Greg Gibson: A Slightly Different Angle.


My son was killed in a school shooting in 1992. Since that time I’ve been on what people often refer to as a “journey.” I’m not a big fan of pop psychology. Dr. Phil and Oprah can keep their “closure,” “healing” and the like, but in this case the “journey” metaphor fits. Every survivor of gun violence will be on a journey for the rest of his or her life. Each survivor’s journey is an individual odyssey. Some end badly, some end well. Some result in surprising discoveries.

The administrators at my son’s school knew the killer had a gun and ammunition, but they were too inept to stop  the shooting. I’m a writer, and I was so angry at their failures that I wrote a book about the murders, and about guns in America. It was intended to reveal the stupidity of those college administrators, and it succeeded in that. But it also made me realize that there was no redemption in revenge. Instead, I eventually made peace with the college, and became more involved in the gun violence prevention movement. I advocated for sensible gun laws, wrote op-eds, and did talking head duty on TV.

People were generally respectful of my experience as a survivor, but I was told repeatedly that my views had little grounding in fact, because I knew nothing about guns or gun culture. So, a few years ago, I got my Class A Large Capacity license in Massachusetts and bought a couple of handguns. I’d hunted as a kid and am a Navy vet of Vietnam vintage, so guns weren’t new to me. What surprised me was the fact that I found shooting therapeutic. I was mastering the instrument of my suffering.

Recently I published a piece in the New York Times about the idea, proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, that arming teachers would reduce school shootings. In this article I proposed to look into the matter of how much training it would take to transform an average gun owner such as myself (or a teacher or a rabbi with my level of skill) into someone capable of reacting instinctively and flawlessly to an active shooter situation. I was, in essence, trying to imagine myself in the library where my son had been killed. How much training would I have needed to save him?

The answer, of course, was “a hell of a lot.” In short order I became convinced that, instead of training teachers and rabbis to shoot like special forces operatives, it would be wiser and more humane if we could train special forces operatives to be teachers and rabbis.

My article was well-received by the people who already agreed with it. But unexpectedly, this writing project carried me to a place in my 26-year survivor’s “journey” that I could never have imagined.

As research for the article, I began taking lessons in defensive handgun use. By the time it was published, I had become engrossed in the training. I saw how complex and physically challenging tactical defensive shooting could be – like learning ballet or gymnastics but with lethal implications. Given my history, I was surprised at myself for being so interested in this intense and specialized activity.

Then the real surprise came along.

I’d been working away with my Ruger LC9s and my Sig Sauer P229, but I was having some difficulty with the way each gun fit the task. The Ruger felt too jumpy and small, and that first pull on the DA/SA Sig was a bitch. To make matters worse, I have small hands and I’m left handed. Sometimes it felt as if the guns were working against me.

Toward the end of the fourth session my instructor, who’d been steadfastly encouraging me through my difficulties, went inside his big black bag and came out with a pistol, a little smaller than my 229. “Try this,” he said. “It’s striker fired. It’s simpler to operate, and it’s ambidextrous. You can work the slide release and safety with either hand, and you can turn the mag release around to work lefty.” He put the gun in my hand and suddenly my hand was happy. I took a few shots – nice trigger action, comfortable to hold and shoot. “Wow. What is this thing?” It was a Sig P320. I took a few more shots, and then I didn’t want to give it back to him. For the rest of that afternoon and all that evening, I kept remembering how right it had felt to hold and shoot that gun.

If you’re reading this essay, you’ve probably had a similar experience. You find a gun that just feels right. But I’m a gun control advocate and a survivor of gun violence. It wasn’t supposed to be happening to me.

The next day I took my Ruger and my 229 down to my local gun shop and swapped them for a Sig Sauer P320C 9 mm. and a couple of boxes of shells. I drove home happy, feeling as if I’d satisfied a deep need or sorted out a troubling situation.

My training has gone smoothly since then. I’ve learned to extract the pistol from its appendix holster, put rounds in the target, clear a jam, and swap out magazines without posing a danger to myself or others. Soon I’ll be moving and shooting. My instructor says I’ll get faster and smoother. He says it’s all about establishing good habits and repeating them until they become muscle memory. I know I’ll never achieve the proficiency of those guys in the You Tube demos, but that’s all right. I’ve already had a remarkable and unexpected turn in my “journey.” I’ve had a romance with a pistol.

