My Personal History with Carrying Firearms; Thoughts on Arming Teachers

The political response to school shootings is always the same.

1) Republicans say, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

2) Democrats call for "stricter measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands."

3) Republicans say, "This is not the time to talk about gun control. This is the time to remember the victims."

4) Democrats continue to call for "common sense gun control."

5) Republicans say, "The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

End of debate until the next time, and the next time, and the next time...

I used to have a concealed carry permit, not because I felt the need to carry a gun, but because I knew someone who did and thought it would be fun. I had been around guns all my life, and had kept one in my car as a teenager, but it never occurred to me to regularly carry one on my person until I talked with that friend. After completing a minimal permit training course, I started out by carrying a .357 magnum that I kept in a special belly pack that was designed for quick access. When the gun's size and weight became burdensome, I switched to a .38 special. When it too became unpleasant to carry, I gave up carrying a gun. The fun part about carrying a concealed weapon was that it was my secret, and that it made me feel powerful. The not fun part was the gun's weight, and the fact that carrying it focused my thoughts upon the possibility of violence, which made my world seem more dangerous than it really was.

I'm cautious and orderly to the point that I lack spontaneity, yet during the short time that I carried a gun, I unknowingly let a .22 caliber bullet roll into the burner on my kitchen stove. When I lit the stove, the bullet exploded and hit Peggy in the stomach, but no damage was done (a bullet that explodes in a stove doesn't have the force of a bullet that comes out of a gun because the slug goes one way and the cartridge casing the other), the incident alerted me to the fact that even careful people have accidents. A few weeks later, I took my gun to a dinner party, took off my belly pack, and didn't even know I had left it there until the people called me at home. When they asked why I had taken a gun to their party, I didn't know what to say, so I said that if I had left it at home--or in my car--someone might have stolen it. As I look back upon the incident, I realize that carrying a gun was like having a new toy, and that I was experimenting with whether I wanted to do it full-time. My conclusion was that walking around with a gun is a lethal version of walking around with a fire extinguisher in that while it might come in handy, it's probably not worth the risk and aggravation.

I share these stories to show that guns are inherently dangerous (the nearby Portland, Oregon, police chief accidentally shot a friend as did Vice-President Dick Cheney). President Trump echoed the NRA recently by proposing that "qualified teachers" carry guns to school. I can think of so many obvious objections to his proposal that I regard it as being like much of what Trump says, i.e. blindingly stupid. For instance: 

(1) There is NO evidence to suggest that armed teachers could protect children while there IS evidence to suggest that they couldn't.* (2) Trump gave no clue as to whom would pay for the extensive and ongoing training that would be required to make teachers safe and proficient with firearms, and no evidence to indicate that teachers would have the time and inclination to take such training. (3) A school shooter could arm himself by assaulting a teacher and taking his or her gun. (4) If cops are capable of snapping and murdering people due to job stress, teachers probably are too. (5) A gun-toting teacher might find it harder to instill in students the value of peaceable solutions than would other teachers. (6) Teaching is enough work without the added responsibility of being perpetually prepared to shoot one's students. (7) Arming teachers would imbue in children the belief that they are always and everywhere in danger. (8) Just as I accidentally left a gun at someone's house, a teacher might accidentally leave a gun in a classroom or bathroom. (9) Guns can go off accidentally. (10) When we take extreme measures to feel safe, we increase our belief that we are unsafe. (11) There is no evidence to suggest that giving more guns to more people would make us safer, while the scarcity of gun deaths in countries with few guns would seem to prove otherwise. (12) A society in which people need to carry guns to protect themselves and others is by definition a society that has failed to insure the safety of its citizens, and this implies that the work we must do is societal rather than individual. 

I'll just add one more thing. The NRA insists that being able to own and carry guns is both a human right and a Constitutional right under the Second Amendment. The former is not evident to anyone outside the NRA, but neither is the latter. The Second Amendment reads as follows: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." How the NRA makes the leap from that to AR15s is a mystery to me, but if AR15s are legally allowable, then why not .50 cal machine guns or even grenade launchers? I don't think this is what the founding fathers had in mind, yet if the Constitution really does justify something that, instead of promoting the common good, harms the public good, then it's time to change the Constitution because the way the NRA would have us live is insane.


