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Killing them softly

I'll never forget the days that I started teaching. First in Los Angeles, I was just pulling up to the middle school and two kids approached two other kids, One kid said something about the other kid's mother and the bigger kid said something back and went to throw a punch. The original kid whipped out a gun and shot the tall kid 5 times at point blank range in the chest. I can't even remember what happened to the other kid. Panic ran through my body as the two with the gun started running alongside my car. "Oh no! They saw me!" I thought - as I slowed the car, hoping they wouldn't shoot me as a witness. Crazy thoughts go through your head.

I parked, numbly walked into the school and said, "I don't know if I'm supposed to tell anybody but I just witnessed a murder."

"What did you say? Are you okay?" the secretary asked me.

I repeated my words in the same flat, far-off tone.

They sat me down and called the vice principle who then called the police. I was in shock, in a daze. Reality had shifted. Once you witness a murder, you are forever changed. My mind could only remember certain details. I was scared but refused to go home. I didn't want to be alone.

For weeks after, anytime one of my kids reached into their pocket and withdrew their hand, fear coursed through my body as my mind replayed the incident. The next week, a teacher was killed as he walked into his house. L.A. gang kids. I wanted to go home to the east coast. When I began teaching special education in Sussex, I was shocked to find out that most of my 6th grade students had access to guns. I didn't know people with guns. I grew up all these years and really knew so little about guns. One little girl's 15 year old brother had a B.B gun and shot at cats... Cats, for God's sake! He thought it was funny. My mouth hung open.

Another child went hunting with his dad and killed a deer and when they cut it open, he laughingly told us it had a baby inside...two for one. Awful...more than that... insane. I made my opinion known, that there was no talk of shooting of animals in my class or guns. The kids laughed at me, of course. Some would goad me into a reaction. I was the outlier. But it was clear, that every child that went hunting and took the day off for the opening of hunting season was cool, and having guns was "normal." You have to eat.

"Besides, you need them to protect yourself!"

"From what?" I'd ask. "How many times has someone come into your house to shoot you?"

No answer. Then, "You never know..." In my parents' house, there were no toy guns even allowed. My grandfather had been shot twice and guns were not to be played with nor were they for children. There were plenty of other toys besides guns. Guns are not toys, not even pretend ones.

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