Will I continue to advocate for sensible gun laws and better education about gun safety, mental health and situational awareness? You bet! But I’ll be coming in on these issues from a slightly different angle now.




Don’t Worry About School Security. Joe Da Plumber Will Keep Your Kids Safe.

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Remember Joe da Plumber?  Actually, his name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and he became a right-wing media icon during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when he asked Barack a question during a campaign stop.  Joe claimed that he wanted to buy a plumbing business, but the proposed Obama tax program would have screwed up the whole deal, which immediately got Joe linked to the McCain campaign as representing the ‘average American’ who McCain was going to help.

joe            Now the fact that Joe da Plumber wasn’t actually a licensed plumber; the fact that McCain got involved with Charlie Keating, the banker who rooked tens of thousands of ‘average’ Americans out of their life savings; oh well, oh well. But until and even after the 2016 election, Joe da (unlicensed)  Plumber made a nice few bucks shooting his mouth off on Fox News.

Joe then got a job with Chrysler, but now he’s started a new gig involving school security products, which is clearly a growth field.  Joe’s hawking something called Swiftshield, a device that locks school or office doors against anyone trying to break in; the website claims that for $139.99 you get a product that is ‘virtually indestructible’ and ensures ‘peace of mind.’

For all the talk  by Republicans about the virtues of the free market, it’s amazing how they have no trouble cozying up to the ‘deep state’ when there’s money involved. The latest giveaway is $350 million that schools can use to ‘harden’ their entrances, but this dough is a drop in the bucket compared to what would have to be spent to protect all our school kids. The group which lobbies for the security manufacturers, the Security Industry Association, says that a comprehensive, nationwide security plan for all schools would run about $11 billion.

No wonder school systems have either implemented or are considering programs to arm classroom teachers. After all, a Glock only costs around $600, and I’ll sell you my used Model 19 right for $400 bucks.  The fact that being trained to respond to lethal force with lethal force is something that even most cops don’t do very well shouldn’t stand in the way of sticking guns in every teacher’s desk, and more than 200 school districts around the country evidently agree.

Now what I am about to say should not in any way be considered as diminishing the pain, tragedy and community trauma which follows from a mass shooting within a school building (e.g., Sandy Hook, Parkland, etc.) But notwithstanding those horrific events, the fact is that public K-12 schools happen to be very, very safe environments, and the safety level has been remarkably stable for the past 25 years.

The data for the graph comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which just happens to be a branch of the Department of Education:

These numbers, incidentally, include not only students who die from violence within a school building, but also going to and from school, as well as going to school events at some other location.  In 2015, there were roughly 51 million children enrolled in public K-12 schools. Which means that the national violent death rate was less than 1 percent, and even though homicide is the second leading cause of death for the age cohorts 5 – 18, less than 2% of those 2015 deaths occurred within an educational environment. The bottom line is that schools are often much safer environments for children than the neighborhoods in which schools are located.

The takeaway from this data is very simple, namely, that once again a terrible but relatively rare event, like a mass school shooting, creates an atmosphere of fear and exaggerated concern which leads to solutions that simply don’t fit the problem at hand. But why should we be surprised? After all, with guys like Joe da Plumber leading the conversation, why should we expect anything less?


And After We Get Guns Into The Schools, Let’s Train The Teachers Too.


I was going to wait until tomorrow to run this column, but it’s just too juicy to wait.  So here we have Herr Donald Trump going on and on about arming teachers and other school personnel. There isn’t a single educational organization which has expressed anything except doubts about such a crazy idea, but remember that Trump’s mission is to ‘make’ and ‘keep’ America great again, which if nothing else means jettisoning out all those stupid, wasteful and useless liberal ideas for how to run government and replace them with programs that really work!

teachers             And it just so happens that Trump has a buddy named Eric Prince who happens to be in the gun-training business – a perfect fit! Here’s Schmuck-o Trump’s tweet: “Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.” Catch the highly-trained bit, I’ll get back to that one in a minute. And how is Schmuck-o going to pay for this training? The same way he’s going to pay for the Wall.