Margaretta Wade Campbell Deland

Margaret Deland 1857-1945
If life is a series of births and deaths, I was reborn in the old books' section of a St. Vincent dePaul store in Albany, Oregon, in 2015, when I discovered John Ward Preacher by Margaret Deland. I was so entranced that I, a non-collector of almost anything, quickly became a joyous collector of all things Deland. I now have six feet of shelf space devoted to her books (many novels, two autobiographies, a book of poetry, and an account of a summer in Florida) along with two Deland biographies. I also own numerous photos and letters. While mine isn't a notable collection, I'm in the process of willing it to a New England university so that it can supplement an existing Deland collection.

My love for Deland is being born afresh now that I'm rereading her books, of which I own multiple first edition copies, many of them autographed. I haven't seen the three silent films that her works inspired, and her Broadway play ended before World War I. She was awarded four honorary doctorates, and was among the first women to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. As labels go, she was a Pennsylvania regionalist and a member of the American Realist Movement.

John Ward Preacher (1888), is about the marriage of a non-religious Episcopalian named Helen Jeffrey to a very religious Presbyterian preacher named John Ward. Like her heroine, Deland was orphaned and grew up in the home of an uncle. Deland's uncle was a non-observing Presbyterian who came from a family rich in influential ministers; her aunt a former Episcopalian who obeyed society's expectation that she join her husband's church. The Presbyterians in Deland's life, and of whom she wrote, were not the mainstream Presbyterians of today, but hardcore Calvinists who saw no contradiction between a deity who was perfect in love but could predestine infants to eternal hell.

Unlike Deland's uncle, Helen's uncle was an Episcopal priest who lived a comfortable life despite his lack of religious conviction. He was dismayed by Helen's choice of a husband, but, not being a man to make waves, he remained silent. By contrast, John Ward took his Presbyterian religion very seriously indeed and, despite being a gentle, loving man, didn't hesitate to make waves except when it came to Helen, who he was afraid to  lose. To this end, he didn't allow her to hear him preach (they lived miles apart), and he avoided the subject of religion, telling himself that there would be plenty of time for that after they were married. Helen had hints that his views were abhorrent, but she also avoided the subject, telling herself that love alone was enough for a happy relationship, and that he would eventually come to respect her lack of religious conviction. 

William Campbell 1808-1890
After they were married, John tried to avoid alienating Helen by dodging his church's expectation that he preach hellfire sermons vividly and often. When he finally told Helen about his church's belief that God had predestined most people to a fiery hell before the world was created, she begged him to never speak of the matter again. Months passed during which John agonized over her lost state and wondered how to convert her. 

When Helen sought counsel from her priestly uncle regarding her doubts about religion, he was painfully reminded of his own non-belief, and told his daughter Lois, "I shall tell her to mend her husband's stockings, and not bother her little head with theological questions that are too big for her." Because of her outspokenness, the elders of John's church eventually learned that Helen didn't accept their church's belief about hell, and demanded that John turn her over to them "for discipline." John, worried that instead of winning her to God, the elders would push her away, undertook an all out effort to convert Helen to his views. When this failed, a despairing John imagined that God wanted him to expel Helen from their home so she would be forced to look to God for help, whereupon God would show her the reality of hell. 

As did Deland, the more Helen thought about religion, the more she came to doubt that any of it was true, and through the intense loneliness of her struggle, I saw myself. Coming as I did from rural Mississippi, all I knew of religious doubt was what I learned in church where ignorant preachers described it as the product of modern universities, and claimed that it represented a renunciation of morality, tradition, and common sense. I knew that such words didn't apply to me, yet I didn't even meet another non-believer until I was 29, and I had to make a special trip to New Orleans to do so then. So it was that the loneliness and desperation of a fictional character in a 127-year old novel by a forgotten author came to seem more real to me than anything else I had ever read. 

Houghton Mifflin had misgivings about publishing a book that was critical of religion, but since Deland's first book had done well, they finally put her under contract. When she wrote of the news to her family, "The result, in the domestic circle, was like the unexpected explosion of a firecracker." "Maggie...knows no more about hell than a kitten knows about a steam engine," her uncle raged, and it looked as if she might have to choose between telling the truth as she understood it and being disowned. Given that the heroine of John Ward Preacher, like the women in her later books, prized intellectual integrity above patriarchal acceptance, the answer might seem obvious, but it didn't come without a struggle, and it was followed by a heavy cost.
Lorin Deland 1855-1917

Deland's uncle finally proposed that she travel from Boston (where she moved when she married the famous Harvard football coach Lorin Deland) to New Jersey, to discuss the appropriateness of the book's publication with the spiritual patriarch of the clan, the Rev. Dr. William Howard Campbell (president of Rutgers) and abide by by his decision. She discussed the proposal, first with Lorin, and later with their friend, the renowned Episcopal clergyman and bishop, Phillips Brooks. She finally told her family that she would talk to her great uncle, but that she wouldn't be bound by his opinion. After a very long conversation, the Reverend Doctor gave Deland's book his approval. Her family's disappointment was such that a cousin suggested that the aged patriarch had become senile.

