

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