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River Town Chronicles: School shootings are all the rage

Remember Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland

The day after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla., I asked my students to write a poem. Here’s Colin Berg’s, in part:

The children were so innocent / Such a bad incident / They had their lives ahead of them / Until the shooter gunned them down … // Columbine! / Sandy Hook! / Parkland! / Remember!

He’s not the only one affected. “Chants of ‘stop the violence’ … by hundreds of Batavia High School students rang through Engstrom Family Park. … From 150 to 200 walked out at St. Charles East High School” (Kane County Chronicle, 2/21/18).

I’m no gun-hating nut. In my teens, my father helped me pick out a Winchester 73-imitation 0.22 rifle. It was a rite of passage, a bonding. In a gravel pit on my grandfather’s farm, I listened to safety instructions, ad nauseam, before being allowed to fire the weapon.

Now President Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association and other conservatives advocate teachers carrying concealed handguns. Anyone who’s fired both a 0.22 rifle and a handgun with human-stopping firepower knows they’re not the same. Not by a long shot. Ha-ha.

Even using two hands, the weight of a handgun and its recoil make hitting your target problematic. In the New York Police Department “between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate was 18 percent … in a gunfight” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/22/18).

Did I mention your target(s) may be moving, wearing a bulletproof vest and firing an assault-style weapon?

It’s true that teachers are getting shot at point-blank range. By themselves. “At Idaho State University, a teacher accidentally shot himself in the foot when his concealed handgun discharged … Later that month at a Utah elementary school, a teacher carrying a concealed weapon accidentally shot herself in the leg as she used the restroom” (Huffington Post 2/22/18).

Conservatives want to pivot discussion from guns to mental health, labeling shooters crazy and mentally ill.

However, according to psychiatrist Dr. Amy Barnhorst, “Only about 4 percent of community violence is attributable to severe mental illness” (New York Times’ The Daily, 2/23/18). The rest are simply angry, bullied, socially isolated young men.

Pro-NRA enthusiasts argue banning semi-automatic assault rifles won’t have any effect. In fact, comparing three 10-year periods, during the banned period, 1994 to 2004, deaths and incidents dropped significantly (Washington Post 2/22/18).

Should there be more research on gun violence?

Of course. The New Republic voices many people’s concerns that Congress should “reverse the maddening policy that has essentially shut down research on gun violence for the last 22 years” (2/15/18).

As for universal background checks, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 97 percent of Americans favored them for all gun buyers.

On Feb. 26, in front of the Geneva Public Library, I parked behind a black pickup truck. On its rear window, a decal invites you to “MEET MY FAMILY,” below which a long lineage of silhouetted weapons runs, from a tall daddy assault rifle to a baby concealed pistol.

Talk about a dysfunctional family.

“Columbine! Sandy Hook! Parkland! Remember!”

“Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches high school, and moderates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at

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