Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

This Story Will Never Go Out of Style

A few years back I had a great idea for a novel. Like the one I mentioned a few weeks ago, I wish I’d written it, as it would be quite appropriate given our current situation. The concept was inspired by one of the tropes that (predictably) was trotted out in the wake of a mass shooting. Which mass shooting? I don’t remember, and isn’t that the ultimate sign of how bad things are that you have to ask, “Which mass shooting?” Mass shootings should be like presidential assassinations, exploding space shuttles, or planes flying into office buildings: they should be so uncommon that you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about them. It should not take work to remember them because they’re so common. A conversation about mass shootings should not go like this:

“Was that Sandy Hook where…?”

“No, no, no, that was Parkland, remember?”

“Not Parkland. Parkland was the nightclub. I’m thinking of the Wal-Mart.”

“No, Parkland was the church. The Wal-Mart shooting was…El Paso, I think.”

But because of where we find ourselves I can’t tell you which shooting it was because there have been so many of them, and because I can’t find what I know I wrote, which is really odd because I keep everything. I’ve got bits and pieces of writing going back over a decade or more at this point on a computer drive but I cannot find this one. Perhaps I deleted it, or never saved it at all. Or maybe I saved it under a much more obscure title than the one in my head. I’ve gone through a bunch of odd documents this week, filtered through the “Bits and pieces” file on my computer, and the “ideas” file and other places, all to no avail. It could also be that I wrote it longhand while waiting for a car repair or something and just never turned it into bytes.

No matter, because as much as I might say, “I wish I’d written that then, I’d look like a genius now”, it will never go out of style, not as long as we have mass shootings. The idea behind it was based on one of the common responses to mass shootings, a response that has finally been revealed to be pure bullshit by our last two high profile mass shootings: Buffalo and Uvalde. The working title of my potential novel? “The Good Guy with a Gun.”

In Buffalo, the good guy with a gun was Aaron Salter Jr., an armed security guard and former police officer. Salter bravely engaged the shooter and was killed in the exchange, because his weapon was no match for the puke’s body armor.

In Uvalde, there were apparently as many as 19 “good guys” with guns who quickly arrived on the scene, and they did…something. What, exactly, we don’t know. Some exchanged fire with the puke (well, at least that’s what we’re told, but we’ve been told a lot of things by the Uvalde PD and some of it may even be true), but the emerging, horrific picture is one of 19 officers, 19 “good guys” with guns waiting for more than an hour for backup, for more good guys with guns.

Now, I don’t know what these good guys thought, or why they decided to wait. Maybe they thought there was a hostage situation that would involve negotiation. Maybe they were afraid storming the classroom would result in more kids dying. Maybe they were afraid of dying themselves. Whatever the reason, these 19 “good guys” with guns from Uvalde will now have to live with what they did—and didn’t—do. They’re going to have to live with the decisions they made and had made for them, and I don’t envy them one bit. In the weeks that follow we are sure to learn how many kids died during that hour of waiting, and the pressure of guilt and recrimination will mount.

In my own would-be novel, my good guy with a gun was going to be haunted by his inability to stop a mass shooting. Why didn’t he stop it? He didn’t have a clean shot. He was afraid he’d hit innocents. He froze. I can’t tell you why because I never got further than sketching out an introductory paragraph or two, so it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the “Good Guy with a Gun” is not the answer, even though it is being pushed hard once again. Arming teachers is a terrible idea for any number of reasons, including this: how long will it be before a student overwhelms a teacher, takes their gun, and shoots up the classroom? How long will it be before a teacher is forced to shoot at a mass shooter and learns, like Aaron Salter Jr., that their handgun is no match for tactical gear and an assault rifle? How long before our teachers are forced to keep a set of body armor in the classroom coat closet? And what is the point of turning teachers into “good guys” with guns when laws in states like Texas are loosening and making it even easier for bad guys to get and carry guns, and when the Supreme Court is likely to continue tearing down gun safety laws?

While I was searching for my “Good Guy with a Gun” story I came across another piece that was written in response to a mass shooting. This one appeared on my old blog (though it somehow didn’t survive the trip to the new website for some reason). This one was in October, 2015, in response to a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, a shooting that left nine dead victims. In that post I said the following:

I get your concern about anything that may infringe on your constitutional right to bear arms, but don’t you think this stuff has got to stop? Instead of firing off the usual, knee-jerk statements (you know how they go: “guns don’t kill people…” and “when guns are outlawed…” and “It only takes one good man with a gun…”, etc.) let me ask you this: WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST? Because what we got? It’s not working. Status Quo? Not an option. 

It is terrible to me to know that I don’t have to feel bad about not writing my “Good Guy with a Gun” story back then because it is one that will never not be topical. Not unless we do something. Making more guns available to more people is not the option.

2 Responses

  1. Well said.
    As a former teacher, I can’t imagine having a gun in a classroom or school. It would be enough for me (and every other teacher I know) to quit the job. I’m Canadian, so that might factor in.
    My heart is shattered for those kids, teachers, and their families and friends. I hope all the survivors are able to avail themselves of counseling for a long time to come. That isn’t something they’ll ever “get over”

  2. Most American teachers I know (and I know quite a few) want no part of guns in the school, either. How do you recover from this sort of experience? I can’t imagine what they are going through.

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