Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Donate and Support    
There’s a Weapon on Campus

There’s a Weapon on Campus



This is a partial screenshot from my son’s phone. Last week my granddaughter texted him from her middle school. They were in lockdown and she had learned that it was not a drill. A friend’s mother texted the terrifying truth; there was indeed a weapon in school.

My wife and I drove to the school and, while there was a significant police presence outside, we were provisionally comforted by the relative calm – no SWAT teams, no emergency vehicles. We waited at the curb until I learned from a policeman that the situation was controlled, the weapon was an Airsoft gun, and the police were following protocol and “clearing” each classroom.

We watched as a small, frightened boy was perp-walked in handcuffs to the backseat of a squad car, “weapon” in an evidence bag. Handcuffs! I suppose they followed another “protocol” or intended to teach a lesson. Decidedly the wrong lesson.

These are Airsoft guns.




Just innocent toys, right?



The morning before, as we dropped our 8 year-old grandson at elementary school he said, out of the blue, “Today’s going to be the day.”

“What day??”

“The day someone comes into school with a gun.”

Prescient? Different school, different day, but quite haunting. Of course he wasn’t prescient. He was just saying out loud what small voices are whispering in all children’s subconsciouses, everyday. “Maybe today will be the day.”

My son posted a comment on the community Facebook page, concerned that this incident was not drawing enough discussion about guns, violence and the incalculable emotional and psychological damage suffered by our precious children. Many neighbors commented sympathetically and others, you know . . .

Good guys with guns . . .

Arm the teachers!

Statistics show . . .

Increase security

Metal detectors

SROs (police in schools)

I don’t have a policy solution. As a former head of school and current trustee of a school, I’ve been in scores of conversations and done many hours of research. There is no solution. Armed schools are more dangerous. Police in schools change the culture, for the worse, and usually in discriminatory ways. Most school shootings are outside. Lockdown drills and metal detectors are traumatizing. It may sound hopeless because it is.

We are a violent society. I am nauseated by the gun culture and the self-serving justifications trotted out by so-called responsible gun owners. I’ll say what others won’t. No one needs a gun. Guns are not “tools.” They are ugly machines designed to pulverize flesh and assert power over others. Even hunting, for which I have some limited sympathy in the “tradition” of procuring food or for wildlife management, is primarily an exercise of grotesque brutality as sport.

We are a violent society. A New York Times story today described a new “sport,” the Power Slap League where competitors beat the hell out of each other at great physical risk, for the entertainment of sadists and the enrichment of promoters. The Slap guru is Dana White, president of UFC. He called critics of the Slap League, “morons.”

We are a violent society. You may be blissfully unaware, but children are watching TikTok videos – in gory detail – of brutes pummeling each other. Woman too. Video games are increasingly bloody and realistic. Severed heads and rotting corpses are nightly staples offered by your friendly cable provider. And Republicans are mortified by Drag Queen story hours!

Every person who willfully traffics in violence is complicit in America’s unique disease. Look again at the ad for Airsoft guns. Their manufacturers, distributors, marketers and designers are complicit. Amazon is complicit. I’ve written before about the astonishing reality of the JR-15, an assault weapon for kids. Every person who designs violent video games or sells them is complicit.

The purveyors of all this violence proclaim, “It’s my right!!!” Perhaps so. But one distinguishing characteristic of a truly civilized society is the complex tension between protection of rights and the mature ability to refrain from their exercise. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s right to do something.

We will not pass meaningful gun control and the skeptics are right. It wouldn’t make much difference, at least in the short term. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But we have a heart disease, not a political problem.

The hope, if there is any, rests in small acts. Kids should have daily empathy practice, not lockdown drills. Schools need kindness curricula, not competition. Every person complicit in the ways I described above should be confronted by family members, neighbors and growing storms of anti-violence activism. Boycott stores that sell guns, even Airsoft guns.

Find your own way to resist the growing darkness before it’s too late. Hug your loved ones before it’s too late too.




Steve Nelson
Steve Nelson is a retired educator, author, and newspaper columnist. He and his wife Wendy moved to Erie from Manhattan in 2017 to be near family. He was a serious violinist and athlete until a catastrophic mountain bike accident in 2020. He now specializes in gratitude and kindness.

Leave a Reply