Thursday, July 01, 2004

Don't Those Kids Carry Guns?

The old Subaru is finally going to be put out to pasture. Living in the Rust Belt has taken it's toll on the hard-working Legacy wagon, currently nicknamed "Spot".

The loud roar of the muffler, a clicking from the right front axel, and my children's embarrassment to be seen by their friends in a "hoopdie", convinced me that it was time to let go. (That turbo-charged engine can still kick some ass on the Shoreway though.)

Shopping for cars is not at all like shopping for shoes, or clothes, where one can be impetuous or even frivolous. The car-buying process requires way too much discussion, and inevitably, the conversation turns to what I do for a living, as the salesmen size me up as a potential buyer.
Yesterday, one particularly baby-faced manager, upon hearing that I taught high school in the city, asked,
"Do you have metal detectors? Don't those kids carry guns?"
To which I replied, "Not often" and "Yes, occasionally."

As teachers, we are usually left out of that particular informational loop, unless a student is afraid someone might use the gun. I did an informal class survey once, asking the kids to give me an estimate on how many of their peers carried a gun to school on any given day. The consensus was two or three. A disturbing fact if one takes much time to ponder it, so we tend to concentrate on other things, like who has a hall pass, or who has a hat on in the building.

A number of years ago, I was teaching art at John F Kennedy High School on the city's south side. One winter morning, I walked around the classroom commenting on the progress of my students' drawings, when I noticed a heavy-set boy reach up under his flannel shirt to scratch his back. As he scratched, the shirt pulled away to reveal the black handle of a handgun poking out of the pocket of his jeans.
"What the...?" I blurted out, and without pausing to evaluate the situation, I said, "Give me that gun John."
Startled, he reached into his pocket, pulled the gun out and placed it into my outstretched hand.
"Oh great!" I fussed, "Now I have to send for security. What the heck were you thinking? I cannot believe you had the nerve to bring a gun into my classroom..."
On and on I ranted, while a student ran to get a security guard.
While my mouth was running full throttle my mind was screaming,
"MARYBETH, YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!! What if he wouldn't have handed it to you? He could have shot you!!! This is a gun in your hand!!!"

My mental self-flagellation was reiterated by security a short time later when I was in the main office filing an incident report.
"What the heck where you thinking! That kid could have shot you. You should have just quietly sent for security."
That morning my much practiced mother-tone-of-voice worked for me, another time, with a different kid...who knows?

As it turned out, John began carrying a gun to school, because he had been jumped several times at the bus stop while waiting for the RTA. It was meant to be the equalizer as he defended himself against a group of bullies. He was suspended for several weeks, returned to school briefly, and eventually dropped out.

And what lesson did I learn from the incident?

I am lucky.
Very, very, lucky.


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