It was a warm September morning in 1996 when I reached into my closet to grab my rifle case and my range bag that I had prepped the previous night. I opened up the bag and the case to double check I had everything I needed. Rifle: check. 500 rounds of ammunition: check. Hearing protection: check. Eye protection: check. With any luck, I’d get through all 500 rounds today. Time to head to school . . .
Sounds like the making of a sensational media headline doesn’t it? Headlines similar to: “14 Year Old Brings Assault Rifle to School” or “500 Rounds of Ammunition Found on High School Student in Classroom”. Did you miss those headlines? Do you remember that mass killing at a high school in Phoenix, AZ in 1996? You don’t? Well maybe because nobody died at my hands that day… or any other third Tuesday of the month when I, and 15 – 25 other high school students, brought our firearms to school for an afterschool trip to the range. That’s right; I was a member of a school-approved shooting club.
For most reading this, you probably already know that I was shooting a .22LR semi-automatic rifle as there aren’t too many calibers that sell 500-rounds in a single box. My rifle was made by Browning some 50 years prior and belonged to my grandfather at some point in time, bought in New York City of all places. It was also my first firearm. Some of the other club members brought everything from pre-ban AR-15’s (it was 1996 after all) and AK-47’s, and even this funny-looking new Glock handgun with some kind of oddly placed holes on the top of the slide that supposedly compensated the recoil.
We all still followed the law, meaning I had to endure a 50 minute car ride to school with my mother instead of my usual carpool. So that day I accepted that I would be deprived of hard rock and the mildly perverse conversations that dominated such trips with three other teenage males. During that day’s car ride, my thoughts were mainly focused on the horrible “old person” music coming out of the speakers and how I was going to exit the vehicle in the least embarrassing way possible at our destination.
We arrived at the school and followed the club’s protocol by leaving the firearms with our teacher/club instructor (a former Air Force colonel). He was a science teacher with a separate lockable room for all the science equipment and that is where our firearms and ammunition sat during the day. Around 40 firearms and their ammunition stored next to a classroom full of hormonal, pimply-faced high school kids rotating through six separate science classes that day! One of those guns was even an AR-15 equipped with “the shoulder thing that goes up”. I’m sure Carolyn McCarthy wouldn’t approve.
See, in the pre-Eric Harris/Dylan Klebod days, the biggest concern was someone walking off with a club member’s firearm, not the school shootings for which certain media opinion journalists and politicians statist authoritarians seem to yearn.
The day was the usual, uneventful, work-intensive, learning-filled high school day that one might expect from a school not constrained by the public education blob. After the last bell rang, when the parking lot was full of students heading for their cars or being picked up by their parents, the other club members and I boarded one of the waiting 15-passenger vans and headed to the range.
Think about it for a second; around twenty 14 to 18 year old high school students making their way to partake in recreational shooting, all carrying firearms in the high school parking lot, full of hundreds of people. Where was Piers Morgan when you needed him to save everyone from us nutty, gun-crazed American teenagers? Oh, he was editor of that fine, upstanding periodical of journalistic credibility called the Daily Mirror in 1996. I’m sure he still feels right at home in the U.S. tabloid business.
That day, and every third Tuesday of each month during the school year, we did what many enthusiasts still do when they go to the range. We punched a lot of holes through paper, some students earned various club certifications, some of us competed, and some of us just had fun. All of us learned about firearm safety and respecting the tools with which we were entrusted. When the day was over, we headed home and not one drop of “blood running in the streets” was due to our firearms.
So what happened to the sportsman’s club? To my knowledge it still exists. Students still compete and go to the range even in 2013. They still haven’t made any headlines on the news and I’d like to keep the sensationalist opinion journalists from doing so; hence the lack of naming my former high school. It is quite a shame I am inclined to think that way in the land of the free. I am unaware of what role the school takes in regards to firearms on school grounds (official sponsorship, storage, etc), as it has been many years since I was a high school freshman.
What happened to our society? The answer is difficult, as mass murders have stayed relatively stagnant for decades. As people of the gun, we understand that mass-murderers aren’t exclusive to the last 10, 20 or even 50 years. They are not exclusive to the United States, guns are not the only tools used, and citizens aren’t always the ones committing such crimes.
However, the recent mass murderers in the US do appear to meticulously plan out their attacks much more rigorously than the seemingly random killings prior to Columbine. The research and prep work many of these murders do prior to their homicidal acts display a desire for the attackers’ maximum effect. James Holmes and Adam Lanza conducted research for months (maybe even years) prior to carrying out their heinous acts. They, among others like Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold thought out how others would react to their actions and attempted to plan accordingly in order to increase the amount of casualties. All, except for Jared Loughner, chose “Gun Free Zones” as their targets.
As you can tell, I’m not talking about the 90% of homicides committed by repeat felony offenders (pg 667) for which the media seems to have little issue with being out on the streets, but the uptick in the casualties achieved during mass-shootings in the US. On the surface, a pattern (other than firearms) can be drawn between the most heinous mass killers. There exists an underlying desire for recognition, a bloody temper tantrum against society, punishing us for perceived wrongs which we play no direct part but are guilty by association. In their minds, they will be heard and we will suffer for their societal blacklisting.
What has enabled this line of thinking and the continued attempts by mass murderers to one up each other for the title of Most Infamous? It used to be that all you had to do was kill (or attempt to kill) someone famous, but now all one has to do is watch the news coverage of a mass murderer in this country to see why these killers thrive on the notion of going out with a bang. Sure, various contributing factors like psychiatric drugs, video games and violence in several forms of media can be attributed to some of these murderers, but the notoriety they receive is universal which leads me to my final conclusion. In a country that is hard wired for media at your fingertips, instant news alerts, Facebook posts, and a Twitter feed that is constantly buzzing in your pocket, killing kids is a psychopath’s sure-fire way to notoriety.
As the media began its own push for gun control, culminating in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, the public became more engrossed in the debate. With the advent of the internet and blogging, more people than ever have an opinion they want to express. As with any law or laws that restrict natural rights, deep-rooted passion of the issue is bound to turn into uncontrolled rants between the less articulate masses on both sides of the debate. At a rudimentary level, this is the crux of why the media reports so heavily on these issues. Sensationalizing these events drives ratings, increased ratings causes an increase in similar stories.
Take a look at the ratings the Monday before the Sandy Hook shooting and the Monday after (hint: Piers Morgan Tonight more than doubled its ratings share). Of course, the people consuming the “news” are the ones that ultimately propel the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality. If the news outlets would like the American public to believe the 2nd Amendment and its supporters are guilty of enabling these killers, they must also accept their culpability in using their 1st Amendment protection to provide notoriety and celebrity status to the disturbed individuals that commit these crimes (I won’t hold my breath).
The difference, of course, between the liberty-restricting mindset and the pro-liberty mindset is quite clear; the latter group is willing to accept the risks that come with a free society while the former group will not. If the anti-2A politicians and media ever get their way and achieve civilian disarmament, they will still have to face the fact that their reporting will drive these killers to other methods in order to achieve their celebrity status… or we could actually try to work toward a solution that allows us to keep our liberties and target the problem, but where are the electable votes and viewership in that approach?