John Ward Preacher inspired plaudits and outrage. While walking her dog, Deland was accosted by a stranger who said that her book would "destroy Christianity." A friend of Deland's was castigated at a dinner party for keeping such low company. For a time, her family excluded her from gatherings. She was denounced from pulpits, and literary critics attacked her personally. The disapproval extended beyond the book's criticism of religion and into Deland's rejection of patriarchy, a rejection that also occurred in her later books. The following beliefs were commonplace in 19th century America:
Rev. Phillips Brooks 1835-1893

(1) Criticizing religion is wrong. (2) Women are the bulwarks of Godliness, so it is especially wrong for women to criticize religion. (3) Women lack the intelligence to address profound subjects. (4) "Ladies" don't write about hell. (5) Girls should adopt the faith of their fathers; women of their husbands.

I am glad that I possess things that Deland's hands touched, yet I rarely look at her letters, it being enough that I own them, if such things can be owned. While I regret the fact that I will never be able to talk with her, I have no reason to think that we would be friends because, whatever problems I bring to relationships, Deland admitted that she found it difficult to love. When she was still small, she overheard the aunt who adopted her say about another orphan, "No one can love a child as its own mother loves it." Deland was hurt to the core, but when she wrote of the experience decades later, she blamed herself for her loss of faith in her aunt's love: "As I think of that day in the back entry, and the smell of cinnamon and cloves, and the moving leaf shadows on the hall floor, and the tears in the sweet dark eyes, I am ashamed of Maggie. She seems to me a cold little monster..." Still speaking of her childhood self in the third person Deland wrote: "...she is selfish, cold-hearted, joyfully cruel, with no love in her, and not a particle of humor."

Perhaps as a result of losing trust in her adoptive aunt, Deland came to display two dominant characteristics. One was that, from a very young age, she was uncompromisingly independent, both in her intellectual integrity and in her desire for financial self-sufficiency. The other was that she concealed her intense nature behind a reserve that was generally mistaken for tranquility. Only Lorin was allowed to penetrate her core, and when he died in 1917, her very being and all that she had accomplished seemed empty. She dealt with the crisis by immersing herself in the misery of others as a canteen volunteer in war torn France. She also followed the lead of many others of the World War I generation, and turned to spiritualism. Her former belief that death was an eternal sleep became unbearable, and she, like Arthur Conan Doyle, came to believe that our earthly identities and relationships somehow survive the grave. 

Yet, what was to her, as it is to me, the nearly unbearable tragedy of loving and being loved in a world that contains death had tormented Deland long before Lorin died. She had even debated all sides of the issue with herself through the mouths of the characters in her 1890 novel Sidney. As with religion, the inability to reconcile myself to the fact that death and love exist in the same world is another existential theme that Deland and I share, and that enables her words to enter my depths. If I should someday discover a writer with the power to affect me more profoundly than Deland--both for good and for ill--I don't know how I will bear it, because she so often moves me to tears.

A Jaundiced View of a Game that Exemplies American Values

I began to hate American football when I was forced to attend weekly high school "pep rallies" in which cheer leaders worked their fellow students into a foot-stomping frenzy in the unsubstantiated belief that it would inspire the school's team to win that night's game. When, decades later, I learned that there is an incontrovertible link between football and brain damage, my hatred of the game escalated. Despite this loathing, Peggy and I watched this year's Super Bowl to see what all the hooplah was about. It was an enlightening experience. 

First, the football players ran onto the field between lines of Rah, Rah, Boom Bang cheerleaders. Next came the singing of America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner. The latter is America's National Anthem, and everyone is expected to stand with their hands over their hearts while listening to it. This is not the case with America the Beautiful, but most of the crowd didn't seem to know that. Then military jets flew overhead and World War II Medal of Honor winners were paraded onto the field for no apparent reason. 

I don't know if every Super Bowl goes to such extremes to tie football to patriotism, but I do know that the teams' owners were eager to reverse the impression that black football players (most professional football players are black) are unpatriotic, an impression that started in 2016 when some of them started "taking the knee" during the National Anthem in order to protest police mistreatment of black people. Trump fanned the flames with his usual mean spirited ineloquence when he said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field..." His epithet made him the first president to use language that couldn't be repeated on TV or radio, although, thanks to Trump, vulgarity during newscasts is now commonplace.

