Thursday, January 2, 2014

Option #1 vs. Option #2

Some readers close to my age will remember the “choose your own story” books from decades past (I’m assuming that they are no longer a thing?) where you’d read a story up to some watershed moment, and then the narrator would give you the opportunity to choose the course of action that you thought the main character should take based on a series of multiple choice questions.  Sometimes, the choice would lead to an enhancement of the plot, which then lead to other choices; sometimes, the choice would lead to catastrophe and the untimely end on the story. 

The thing was, given enough choices, you could read the book 15 times and get a different story out of it every time.  The books were novel (pun intended) but the stories were usually of the “pulp fiction” variety: one dimensional, meaningless tripe. 

But what it that wasn’t the case?  And what if there wasn’t an endless number of choices, but just two?  What if a “choose your own adventure” story was written about the most terrible phenomenon of the day – mass school shootings?  This is the darkest thing I’ve ever written, and I’m a little afraid that it will seem insensitive to the people who’ve really experienced tragedy in a school shooting.  It isn’t intended to be.  It is intended to be a dark look at reality, and an expose of who the real friends of school shooting victims are, and who they are not. 

The story starts by introducing the villain.  He’s a pathetic mess of a person: mentally ill and on the brink of doing something awful.  He gets instructions from his dog, or some shit like that, to go kill children because it will make him famous and make society realize how it had failed him so that they could all feel his pain before he died.  He also knows that he wants to die.  He doesn’t want to be captured or killed.  He wants to take his own life, because in his mind, it is just more tragic that way, and makes him more sympathetic to the people that he knows will feel sorry for him. 

He doesn’t really know that well how to use a gun, but he gets one in one of several nefarious ways.  He either steals it or kills somebody to get it or something like that, and then gets in his car to go to the school. 

It’s at this point that the book stops and gives you your first choice in which way this is to pan out.

The question is:

Do you want to the school shooter to enter a school in which no one is equipped to resist his violence in any meaningful way, and the students are made to huddle in a corner praying that he doesn’t come into their room? 


Do you want some person at the school to be trained and properly motivated to resist the bad guy in every way possible?  In other words, do you want an armed teacher or resource officer to be on hand and ready to respond?

The anti-gun group would choose option #1, because to them, putting a gun in a school is just beyond the pale.  Here’s how that would pan out:

The slithery thing inside his head was still squirming and thrashing around in his skull when he walked through the front doors of the school.  He knew that it was only going to be a matter of seconds before someone saw him; saw the shotgun in his hand and cried out, and then it would start.  The thing thrashed a bit in excitement, continuing to bore holes in his brain like some hellish termite, and he knew that there was only one way to stop it.  He longed to stop it now, but he knew that he had a job to do first.  He had to make them all know.  They all needed to know, and the only way that he could think to do that, in the fleeting, wonderful moments when the thing gave him a chance to think, was to punish them.  If he hurt them enough, maybe they’d know.  Maybe they wouldn’t, but he had to try.
 A young woman appeared from a side hallway about ten feet in front of him, concentrating on some sheet of paper in her hands, and she didn’t even notice him.  She never even knew what had happened, because the first round from the shotgun tore her upper torso and neck to pieces.  He didn’t even notice the shotgun buck in his hands when he slapped the trigger, but he did notice the blood – it was fucking everywhere, and the sight of it made the slithery thing inn his brain thrash about in delight.  Blood splashed down on the concrete floor like spilled paint, and as he cocked the shotgun to replace the spent shell, he knew that he’d made the right choice.  This was going to be fucking amazing!  His heart raced in his chest, the excitement and thrill of actually accomplishing something for once running like a drug in his veins.
 He was faced with a choice now.  To the left was classrooms, full of children.  To the right, the office, with administrators and principals.  Children vs. adults.  The slithery thing squirmed, deep inside his brain, and he knew the answer.  It always had the answer, that slithery mess, as horrible as it was.
 Children, then.
 He turned left, and as the alarms started going off throughout the building, he entered the kindergarten wing.
 As he entered the door to that wing, he heard doors locking up and down the hallway, but he knew that didn’t matter.  One blast from the shotgun and the first door swung open easily with a kick from his right foot.  As the door swung open, he racked another shell into the chamber and smiled.
 “Avon calling!” he exclaimed, excited, as he began to pump round after round into the huddling mass in the corner of the room.
 Screams.  Crying.  Pain.  The shotgun clicked on an empty chamber after six rounds.  It only held seven.  He had the pistol on his hip, too, which he could bring into play, but he felt no pressure to hurry.  He had time.
 He reloaded the shotgun and continued firing.  The teacher was dead.  The children were helpless.  He had time.  By the time the police showed, and he was forced to blow his own brains out, and the slithery thing with them, thank Christ, he would have killed a hundred kids.
 Turns out he was off the mark by a bit.  Turns out that he was only able to kill 60 by the time the police got there and mounted a resistance.  He was a bit disappointed when he squeezed that trigger, and the last thing that went through his mind, other than the bullet, was that he wished he’d had more time.
 The news media had a field day, waving the bloody shirts of the students before they’d even gotten the bodies out of them.  As the news went on and on about the shooter’s mental problems and day by day, hour by hour history, the next shooter watched, interested, in his home, his own slithery thing wiggling away inside his brain.  The stage was set for the next time. 