Not only is Trump-o’s good buddy the head of a training company, but the good buddy happens to have a sister named Betsy DeVos. And she just happens to be the Secretary of Education and therefore in a position to help turn this crazy training idea into a law. Am I saying that the idea of arming teachers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create a government program that will put a pile of dough into the hands of a well-placed, Presidential friend?

The last time I checked, there were some 115,000 public elementary and high schools in the United States holding somewhere around 57 million kids.  If we stuck two guards in each school and each guard paid three hundred bucks for a training course, that’s around 75 million revenue to the outfit selected to deliver the training course. That’s not exactly chump change or even Trump change for the training company which used to be known as Blackwater when Prince founded it in 1997, but then changed its name to Xe Services after four employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The company was acquired by an investment group in 2011, its new name is Academi, and it claims to operate the largest training facility for private, armed guards anywhere in the United States.

Trump and his DC minions are sold on the idea that if you privatize any government service, you get a better bang for your buck. The fact that the service in question is being delivered by someone who happens to be a friend isn’t considered to be a conflict by anyone in the White House at all. Unfortunately, a real conflict involving Prince may be due to the fact that a certain investigation by a guy named Mueller may have turned up evidence linking Prince to a back-channel connecting Putin to Trump.

But not to worry because even if it ends up that Prince can’t provide the ‘rigorous’ training which Trump claims the teachers will receive, there’s another private outfit ready and waiting to put together a training program that will help  America’s teachers protect the kids. And unlike Prince’s outfit which has been in the training business for only 40 years, this other company has been engaging in gun training since 1876.

Right now the boys in Fairfax are putting together a new NRA course called something like Safe Gun Use in Schools. Now the trick is to get some of their Congressional toadies to pass a law that will reimburse school districts the costs of training armed guards as long as the training curriculum is developed by the NRA.  And this will go a long way towards making up for the collapse of the vaunted Carry Guard training program which right now has exactly one single course listed in the entire USA.

Know where this whole idea to arm teachers is going to wind up?  Nowhere. And that’s because even with friends trying to help friends, the idea is simply dumb, dumber, dumbest and dumb.

Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.


Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?

Let’s Hear It For Those Parkland Kids.


Yesterday I wrote a column talking about how the post-Parkland gun debate is different from all previous post-shooting debates because of the spontaneous emergence of social media networks driven by high school kids. I’m not saying this is anything other than coincidence, but today’s New York Times is carrying a major article which basically says the same thing. Except that the NYT story goes beyond my basic point, describing in detail about how national gun-control organizations like Everytown have mobilized lobbyists, members and advertising to respond to the usual pro-gun defenses from the other side.

parkland4              Most of what the NYT reportage said about the new-found strength of the gun-control community is correct. But their understanding of what is really driving the dynamics of what they refer to as the ‘anti-gun’ movement misses the larger point. Obviously, having Trump in the White House, as opposed to Obama, creates a fundamental difference when it comes to the public debate about guns. And it certainly is the case that what Trump says today about gun control may be very different from what he’ll say the next day or the next.

Trump’s behavior reminds me of what Sitting Bull once said about Crazy Horse after the massacre of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876.  Back in 1868, both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a treaty which the U.S. Government broke before the ink was dry. Crazy Horse then claimed that he never signed the document, but when asked whether Crazy Horse did sign the treaty Sitting Bull replied, “Of course he signed – Crazy Horse would do anything for a free meal.”

So now we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who will say anything to grab the media spotlight, no matter whether he means it or not. Will Trump really push for increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns? Will he try to get the DOJ to figure out a legal maneuver that would ban bump stocks?  Who knows what’s on his mind, but mind or not, I can tell you this: If Hillary Clinton was the 45th President, she would have gotten on Air Force One and flown down to Florida no later than the day after the shooting, done the requisite hospital visit, then thanked the first responders, photo-ops at every stop. At some point there would have been a tearful, emotional speech and a demand that Congress do what they should have done after Sandy Hook; i.e., pass some kind of legislation to ‘end this horrifying gun violence’ or words to that effect.

