Guns in School — A Perspective

The Newtown shootings have rekindled the national debate on gun control. Some are saying that guns are the problem while others re suggesting that guns (arming teachers) are the solution. Growing up, I personally experienced guns in school but there were never any problems.

It started in 1975, I was a freshman in high school and my friend Bryan and I were making a super-8 movie for a class. It was a humorous short called, A Hillbilly Cleans Up. The film followed a hillbilly who comes to town and eventually ends up in a laundromat. The hillbilly then proceeds to remove his overalls and do his laundry wearing only his red long johns. Bryan was the hillbilly and I was the cameraman. Guns play a part in this story because in his role as the hillbilly Bryan needed a couple of props, a corn cob pipe, a straw hat and a shotgun. We got out of school and spent the whole day walking around the College Hill Business District in Cedar Falls with my 14 year old friend Bryan carrying a double barreled 12 gauge shotgun over his shoulder. I don’t remember if we entered any businesses other than the laundromat but no one thought it at all unusual.

During my high school years, I can remember a number of guns brought to school as part of school projects and while I wasn’t in the class, I think one of my classmates did a reloading demonstration in a speech class.

My junior (or sophomore) year our PE class went out to the local range to do some trap shooting. It was my first opportunity to use a shotgun. If you can believe it, students were allowed to bring their own shotguns and ammo for the day. My friend Doug gave me a ride to school and brought his shotgun. Rather than leave it in his car, we carried in to the  school building and stored it in my unlocked locker! No one thought it was unusual for us to be walking through the building with a gun — maybe because it was in a case 🙂

I have to admit that I was not entirely truthful in my opening paragraph when I said:

… I personally experienced guns in school but there were never any problems.

One incident stands out, and yes, it was a problem. I like to refer to it as The Day Andy Shot The Clock. It was opening night of the play, Dark of the Moon. My classmate Jon and I were working stage crew. Jon was stage manager and I was running the fly loft. I was working about 12 feet above the stage with the crew that ran the curtain and raised and lowered the sets from above.

My friend Andy was in charge of the sound crew and about midway through the play there supposed to be a gunshot. To make it as authentic as possible, Andy was in the unoccupied hallway just offstage. My classmate Jeff  had provided a 12 gauge shotgun along with some blank shotgun rounds. Jeff handloaded the blank rounds himself.

So in the hallway, armed with a 12 gauge and blanks, Andy was supposed to aim the shotgun down the long hallway and fire it on cue from the student director. In rehearsals, the gunshot always went off without a hitch, but on opening day, things were different. When the time came, we heard the gunshot and … the sound of broken glass.

I think Andy was getting bored. Instead of aiming down the hallway,  when the cue came, Andy aimed the shotgun at the IBM wall clock hanging a few feet away on the wall. Since the shotgun was firing blanks he wrongly assumed that there would be no damage. The trouble is that the blank round still has a paper or plastic wadding plus the concussive force of the 12 gauge is still able to  do damage. When Jon and I heard the broken glass, I practically slid down the ladder to the loft and we ran out in the hallway to find Andy sheepishly holding the shotgun amidst a pile of broken glass.

It was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … it was the 1970’s. I had a leisure suit and platform shoes. It really was a different world, and I am beginning to believe that I am that old guy who doesn’t understand the modern world. It really was a different time, we had guns but no problems … other than Andy shooting the clock 🙂

I guess if Andy didn’t have a gun, the clock would still be alive today.