So there’s option #1.  This is the option that the anti-gun crowd would choose.  Don’t tell me that this is unfair, because the anti-gun crowd would have seen the bad guy not get the guns in the first place; there is no conceivable way that any of the laws proposed by the anti-gun crowd, in the history of anti-gun law proposals, could have kept this guy from getting a shotgun and a pistol.  I can walk less than two blocks right now and get a gram of cocaine, and it has been illegal for decades.  Guns, even if they were banned tomorrow, would be so widely available for decades to come that anyone saying that “if only” their law had been passed, the tragedy would not have occurred are idiots. 

The anti-gunners don’t want guns in schools.  They fight against that idea to the point to where a North Idaho school district boardmember was fired for even suggesting it a few weeks ago.  They want option #1, because no other proposal from them could stop option #1.  The fact is, they are ignoring a reality that says, time and time again, that you can’t keep bad people from getting guns, and you can’t stop them from using them to horrible effect.  Ignoring reality is the same thing as accepting it, in actual effect, so they’ve essentially accepted that for their ideological dislike of guns, it is worth allowing children to die. 

Option #2 starts the same as option #1, but adds a little backstory, first.  It goes a little something like this:

Robert Smith was pushing 40 now, with a bit of gray at his temples and wrinkles in the corners of his eyes, but he was still physically fit.  He worked as a basketball coach for the local peewee team, and ended up doing a lot of running with the girls to keep up as they played.  That, in addition to the weekly runs in the woods locally, and he’d kept in good shape. That, coupled with his quiet, dependable nature, and the fact that he was a man, he supposed, too, was probably the reason that Mr. Johnson, the school’s principal had come to him when the school had started its pilot program of arming certain teachers and training them to deal with crisis situations.  He cast a glance at the little black safe mounted to the side of his desk as he went about grading papers while his 6th grade class worked on a math test that morning.
 It made him a little uncomfortable at times, he had to admit.  He’d always been into shooting and shooting sports.  He was an on-again, off-again hunter.  More off than on, recently, since hunting season fell at a horrible time for teachers to try and get any time off, so he was a weekend warrior these days more than he’d probably like.  He’s always owned pistols, and had used them through the years, but hadn’t ever had any cause to expect that he’d ever have to use one for real – you know, to actually shoot at someone with it, like some damn cowboy in a Hollywood film.
 But he’d figured that the chances of ever having to do so were pretty low, and he agreed with the overall gist of the plan, which was to say that when seconds count, the police are only minutes away, and that the only thing that stood between the kids and the shooter during that time were the teachers.  He figured that one way or the other, if a bad man ever started shooting up HIS school, he was going after the guy, anyway, so he might as well have a gun of his own, and therefore a chance at survival.
 Still, it was kind of weird.  A gun in a classroom just seemed out of place.  Even though it was locked away and not obtainable by anyone but him and Mr. Johnson, due to the biometric locks on the safe, it still seemed like the presence of the thing in the room was much larger than the little black box would indicate.  It was also strange that the district not only issued him the gun, but 250 rounds of ammunition for it per year, so that he could practice and keep up with his certification.  He earned the certification during a summertime class that he took, which actually earned him credit hours towards keeping his teaching certificate.  Also odd, even though it made sense.  The class taught him the things that Law Enforcement officers learn about responding to crisis situations.  It gave him the training and tools he’d need to mount a reasonable defense while his panicked lizard brain took over and all he had was to fall back on instinct and training.  It gave him the ability for his resistance to actually mean something, and so he took the class, and agreed to the responsibility because, let’s face it, he already HAD agreed to the responsibility.  What kind of man wouldn’t go try to save children?  He was going to, gun or not, so he might as well have the gun.  Right?