Wayne-o Lapierre talked for 37 minutes yesterday at CPAC, a speech which was the ‘official’ response to Parkland by the NRA. He started off with the usual bromides about the ‘terrible tragedy,’ this and that, but then went into a long rant about how the Democratic Party had been taken over by a European-style ‘socialist’ elite, whose headway had been briefly stopped by the election of Trump. The way Wayne-o rambled on and on about this threat, you would have thought that Barack Obama was still in the White House trying to figure out how to push the country further to the Left.

Every time there was a mass shooting since 2008, Gun-nut Nation could and did respond by attacking the guy from Kenya and turning gun control into an issue between ‘us’ – the good guys – versus ‘them.’ Which is exactly how Trump behaved throughout his entire Presidential campaign as well as his tenure in the Oval Office until February 14 when everything changed. And what changed is that, for the very first time, the public debate about a political issue is being defined by the kids. Not by the lobbyists, not by the organizations, not by the media and the editorial boards, but by the kids.

The best thing which has ever happened to the movement to end gun violence is that we no longer have a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank God for the kids.

Why Are School Shootings Different From Other Shootings? They Aren’t.


When we say goodbye to our kids in the morning as they trundle off to school, we all hope they will spend their day in a safe and secure space. But ever since the Sandy Hook massacre near the end of 2012, the issue of school shootings and gun violence in schools is never far from our minds. And while I don’t think that the arming teachers and staff is a smart thing, I can sympathize with parents of school-age kids who fear that their school might be next.

sandy              Now we have a detailed report by a research team at Northwestern University who believe that school shootings are ‘significantly correlated’ with increased unemployment and conclude that these shootings reflect ‘increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition’ which became more problematic during the Great Recession beginning in 2008.

Not surprisingly, this effort is gaining its usual share of attention from both sides of the gun violence debate, with Gun-nut Nation claiming that the findings underscore the need to have armed guards in every K-12 school, and Gun-sense Nation of course arguing the other way.  But after reading the report closely and carefully, I’m not so sure that the correlation between rates of school shootings and indicators of economic distress are as meaningful or exact as the authors of this report would lead us to believe.

First as to the raw data on the number and trend of K-12 shootings – it’s pretty thin.  Which is not the fault of the researchers, you work with what you have. But what they have are six datasets, only one of which goes past 2012, and none of which are particularly exact or comprehensive in terms of giving us any kind of complete information on K-12 shootings, particularly over the last 5-6 years.

Despite these gaps, there are some findings of note.  When all the datasets were merged and checked for accuracy, the researchers were able to construct a list of 381 school shootings, which works out to an average of 15 shootings per year.  That works out to a rate (per 100K) of .03 shootings a year, and while the report does not quantify the deadliness of the shootings or the number of victims, if we assume a mortality rate of 50% and one victim per incident, notwithstanding the fearsome emotions precipitated by such events, K-12 schools still seem to be pretty safe places where kids can spend their days.

As to the increase in school shootings since 2008 and the onset of worsening economic trends, we can also see an increase in gun violence outside of school environments over the same period of time.  If we combine data on gun homicides and gun assaults published by the CDC, we come up with a yearly average between 2001 and 2014 of 62,316 gun injuries, an annual number that was at least 20% higher in 6 of the 7 years between 2008 and 2014.  In other words, if school shootings are on the rise, so are shootings which occur everywhere else.  And since more than 60% of all school shootings, according to the report, were attempts by an armed individual to injure a specific person who happened to be present on the property of a particular school, why should the reasons for school shootings be any different than the reasons for gun violence wherever it takes place?

If I had a nickel for everyone with a theory about why gun violence occurs I wouldn’t have to work for a living, so I’ll add my own pet theory to the mix.  I believe that every act of gun violence occurs for at least one reason, namely, the presence of a gun.  And since 2008 there are a lot more guns around.  And no matter who owns all these guns and no matter how strict the laws, more and more guns will get into the ‘wrong hands.’ Know how it used to be the economy, stupid?  Now stupid, it’s the gun.



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