Mulhall column: Confessions of a bitter clinger
March 8, 2018
There was a time in this valley when guns were a part of school curriculum.
Yes, there are still a few of us around who started kindergarten in Glenwood's big red brick elementary school, even before the now-demolished Bolitho annex opened its classroom doors for the first time.
Back then, our school and the state of Colorado, through what was then the Division of Wildlife, worked together to educate young people about firearms. The division issued my Hunter Education card on Jan.1, 1974, 25 years before Columbine.
Most of the men and, yes, women I grew up with remember hunter education, and, like me, many still have their cards, though I must admit mine is a re-issue. Maybe there was a parental opt out, but I frankly don't remember because I paid no attention to such things. I was, after all, a teenager.
I do remember that between Halloween and Thanksgiving, my classmate Elena Bertozzi's dad would host a big game dinner at the Buffalo Valley. Mr. Bertozzi would prepare elk, venison and bear donated by area hunters and serve up a robust buffet of mouth-watering eats beneath the restaurant's Jack Roberts' paintings, vaulted ceilings and numerous mounted elk, mule deer and buffalo heads.
The big game dinner was quite the community bread breaking for many years.
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When the truth about how I learned firearm safety in school comes up, which is rare, folks look at me as though I've grown a third eye. It's similar to the look I get when someone asks where I went to college and I answer, "Abilene Christian University."
It's fair to say a lot has changed since that time of hunter education and the big game harvests in our town.
I can't say exactly when, but I'd venture a guess the hunter education program disappeared from area schools before I left for Abilene in August of '79. On that day, whenever it was, it's not hard to imagine folks thought we hadn't lost much.
Eleven years later, in November 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed S. 3266, aka the "Crime Control Act of 1990." Among many other things, the 80,000-word bill introduced by then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. imposed criminal penalties for possessing or discharging a firearm in a school zone.
So, in the span of about 15 years, our community went from cooperative firearm education to federally mandated gun-free school zones.
Since the advent of gun-free school zones, student-on-campus shootings have become almost as commonplace as August back-to-school sales.
Now, the pendulum is swinging back.
In the outrage over last month's carnage in Florida, President Trump is considering among other measures putting firearms back in schools — not in a way that fosters respect and understanding among young people, but in a way that hardens what federal law made soft.
Would it work, arming professionals in the broader education community, where anti-gun views have developed some of their deepest roots?
It seems doubtful if you go by the renewed tension between the political left and right, and you don't have to survey the national landscape to see it.
Instead, pull up the Post Independent's Facebook feed and read the comments on the three videos covering the GSHS student walk-out Feb. 21. Any fraction of the nearly 900 comments — a number that continues to grow even as I type — reveals the chaos that arises amid fear of the unknown.
If student signs opposing Rep. Scott Tipton and the National Rifle Association don't make clear the undercurrent's direction, the comments on the PI's Facebook videos sure do.
Some wrote, "Beliefs and prayers don't stop gun violence."
It's a recent development, this conceit of superiority that offers up prayer as empty words. Placing gun owners and religious folk and Republicans into some degenerate confederacy was made fair game by none other than former President Barack Obama, who in April 2008, generalized: "… [rural Americans] cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
This is the intellectual wasteland upon which effective decisions about student safety must now be made.
The challenge is to rise above President Obama's "The Problem We All Live With" view of America and make changes that secure our schools.
I don't know what those changes will be, but no doubt some folks will find something grouse-worthy in them.
These will lead to court battles, rulings, appeals, more rulings and more appeals, and, in time, no matter what gets done or remains undone, someone will again draw the curtain back on evil and leave supporters egg-faced and opponents indignant. And the tail chase will begin anew.
Yet there are reasons why things went bad, and there are fixes that don't involve reinterpreting the Bill of Rights, repealing the Second Amendment or adopting the laws of other nations.
It's worth remembering how we got here, and that where here is has nothing to do with being right.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.