I'd rather schools be gun-free, but people are the real threat

By Jayson Jacoby October 09, 2011 11:00 pm

Guns, as a general rule, don’t belong in schools.

Trouble is, general rules, not to mention laws, sometimes get broken.

And occasionally the people doing the breaking have guns, which they take to school and use to murder students and teachers and anyone else who gets in the way.

When that happens, the presence of another gun-toter — ideally, one who’s not suffering from any sort of psychosis — could, quite literally, be a life-saver.

That said, I understand why many people react with instinctive distaste at the notion of anyone, regardless of their mental acuity, bringing a handgun into the building where their kids learn to diagram sentences and multiply two-digit numbers.

Guns, even concealed pistols carried by people who have a license to do so, simply don’t fit neatly into the idealized portrait of education.

I’m not talking about some Rockwellian tableau, complete with a bright red apple on the teacher’s desk (the teacher herself a primly attired miss something or other, of course) and each student standing beside his or her desk, saluting the American flag.

But against the typical elementary school’s innocent backdrop of alphabet charts, little chairs, and crude but indelibly cute constructions of paste, paper and popsicle sticks, a pistol intrudes with all the jarring subtlety of a sledgehammer pounding a railroad spike.

It’s rather like a surrealist painting in which a man is standing on a beach, and every part of the scene is normal except the man has the head of a penguin.

(Or perhaps I’m remembering an album cover from one of those insufferably pompous English art-rock bands. Like Yes. Or Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Anyway one of those groups that never recorded a song that lasted less than six minutes or involved fewer than nine instruments, one of which was a glockenspiel.)

All that said, when I consider this matter not as theoretical but as personal, with one of my children in proximity to a gun, it’s not the weapon itself that scares me silly.

It’s the person who slips his finger inside the trigger guard.

Which is why I can’t endorse any policy, such as the one the Baker School Board recently discussed but seems to have rejected, that would prohibit any person who has a concealed handgun permit from carrying a gun on school property.

I wouldn’t back such a policy even if it passed legal muster.

Which, in Oregon, it clearly does not.

Schools in this state can prohibit employees, including those who have a handgun permit, from bringing a gun to work.

But both state and federal law expressly forbid school districts and other local government entities from imposing gun restrictions that apply to non-employees who have a concealed handgun permits.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for a gun in every classroom.

Now, the cliche that “guns don’t kill people, people do” is trite and tired, but it also happens to be true.

Yet it’s equally accurate to say that if there’s no gun nearby then you probably won’t get shot.

I like the notion of a gun-free school.

And if I had my druthers that’s the school my kids would attend, from the first day of kindergarten to their final college lecture.

But I also recognize that there are people who don’t care a whit about my druthers, or anyone else’s.

And a minuscule fraction of those people, given the chance, would shoot and kill anybody who came within bullet range, including my four children.

No school policy can possibly stop such a person.

And bans on concealed handguns are especially irrelevant, because history shows that the Eric Harrises and Kip Kinkels of the world do not have concealed handgun permits (neither was old enough even to apply for one in Oregon; the minimum age is 21).

The odds that such a person will ever get the chance to hurt any of my kids are, of course, so fleeting as to be almost irrelevant.

Yet so far as I can tell from the available record, it’s even less likely that any student will ever be hurt, while at school, by a handgun owned by a person who has a permit to carry it concealed.

To put it another way, I believe that any permitted handgun, were it ever to be wielded in a school, is more likely to save innocent lives than to take them.

The analogy is by no means perfect, but this question of legally possessed and concealed handguns and schools reminds me, inevitably, of seat belts.

I understand, every time I click the belt to lock my kids’ safety seats in place, that, given a terrible confluence of factors, this action could condemn them to death when, were they not buckled in, they might have lived.

Yet I know that the best thing I can do, the safest thing, is to snap that steel latch into its slot.


. . .


The rain finally returned, after such a long absence.

I first heard it pattering off the roof vent hood over the bathroom. The drops when they hit the thin metal produce a pleasant, almost musical, tone, rather like one of those brightly colored xylophones that toddlers drag around by means of a plastic mallet attached by a nylon string.

I remembered then that I had forgotten to put up the driver’s side window in my car. An understandable oversight, I think, as we have had little more than a spattering of rain since the last of July.

So I went out into the damp night (it was 1:25 a.m.), raised the window and wiped the seat, which was wet but not saturated, with a dry cloth.

The next morning, when I walked across the parking lot to the office door, the scent of wet sage hung heavy, and I gulped in an extra large lungful of its pungence.

The calendar on the wall beside my desk told a different tale but I knew the truth of the thing.

Autumn had arrived, belatedly, but aromatic as always.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.