Weapons on campus

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When I was in high school, weapons on campus were not an issue. It’s not that there weren’t weapons on campus; there were plenty of weapons on campus. It was not unusual to see a pick-up truck in the student parking lot with a gun rack and one or more shotguns or rifles clearly visible in the gun rack.

I don’t ever recall knowing that someone ever had a handgun on the school grounds but plenty of students had knives, particularly pocketknives, which were thought of as tools rather than weapons. A few boys were known to carry hawkbill knives, which can, indeed, be used as a weapon, but that’s not its purpose. I never knew of one to be drawn out of a student’s pocket in anger.

If there were school rules about such things, I was unaware of them. Oh, there were plenty of rules in this public high school. In Kingsport, Tennessee’s Dobyns-Bennett High School, boys had haircut rules and there was a dress code.

No shorts or jeans were allowed, no shirts without collars, no tennis shoes, or T-shirts except in phys ed, and no facial hair. Girls could not wear shorts, jeans, or pants of any kind. Girls had to wear dresses or skirts (with blouses), and those each had to be of “modest” length.

Exceptions were made for cheerleaders which meant that a great many boys were terribly distracted during classes if a football or basketball game was that night.

Violations of the dress code would get a student either a warning, detention or sent home. And all this was in 1966-1969 when, outside our world, things were beginning to change drastically.

But the world in which I lived as a teen is gone. My world saw no school stabbings, shootings, or bombings, or even the threats of violent school disruptions. There were occasional fights, of course, but when it was over, it was over. No one got stomped to near-death when they were down. This was before the world started to go mad.

This was before the mass shootings in public schools and the deaths. The madness started slowly but picked up terribly as the years rolled on. According to campussafetymagazine.com, from 1970 until January 2022, there have been 1,924 incidents of firearms being discharged at schools resulting in the deaths of 637 people. An additional 1,734 were wounded or injured.

What were the causes? The article cited stated that 37.1% of school shootings were caused by an escalation of disputes. 10.5% were accidental shootings. 7.8% were suicides. These accounted for over half of the shootings. Other causes included illegal activities, drive-by shootings, domestic disputes with a targeted victim, indiscriminate shootings, and other reasons including unknown factors.

All of this has led, of course, to a banning, and the “no tolerance policy, of “all things weapon” at almost all schools. One can make an argument that some school systems have overacted, such as the school that expelled a child for bringing a 2 and a half-inch toy plastic soldier to school because the toy soldier had a rifle. 

In March of 2013, according to listverse.com, an eight-year-old boy at Park Elementary School in Maryland was suspended for “biting his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun.” Also, says listverse.com, in 2013, ten-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended from school for playing a game and using a “pretend bow and arrow.” Not a stick with a string but a purely imagination-concocted “bow and arrow.”

While an overabundance of caution may lead to these absurd actions, it is certainly understandable that school officials are going to take a hard line on anything that might be, or seem to be, a weapon. The truth is that Johnny and Jane’s school is not their grandfather’s school.

Grandpa’s school didn’t have School Resource Officers, aka “cops,” because there was no need. Discipline was handled by schoolteachers and principals and was reinforced by parents at home. But the world has, indeed, gone mad. Now schools can, in an instant, as we have seen all too often, become dangerous places.

Students who take weapons — or items that remotely look like weapons — can not only have them taken away, but the students can also be expelled and possibly arrested.

At East Coweta High School, in Coweta County, GA, last week a student was removed from class and detained by school resource officers, aka, ”the police,” for having been reported as having a firearm at school. It turned out that, rather than being a firearm, the suspect device was a toy Airsoft gun. It doesn’t matter. It certainly had the look of a gun, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

Principal Steve Allen in a letter to families, wrote, “The item was confiscated from the student, and appropriate legal and disciplinary action is being taken.” A word to the wise, emphasizing the change in only two generations, is simply this: The school is no place for weapons, items that remotely look like weapons, or any items that, in the minds of school officials, could ever be used as a weapon.

Until and unless the nation recovers somehow from its madness, your grandfather’s school will be a relic of the past and will only exist in the realm of fading memories.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]