Companies that run ads during the Super Bowl go all out to make the $1.7 million a second cost worthwhile. Coke proved that its mixture of corn syrup and carbonated water is the choice of those who value individuality and diversity (not to mention obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes) by showing diverse people (all of them young, thin, and attractive) in a state of exaltation because, "There's a Coke for he, and she, and her, and me, and them. There's a different Coke for all of us." 

Dodge tried to boost truck sales by claiming that it's true to the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., in that its primary values are love and service (because America's highest court regards corporations as having the rights of human beings, it only follows that corporations can feel the gamut of human emotions). It did this--that is it attempted to do this--by playing an audio of King sermonizing alongside a video of inspirational images (a fireman rescuing a child, volunteers handing out food, etc.) interlaced with images of Dodge trucks. For those who still failed to understand that Dodge is the choice of people who buy a truck because they value love and good deeds over flashiness and horsepower, the commercial ended with the name of the company in white letters against a black background (it had kicked-off the commercial with the name of King against a black background). 

Because MLK was an outspoken opponent of both capitalism and materialism (he objected to Coretta spending money on curtains), no one can seriously envision him sitting behind the wheel of a two ton diesel (Americans just adore superfluous power), but Dodge relied on the fact that he was dead before its mostly white buyers were born, and the finer points of his message have been forgotten, not just by Dodge buyers but by King's children who have long shown themselves ready to rake in big bucks in exchange for his sermons. Not to be bested by Dodge, Jeep showed that its Wrangler can leave tread marks and erosion channels in pristine natural settings (Jeep admitted the destructive power of its product by boasting that the commercial was filmed in a manmade lake and waterfall that doesn't flow into any other body of water).

This year's Super Bowl was in Minneapolis, home of the deceased musician, Prince. The star attraction, Justin Timberlake, sang a duet (I know of no other way to put it) with a hologram of the dead performer. The fact that Prince called such performances "demonic" didn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm. Because Prince is associated with the color purple, viewers were lifted high above the stadium and treated to a view of a city blanketed by purple snow, a phenomenon that never occurred during my two winters in Minneapolis. 

During the game, my inner eye kept returning to the very real image of the brains of football players setting silently in jars in darkened labs (it being Sunday) waiting to be sliced and diced in the study of brain damage caused by that damnable game. The carnage continues with the blessing of parents and public schools despite the fact that studies have shown that boys in their teens exhibit football related learning disabilities. America gives football scholarships and other, under the table, benefits to poor (mostly black) youngsters who have no other way out of poverty; sends them to the pros; and is unmoved by the fact that they're bumbling and pain-wracked by age forty.

How do people find it within themselves to pay $3,000 (cost of a cheap seat at the Super Bowl) to witness a game that destroys lives? And why don't fans care that no kid with an IQ higher than 38 can come to age in America without being cynicalized by an onslaught of commercials that exploit our species' best people and its highest values to sell products that harm minds, bodies, and the environment? Super Bowl fans pretend that they're watching gifted athletes at the height of their prowess, but what they're actually seeing are wounded men who are propped up on a diet of narcotics and steroids so they can play through their injuries. 

Coke was touted as the beverage choice of young, healthy, athletic, liberal, and mostly white, heterosexuals (among the couples depicted, there were no gays), although its primary users are fat, diabetic, poorly educated, and impoverished. Jeep presented its Wrangler as a means to enjoy nature in remote places although, as every hiker knows, no one who drives ATVs into roadless areas can seriously say they love nature when the very act of driving in such places destroys nature. Rather they want to get far enough from civilized society that they can do whatever they damn well please, which means that, in place of wildflowers and fragile rock formations, they leave a sea of mud, shell casings, bullet holes, and, oh yeah, lots and lots of garbage. 

The Super Bowl is a pernicious lie built upon a foundation of greed and callousness. The thing that bothered me most about those long ago pep rallies was that they conveyed the idea that if I was unwilling to scream, stomp, and jump up and down to inspire "our boys" to beat "their boys," I lacked some ineffable quality called "school spirit." The experience was designed to assault dissenters with the club of peer pressure in order to make them feel like they were all alone, but if this were true, why were these non-educational events compulsory? 

The answer was that pep rallies had everything to do with educating kids, only in covert ways that no teacher or administrator would have admitted to. Namely, they were meant to instill in students the value of tribalism, of pitting our side against someone else's side. Such was the message of the Super Bowl. Why else would a football game include a superabundance of patriotic songs and images, songs and images that might have been reasonably expected to bring violence upon anyone who didn't go through the motions of acquiescence? 

