Thurston was the first time that one of the American mass shootings really struck home for me. Not only am I a graduate of Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, but I took a French class one year from Bill Kinkel, Kip Kinkel’s dad. Because I hadn’t lived in the area for a while, and because the initial reports were hazy, it wasn’t until I actually saw a picture of Kip Kinkel and his family that I realized my connection to this shooting went far beyond the memories of the places where people were hurt and killed.
The realization slugged me hard in the gut. Not just because of the connection but because we had our own kid with issues. I was so tuned out and freaked out by the whole thing that I only got a partial photo record of the trip we took right after the shootings–I pulled my film canister out of my Minolta SLR and didn’t replace it, just kept on shooting. I have no record of the exquisite beauty of Stanley Park. Or anything else from that trip. It wasn’t until something clicked that I’d been taking photos for a lot longer than the film roll I had loaded that I checked and realized I’d been shooting with an empty camera. Sigh.
Over the years, I compared notes with fellow graduates. We’d all been stunned by it. The most horrific part, though, was that the shooter was the son of a teacher who’d been a gentle man, someone who’d made a difference in the lives of many struggling and troubled kids at Thurston. But he couldn’t help his own kid–and that added to the tragedy of Thurston. For years I could almost hear Bill Kinkel’s voice as I read what people wrote about how he sought help for Kip.
As we struggled through school years with the kid, progressing toward a diagnosis and management skills, one idiot (upon hearing we took him out hunting) asked “aren’t you afraid you’ll create another Kip Kinkel?”
I–um–pinned that person’s ears back hard. For one thing, a friend of ours who was a gun collector and instructor had been asked to teach Kip proper gun etiquette, but it had never worked out. Could it have made a difference? Hard to say. I do know that my kid, when faced with a gun that looked like the one he’d target shot just the weekend before, only his friends were squirreling around with it, did exactly what he’d been taught to do. While his buddies swaggered around the neighborhood waving it around and pretending to be big twelve-year-old white-boy gangstas (one even had a Starter coat, the big gangsta thing at the time), our kid immediately left them and came home to tell me. He wasn’t sure what it was but he wasn’t messing around. I called the parent, who was shocked–and I was shocked in turn that said parent thought it was totally acceptable for his kid to carry a pellet gun around the neighborhood in a paper bag, and go shooting in a city wildlife refuge, near a popular skating rink and amusement park.
“But it’s only a pellet gun!” he told me.
“It’s a gun,” was my response. “And that’s unsafe behavior and handling. What the hell are you teaching your kid?”
Needless to say, that friendship kinda faded out. And this incident happened before that smarmy idiot compared what we were doing to what happened with Kip Kinkel. They hadn’t known about my connection to Thurston before…well, they sure did afterward. I don’t take those comparisons lightly, either then or now.
Fast forward to now. So far, I don’t know of any of my extended Portland and Mountain community who was at Clackamas Town Center or anywhere near it at the time it happened. I’m seeing accounts of folks who’d been there the day before, or who had left earlier.
Nonetheless, Clackamas is very close to where I live. It’s a ten minute or less drive, within a couple of miles. I shop in that Macy’s store. The pictures from where the ambulances and cops were staged? That’s right next to the escalator next to the REI that I shop at. Yeah, I know that place. My son was born at the Kaiser Sunnyside hospital that’s within a half mile of the mall. If I hadn’t had a meeting that ran late at work, I probably would have tried to run errands at the Kaiser complex and the mall…and run right into the post-shooting chaos. A couple of weeks later, I might have been there, though that’s usually a time of day when I try to avoid the mall.
The usual hue and cry over gun regulation is already exploding, with concealed carry advocates arguing that if they were allowed to carry at the mall, someone could have taken this guy out, and advocates of gun control arguing for greater regulation. To the concealed carry advocates, I cry out phooey. Unless you are training on a regular basis, and practice crisis situations, how the hell do you know you wouldn’t do more harm than good? I’m currently reading an excellent book on force decisions and dude, I seriously doubt you’re thinking with your brains. Civilians just don’t have the cultivated training and instincts. Most of us don’t have the time and money to train that way.
I mean, I could have a concealed carry permit myself. I took the training years ago. I chose not to follow through with the permit. I just couldn’t see it being useful to me (we initially went through the training so that we could buy handguns if we wanted, then it fell by the wayside), and I most definitely don’t see it now, working in a school as I do (and I am most definitely NOT an advocate of concealed carry in schools). For me, concealed carry means a commitment to regular practice and maintenance of a weapon, and I just don’t have the time and access to do that. Nor do I think it’s crucial in my life. If I feel the need for a home defense weapon, my hunting shotgun works right fine (nice little pump action), and is less likely to take out a neighbor because the damn bullet went through a wall. Some of my father’s tales about long distance shooting training for WWII stuck pretty hard with me, and when I learned my own gun discipline, learning what the possible range of a shot bullet could be was the biggest lesson taught. So yeah, if I feel the need for home defense, I’m gonna get a short barrel shotgun with a pistol grip. And a pump, because nothing sends chills down the spine quite like the tell-tale “click-click” of a pump action. Go ahead and play with your big frame handguns. I want my shotgun if I feel worried enough that I resort to weaponry. Then I don’t have to worry about my aim.
To the gun control advocates–you think this is really going to solve the problem now? REALLY? Then just how the hell are you going to take all the weapons currently in circulation out of the system without causing a major ruckus and alienating a significant portion of the populace…including law-abiding folks living in rural areas who need weaponry to protect their livestock against predators and themselves against home invasions. Think that’s a minor thing? Not when you’re a good hour away from an overworked sheriff’s deputy who hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to you in any sort of timely manner.
I grew up with that. And my former neighbors in that area have concealed carry and a locked gate, because home invasions, nasty home invasions, are happening on a regular basis where they live. Hey, they’re seniors, he’s ex-military, and they practice. They also have a big, protective and noisy dog. The gun is the last-ditch resort, which is as it should be.
The biggest problem is not the amount or the existence of the weaponry. It’s the brains and mentality which idolizes gun culture. It’s the lack of adequate mental health management and treatment for those with serious mental disorders. It’s the lousy economy which creates desperate situations and lousy funding for mental health, education and other societal management measures which would plug up a lot of these damned problems. It’s the crappy education system that so-called education reform is making even worse when it comes to managing the emotionally fragile, the poor, and the struggling.
Bill Kinkel knew he had a problem in Kip. But the system, even then, didn’t give him any significant amount of help. I’ve not heard what the shooter’s story is yet.
But I am predicting that he’s another system failure. Mental health, PTSD, something like that. Another person who ran off the rails.
And no amount of concealed carry or gun control is going to take care of that. NO AMOUNT.