Uncle Jim used to herd a group of us kids into the car on a sunny Saturday morning and head to an isolated area outside town. His son, little Jim, my two cousins Sandy and Terry and I were full of anticipation. We were going target shooting — with a real gun — guided every step of the way in gun safety by Uncle Jim. I was about 10 or 11 years old, the oldest kid in the group.
“Always keep a gun pointed toward the ground until you are ready to shoot,” Uncle Jim would say as he set up soda cans on a fence post about 20 yards away. “Never, ever point a gun toward another person.”
There on the southwest mesa outside Albuquerque, we would wait patiently until it was our turn to handle the pistol. Uncle Jim would stand right behind us and guide the gun into our hands, showing us the proper technique of cradling the hands around the bottom of the gun while placing an index finger on the trigger. Then he’d take a step back as we raised our arms and tell us to shoot when we were ready.
While in an outstretched-arms position, I once turned slightly to ask him a question and he urgently leaped forward, repeating the mantra, “Never, ever point a gun toward another person.” He steered my arms back to the target.
If only there were an Uncle Jim inside every house with a kid and a gun.
I’ve been thinking about my young gun training ever since hearing news about the school shooting in Roswell, N.M. — just 200 miles from where I learned to handle a gun. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Where did that child get access to a gun?”
The 12-year-old got the shotgun from his home and used it to shoot two of his classmates inside a crowded gymnasium at Berrendo Middle School. Thankfully, the result was not as devastating as some other recent school shootings but, at this writing, one of the wounded children, a 12-year-old boy, is still hospitalized in critical but stable condition. The second victim, a 13-year-old-girl, is home now but still has limited use of one arm.
According to police, a search of the boy’s home revealed several firearms were kept there — none stored in a lockbox.
Police revealed that the boy actually took time to saw off the stock of the shotgun, making it easier to conceal. Again I thought, “Where were the parents while he was doing this?”
Some will say it’s not fair to question what the parents did or didn’t do. Know that my heart aches for them, as well as the wounded and their families. But who else was responsible for that child getting a gun? Who else was responsible for the safekeeping of that weapon? It’s easy to say that placing blame solves nothing but without accountability, where are we? After the next school shooting involving a minor do we just shrug our shoulders and say nothing different could have been done?
Reader Alice Benson of Tijeras Canyon, N.M., wrote me after the Roswell shooting. She helps newly released parolees navigate the court system, and Benson asked, why don’t schools have just one entrance, manned by an armed guard and a metal detector?
“One might ask: When was the last time we heard of someone getting shot in a courtroom?” Benson wrote. “Why do we guarantee the safety of criminals in a courtroom and not the safety of our most vulnerable resource — our children?”
Good question, Alice. Let’s do the math.
After a school shooting in Cleveland a few years ago, city fathers set aside $3.3 million to put metal detectors in all 111 public schools and to hire guards to man them. Can your state afford that?
The average cost of a good metal detector is upward of $7,000. Multiply that by the approximately 100,000 public schools in this country. Then, of course, there would be the cost of each guard’s salary. If he or she is armed, they would have to be state certified and trained and would certainly ask for more than minimum wage, say, $40,000 or $50,000, per school, per year.
So, I’d say the bottom-line answer to the question, Alice, is that there is not enough money in the school budget. And not enough resolve to divert funds from other sources to provide such security at the entrance to every single public school. Right or wrong, it is the reality.
Also, let’s ask ourselves: Is that the atmosphere we want while educating children? Think of the tension and anxiety surrounding airport security checkpoints. Will the kids have to take off their shoes and belts and empty their pockets every morning? Is that how we want our kids to start each day?
A much easier solution would be for every adult who owns guns to step up and be accountable for it. Even if there is no child in the home, firearms are tops on the list of items robbers look for when they break into a house. Every gun owner should have conscience enough to secrete their gun or, preferably, buy a locked cabinet in which to store every weapon they own. I’m not talking gun control here. I’m talking personal responsibility.
I wonder what Uncle Jim, a lifelong resident of New Mexico, would have said about the Roswell school shooting. He’s no longer with us, but I bet he’d hang his head, let out a big sigh and say, “Never, ever point a gun toward another person.”
— Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.