Jason Courtmanche

E.O. Smith High School, where my wife teaches Spanish and where my daughter is a sophomore, had a bomb threat Wednesday. It was the second one this year. 

State troopers from the bomb squad arrived with bomb-sniffing dogs to clear the school. The students, teachers, and staff were all evacuated and stuffed into one of the recital halls in the UConn School of Fine Arts, which is just across the street, and into the community center, which is across the high school parking lot on the other side of the school.

My daughter, Elsa, oddly enough, was with me because she had a doctor’s appointment here in town. We drove to Storrs center just as the students began to swarm out of the school. Elsa immediately began texting her friends to see what was going on. Most didn’t know, but for the next couple of hours while the students waited for the school to be cleared and Elsa waited to be seen, kids texted Elsa pictures of them all playing Head’s Up and Duck, Duck, Goose. 

And they all engaged in a lot of dark humor. One kid asked if, in the event of a future bombing, his ashes could be put to good use. Some suggested a smoothie. Or ink for painting or even a tattoo. One kid suggested loading a bomb with the ashes to use as retaliation. Another kid asked, “Open casket or closed?” Another asked what he should wear at his wake. One girl, perhaps not so inclined to dark humor, asked the group chat if everyone would miss her.

On the one hand, I was encouraged to see the kids being kids, playing elementary school games, and I was encouraged to see the resilience exhibited by the morbid humor.

But on the other hand, why should our kids have to be so resilient? Why should they have to make morbid jokes to alleviate the anxiety of getting killed?

We’re two days removed from another school shooting, in Tennessee.

Our contemporary world is just unconscionably traumatic for our kids.

I’m glad that people like Gov. Ned Lamont and our U.S. Senators advocate for increased gun control, but the GOP is just living in a parallel universe.

According to Christopher Keating in today’s Courant, in response to Lamont’s gun control proposals, “Republicans strongly defended gun rights, offering amendments that would have rejected Lamont’s 97-page bill and erased its provisions.”

Rep. Doug Dubitsky of Chaplin said, “it is a ‘birthright’ to carry a gun,” and that “Connecticut is going backwards” by not allowing open carry without a permit.

Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott claimed that FBI statistics show that “‘more people are murdered by bare hands than by long guns.’”

Rep. Greg Howard of Stonington said, “‘no law passed by the legislature ‘is ever going to legislate evil out of the hearts of people’.”

The GOP is no better on the federal level. In a New York Times article that was titled “Shooting Prompts a Shrug in Washington, as GOP Rejects Pleas to Act,” Annie Karni catalogues the various defeatist responses of the GOP legislators.

Tim Burchett of Tennessee: “We’re not going to fix it … Criminals are going to be criminals.”

Mike Rounds of South Dakota: “the things that have already been done have gone about as far as we’re going with gun control.”

John Cornyn of Texas: “calls for banning assault weapons [are] a set of ‘tired talking points’.”

Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming: “‘I don’t think there’s any appetite’ … to take on gun control legislation.”

I’m sure many of you have seen the list of 243 schools where there have been mass shootings that has been circulating in social media. The most terrifying about this list is not its length, but the larger fact that schools are still one of the safest places in our country!

The GOP is simply spitting in the face of facts.

We know for a fact that the states with the weakest gun laws have the highest rates of gun violence.

We know for a fact that deaths from assault weapons declined significantly after they were banned.

We know for a fact that deaths from assault weapons skyrocketed after the assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse.

Today was a bomb scare, not a gun scare, but the point remains that in our violent, gun-obsessed country, kids who have just been evacuated make jokes about death to feign courage they don’t possess.

GOP members, how about you show the courage to ban the guns?

Jason Courtmanche is a professor of English and Education at UConn.

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