Before we get any further into this column, I want to assure readers that everything is fine. Yes, gunshots were fired at Big Sky High School on Friday afternoon, the same week that students walked out to protest school shootings. And yes, Big Sky administrators reported verbal and graffiti threats last month, so everyone was on edge. But don’t worry: The person who shot a gun at Big Sky on Friday was the school police officer.
According to the Missoulian, school staff and the officer were “conducting an investigation” when one of the students involved ran. The officer pursued him to the parking lot, where the student got into a car. According to the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation — which took over the case because the officer involved is a member of the Missoula Police Department — the student then attempted to run over the officer, which is when he fired. Then the student drove away with police in pursuit, until he crashed his car into the Denny Menholt Honda dealership.
No one was hurt. That spares every parent’s worst nightmare: that their child will be killed in a school shooting. Every parent’s second-worst nightmare — that their child will crash the car into a Honda dealership — is still on the table. Fortunately, though, we have avoided the scenario in which a 17-year-old boy runs away from school, hops in his car and gets shot to death by a police officer investigating whether the children are in danger at school.
I would like it if the police didn’t shoot at cars. Perhaps the police could let the driver get away at first, and then apprehend him using some new, non-lethal technology, such as radio.
“We say that every child should feel safe at school, but it’s the kind of ‘should’ you mention without doing anything.”
That is speculation, though. Also speculation, thanks to police and school administrators’ refusal to release any details about the incident, is just what chain of events led to this deathmatch in the parking lot. A handgun was found along the route that the student drove after he was shot at but before he crashed into the Honda dealership. Perhaps that gun had something to do with it. If you told me that students were planning a walkout to protest school shootings a few weeks after everyone got freaked out by ominous bathroom graffiti, and that these conditions led a 17-year-old boy to conclude that taking a gun to school would be totally hilarious and cool, I would believe that story. I’m no profiler, but this behavior would fit with approximately 100 percent of the adolescent boys I have known.
Kids are stupid. They can’t even hit a man-sized, stationary target with their cars. They do have a keen sense of what behavior we will and will not accept, though. Despite all the active-shooter drills, lockdowns, walkouts, thoughts and even prayers, one thing kids know we accept is shooting guns at schools. We claim not to, but our actions tell kids otherwise.
When a 19-year-old shot to death 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, we did, as of this publication, nothing. That’s the same approach we took to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 — and to the 115 school shootings that happened in the intervening six years.
We say these shootings are unthinkable, but in fact we think about them pretty regularly. We say that every child should feel safe at school, but it’s the kind of “should” you mention without doing anything.
If that boy brought a gun to Big Sky, he shouldn’t have. But can anyone in this community say they did anything meaningful to stop him? Can anyone in this country?
We should just admit that we love guns better than children or schools. It would be nice if everyone could buy a gun and no schoolchildren got murdered, but when it came down to it, we chose guns. We keep choosing guns. Adults have sent the children of this country a message, and the message is that we reserve the right to kill people using our own equipment we bought for that purpose. We therefore uphold other people’s right to kill kids.
Dan Brooks is on Twitter at @DangerBrooks