I don't doubt but what football fans see themselves as being every bit as compassionate and integrous as the next person, and that the same is true of those who create the pandering commercials, but how can this be? An ancient manuscript called Apophthegmata Patrum gives the answer as follows, although what the writer probably intended as a literal analysis, I regard as metaphorical. 

"When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel; but if his eyes are uncovered, he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil, if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man's eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil."

No one can enjoy football without opening both eyes to the public spectacle of bodies clashing against bodies while closing them to the long and private misery of the game's causalities, yet the latter is no less a part of the game than the former.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare

Prabhupada's Palace of Gold near Moundsville, West Virginia 
For much of my adult life, I was fascinated by communal living, and this led me to visit many interesting places. The second of these was a Hare Krishna farm (New Talavan, which still exists) in south Mississippi that I visited in 1980. I assumed that it was situated where it was so recruits could be brought out from nearby New Orleans. The men lived in a dormitory, and the women and children lived in their own little houses, sex being limited to the actual attempt to bear a child, which, as I recall, wasn't a decision that was made by the couple, although I don't remember who did make it. Everyone spent a lot of time chanting out loud while dancing barefoot in a concrete floored building, which, although I was still young and strong enough that health problems seemed like something that happened to other people, struck me as a really bad idea. The residents ate in yet another building which, because people were constantly coming in and going out, was full of flies. Hare Krishnas won't kill anything, so there was no way to keep the flies off their food, which bothered me considerably more than the barefoot dancing because I was eating the same food. 

The people repeated their sixteen word chant (mostly under their breath) over a thousand times a day (I forget the exact number), which meant that they spent nearly all day everyday chanting, no matter what else they were doing or who they were talking to. One other thing that stands out in my memory is that some of the men slept on the wooden floor beside their beds as a form of devotion, perhaps of penance. My only complaint was that everyone seemed somehow distant. Maybe it was because I was an outsider; maybe it was because of the number of visitors who went through the place; or maybe it was just due to the necessity of having to chant while talking.

A few years later, while Peggy and I were on one of our six week camping trips, we visited the big Hare Krishna temple near Moundsville, West Virginia. Construction was still in progress, and despite the fact that the work was being done by people with no building experience, the temple was beautiful. CBS reported, "The magnificence of the Palace of Gold would be hard to exaggerate." Life Magazine called it "a place where tourists can come and be amazed." The New York Times exclaimed "Welcome to Heaven," and The Courier-Journal of Louisville enthused, "It's hard to believe that Prabhupada's Palace is in West Virginia. In fact, it's hard to believe it's on this planet." The builders attributed the success of their work to "Krishna Consciousness."

We unknowingly arrived at the height of a festival, so there were, perhaps, a thousand people camped around the palace, which resulted in a fair amount of mud. Their guru, Swami Prabhupada, had died in 1977, but they tried to retain him as a living presence by venerating a life-size wax effigy. This effigy had its own "living quarters" and was treated as if it were alive. The devotees would gather before it and listen to Prabhupada's speeches while a couple of people gently fanned flies away from its face.

On our first night, one of the Krishnas knocked on the door of our Datsun truck camper and asked to borrow a flashlight, which he never returned. The theft added to my suspicion that America's Krishnas regarded people outside their group as fair game for exploitation. No one can denounce every aspect of their own culture (except its language) by the way they look, act, and think without harboring a hatred of that culture and, by extension, its people. I was also bothered by their practice of sticking flowers in strangers' shirt pockets at airports and on street corners, and then asking for a donation. Finally, I noted that their four "regulative principals" (no gambling, no intoxicants, no meat eating, and no illicit sex) were all expressed as negatives and made no mention of honesty or compassion, at least in regard to humans.  

We camped for two nights, ate with the Krishnas, and went away glad that we didn't have to eat their strangely spiced vegan food all the time. We were happy we had visited but even happier to escape the crowds and mud, yet our happiness was nothing compared to that of our little schnauzer, Wendy, who was SO glad to leave that it was comical. Her emotions had ranged from ill at ease to scared silly the whole time, leaving us to wonder if it was the ambiance of the place or the mixture of body odors and cooking odors that bothered her.

I chose the following recording of "My Sweet Lord" despite the relatively poor sound quality and the fact that it cuts off the chanting at the end. I did so because the photos indicate that the song wasn't just a fleeting appropriation of a religion, but that "Krishna Consciousness" was an important part of George Harrison's life (in one interview he talked about how high he got from chanting Hare Krishna three days running). George died of lung cancer at age 58. He was a gentle and sensitive man.