Lindisfarne To Sandy Hook: The Tragedy of Wishful Thinking
I pull up in front of our town's little savings bank branch, drop out of the door and when my boots hit the pavement reach under my shirt and the remove the Smith & Wesson Model 28 .357 which I then put under the seat before locking the truck. "What are you doing Grandpa?" my granddaughter asks walking around from the other door.
"Here's a word of advice cupcake. It's never a good idea to walk into a bank with a gun."
I don't always carry it. It's a big piece of iron but it's the same gun I carried long ago as a police officer, I'm very comfortable with it and sometimes I get a feeling when about to leave the house and after a moment's hesitation, take it along. And that day was one of those.
The next stop after the bank was her school and when we walked in together I left it locked up under the seat again. Not because I was worried about violating the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act because, and while most school teachers and administrators don't understand this, there are exceptions and I'm one. Instead I left the gun under the seat because I would give those school teachers and administrators the vapors if they even suspected I was armed. Guns are evil most of them seem to feel. Not only mine. The guns of the police they'd summon to their aid are bad too. The make believe guns boys play cowboy with are bad too, even the gun a second grader might pencil in when drawing a picture of an "army man" is evil. It's a key tenet of their wishful thinking.
And a very strange brand of wishful thinking it is. Because instead of hoping for something to come their way, they're wishing for nothing to happen. Its symbol might be a monkey with it hands over its eyes because it's principal doctrine is that if you can't see any evil, refuse to see any evil, then it doesn't exist. Of course it's only a variation of the old notion that if you don't look a lion in the eye he won't charge. But it's what these people believe. Which is why that school, like many other schools run by similar believers once prohibited any discussion of 9/11, any videotapes, photographs or indeed any reference to it at all. Again if you don't see evil or don't learn about it, talk it out, try to learn the lessons it teaches you, then it doesn't exist, won't have any power over you. Can't.
Without any evidence at all that they're right, indeed in the face of any number of horrible examples proving them wrong, they cling to this belief. Because on some level they believe they want to convince themselves that they're "better than that", better than Beslan, better than Columbine, better than those awful images of people jumping from the twin towers. That they're different somehow. Special.
Which means that they will not suffer armed fathers or grandfathers around children as it "sends the wrong message."
And so I leave the gun under the seat.
But educators should know something about history. Because this is an old story and has its roots in a tragedy every bit as compelling as Sandy Hook School. The story of Lindisfarne.
An island connected to northern England's coast by a tidal causeway. A holy place, in fact its name today is Holy Island and 1300 years ago it was Christendom's most prominent experiment with what we today would call a Gun Free School Zone. But what happened there should have proved for all time that covering one's eyes, pretending that demons don't exist, that you're somehow "better than that", is worse than futile. Criminally worse.
Lindisfarne was a monastery, renowned for its non-violence, dedicated to learning, to the idea that in the tumult of the early Middle Ages, man could, should be, was "better than that." Gloriously "better than that." And for a while people believed along with them in this "right message" and endowed Lindisfarne with riches, sang its praises in ten thousand churches.
Its ruins today are still a beacon atop a spire of high rock, surmounted by sheer stone walls, far above the everyday concerns of this world.
But they are ruins because one dark in the eighth century Lindisfarne's rock and walls were scaled by Vikings holding their swords in their mouths. Demons out of the northern seas who chased the unarmed monks from room to room in the monastery, butchering them for sport, sacking their golden altar and trampling their precious books underfoot. An event which shook Christendom to its core.
Why did it happen? Quite simply because the killers were drawn by the defenselessness of the place, by Lindisfarne's "right message", by the fact that Lindisfarne abjured violence and trusted as school administrators trust today, in never looking the lion in the eye.
Above all by the fact that Lindisfarne would not suffer the presence of armed men who might defend it.
Today most of us don't even remember that there once was such a place. Even though we keep repeating the same mistake it made. We don't remember what we should have learned then; that weakness will, sooner or later, summon horror.
As Adam Lanza was summoned to Sandy Hook School.
Chose the one target where he had the best chance of not encountering armed citizens, a gun-free school zone. Just as the Vikings didn't choose to assault one of the many fortified castles chock a block with armed men elsewhere on the coast but instead chose Lindisfarne. Just as Eric Harris and Dyland Klebold didn't choose a gun show to assault, a rodeo, a police station but instead chose Columbine.
I'm not certain what the solution is. No one wants schools to become armed camps with sandbagged revetments, passwords and barbed wire. Besides the evil one is a liar painted with many tongues and so the monsters who wish to kill children often adopt other techniques. Walter Seifert in Cologne Germany constructed a flame thrower he put to use through an elementary school's windows burning to death eight students, two teachers and horribly maiming many others. You have the three men who buried an entire school bus load of children in California. You have poisoners, knife wielding maniacs, stranglers, bombers, kidnappers and pedophile killers.
Instead it strikes me that any solution has to be rooted in natural affinity. The relationship of parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, grandparent to grandchild. Not in the fatuous belief that stone hearted killers will obey the resolutions of school boards, the acts of Congress or indeed do anything but laugh at any amount of wishful thinking.
In this vein there is an interesting sidebar to the Revolutionary War. That fact that while the British and the Tories and Indians found it relatively easy to break our militia in the open and massacre them, the same militia could not be defeated in the woods. The reason was that when the militia couldn't see their officers, let alone listen to them tell them where to stand, neighbors, fathers, sons, cousins and uncles broke ranks and gathered together. And after the battle had been joined wouldn't leave each other. Wouldn't desert their wounded son or their neighbor's body and so the British found them impossible to budge.
Considering this point one might recall that at Columbine there were no such bonds which could gather and stop Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Nor was one considered necessary. Instead there were only rules grounded in a lot of wishful thinking. Rules which Eric Harris and Dyland Klebold ignored and so despite a surplus of bravery among individual teachers and students, there was an armed sheriff's deputy on duty who heard the first shots and didn't run towards them as he would have if they were his children. There was the school principal clueless about the murderers, who couldn't recall Eric Harris and Dyland Klebold student walking the halls in black trench coats in the days prior to the killings and threatening other students. We can believe his testimony or not but one thing we know for sure is that he wasn't looking for any lions to stare down. Finally there were the despicable parents of Eric Harris and Dyland Klebold who ignored or were oblivious to the collection of weapons. Mothers and fathers in authority over their children who simply wished nothing bad would happen.
And so the concept of a gun free school zone established by authority turned out to be as much of a joke at Columbine as it was the other day in Newtown, Connecticut. Just as the same idea was shown a farce at Lindisfarne 1300 years ago.
But yet, these children have fathers and numbered among them men who will protect their children and know how to do it.
Now I understand that public education today is a determinedly feminine institution. But they have tremendous leeway under the law and so one thing they school administrators and teachers might consider doing is admit the fact that they have no more idea on how to physically defend children than they do about how to build a space shuttle with their second grade paper doll scissors. But among the parents of their pupils are many men who do have that experience and training. Former or current police officers, soldiers and Marines. People who've been shot at and who've shot. Had to winkle armed men out of a closed room and take them down. Men who will deter evil by their presence.
So for once why can't some hapless school administrator call them in? Ask them what they would do to keep these children safe? Their children safe. And then heed what they say.
Do what they say.
It is all so sad. But the bullet ridden bodies of those little angels and angelic teachers in Newtown should show us that wishful thinking won't work, has never worked and will never work.
If it did, we'd only have to wish those children back.
Richard F. Miniter is a former local Chief-Of-Police and the author of THE THINGS I WANT MOST, The Extraordinary Journey Of A Boy To A Family Of His Own, BDD, Random House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org