 Then, he heard the shot.  At first, his mind wouldn’t allow him to accept that what he’d heard was actually a shot.  He thought maybe someone had dropped something heavy, but that thought didn’t even register before the intruder alarm went off.  The admins in the office had panic buttons under their desk, which they were to trigger if an armed intruder ever entered the building.  It automatically locked all of the exterior doors to the building, but Robert knew that would be useless if the bad guy was already inside.  The shot had come from the entry way, so he knew that he was, indeed, already inside.
 The drills that they’d done throughout the year were already working, as, hearing the alarm, his students nearest the windows jumped up and pulled the shades down, and the boy nearest the door to the classroom set the deadbolt and pulled down the relite shade.  The gun was already in Robert’s hand as he started towards the door, his students moving to the opposite side of the classroom, huddling behind his desk.
 Robert saw a boy he knew was a leader amongst his peers, and told him that he was in charge, and responsible for keeping everyone down and quiet, and then stepped out into the hallway.
 Robert heard a series of rapid fire shots from the kindergarten wing.  He knew it was perhaps 10 seconds for him to get there, so he began to sprint, pistol held out in front of him, at ready, as he’d been trained.  As he opened the door to the kindergarten wing, he saw a man at the other end of the hallway, standing at the entrance to one of the kindergarten rooms, feeding shells into his shotgun.  Robert took a shot at him, pulling left as he did so to make sure that if he missed, the bullet hit the cinderblock wall instead of going into the classroom and maybe hitting a kid.  Better to miss.  At least he’d get the shooter’s attention.
 The shooter dropped the shotgun, and wheeled towards Robert, his eyes wide with surprise.  He mouthed the word “NO!” as he drew a pistol on his hip, but Robert didn’t hear the word.  All he could hear was his own pulse hammering in his temple.  Robert fired again, once again pulling left and missing.  The shooter’s pistol was coming up when Robert fired a third shot.  The shooter’s gun fired at the same time, but his bullet struck the linoleum tile 20 feet in front of Robert, while Robert’s bullet caught the shooter low and on his right, maybe hitting his pelvis or a kidney, possibly.  Robert fired again.  The shooter did likewise.  Both missed.
 The shooter, dazed from Robert’s one hit, slipped behind the cinder block wall leading into the boy’s restroom. And Robert held fire, waiting to see what was going to happen.  Robert heard one more shot, and he was pretty sure he knew what had just happened.
 He waited for an eternity there, covering behind that cinderblock wall, to see if the shooter stirred, but after 5 minutes of nothing from the bathroom foyer, Robert moved forward to see what had happened.  His suspicion was confirmed – the shooter had killed himself there in that bathroom foyer.
 The total body count, not counting the shooter, was 6.  Four kids, two teachers.  Robert had no way of knowing this, but he saved 54 lives that day.  All he knew was that he felt like vomiting.
 The news media barely reported the incident, because the shooter wasn’t a conservative, and he had been stopped by another armed individual.  The futility of going into a school with ill intent and making a name for yourself became apparent to the next guy, watching the short, abbreviated news report from his home.  Maybe he’d just kill himself.  It seemed easier. 

If you doubt any of what I just told you to be an accurate accounting of reality, look at Arapahoe for option #2, and Newtown for option #1.  


  1. Coincidence of a common name. My uncle, Robert Smith, did commit suicide. Third relapse of cancer and the despair of going through surgery and treatment were what pushed him to take his own life.

    I know you didn't mean my uncle, but it was very surreal to get the flash of his face in my head reading about your choice #2.

    1. Standard disclaimer:

      The persons or events depicted in my fevered, ranty postings are not intended to bear any resemblance to real people or events....