Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus The Article iPad Core Values Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive Story ideas

DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: Old enough to remember

by Debra Hale-Shelton | April 19, 2020 at 1:48 a.m.

I'm old enough to remember a time when life was simpler, if not better.

• For most of my life, there was no such thing as texting while driving because most Americans didn't own cell phones until sometime in the 1990s. There has been more than enough drinking while driving, probably all the way back to 1908 when Henry Ford created the Model T.

• We had four television stations when I was a little girl growing up in Marked Tree: CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC didn't exist. ESPN didn't launch its programming until September 1979. The Food Network came along much later--in November 1993--and made cooks like Emeril Lagasse, Paula Dean and Bobby Flay famous.

• There was a time, in 1960, when many Southern conservatives strongly opposed the election of John F. Kennedy as president because they feared that, as a Catholic, he would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. Now, some of those same people think it's fine for the federal government, as part of its covid-19 financial-response package, to help pay the salaries of preachers, even in religions many taxpayers may staunchly oppose.

• And there was a time three years later when I was sitting in math class and the school superintendent came over the intercom system. President Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally had been shot, the superintendent announced. We had a moment of silent prayer. A short time later, the superintendent announced that the president was dead and the governor wounded.

Police in Dallas quickly arrested Lee Harvey Oswald in the Nov. 22, 1963, deaths of Kennedy and a police officer who had questioned Oswald, J.D. Tippit. The following Sunday, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald on live television as police escorted Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on the way to a more secure jail.

Other high-profile shootings in the 1960s targeted civil-rights activists as well as politicians. Medgar Evers, an activist with the NAACP, was fatally shot in the driveway of his Jackson, Miss., home on June 12, 1963. White supremacist Byron De La Beckwith's first two trials in Evers' death ended with deadlocked all-white juries.

Three decades later, Mississippi reopened the case, and a racially mixed jury found Beckwith guilty of murder. At age 73, he was sentenced to life in prison. He has since died.

Next there was Martin Luther King Jr., the civil-rights activist and preacher. He was gunned down April 4, 1968, as he stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Just two months later, one of Kennedy's younger brothers, Robert F. Kennedy, was fatally shot in Los Angeles on June 6, 1968, during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In the 1960s, the police, hunters and many other Americans owned guns--some for protection, some for sport, and some for violence. Little children had water guns; older ones like me had BB guns. (My dad must have wanted a boy.) But few people seemed to hoard guns, to stock up on everything from revolvers to assault weapons, like a bunch of survivalists living in remote communities.

I'm not sure when the first school shooting occurred. But by the 1980s, such shootings had begun. Still, they were neither commonplace nor dismissed by most Americans as an inevitable by-product of a free society. The shootings were front-page news that left readers around the country shocked and saddened days later.

• In May 1988, I filed the urgent lead for The Associated Press in Chicago when we learned a 30-year-old deranged babysitter, Laurie Dann, had killed herself after fatally shooting an 8-year-old boy at a Winnetka, Ill., school and wounding four other children.

Dann then took a family hostage at a nearby house where she wounded a 20-year-old college student. Earlier, Dann had left arsenic-laced snacks outside two fraternity houses at Northwestern University in nearby Evanston, Ill.

The national news media jumped on the story. People magazine's June 6, 1988, cover featured the Winnetka shootings. Below the cover headline "Murder of Innocence" were an old mug shot of Dann and a larger picture of a woman comforting a little boy.

Almost a decade later, in March 1998, school shootings were becoming more common when two boys, ages 11 and 13, ambushed teachers and students at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, killing five people and wounding 10 others. The next day, The New York Times featured a front-page photo of law-enforcement officers removing a body from the school, just above the related article.

Now, school shootings in the United States are so routine that this March was apparently the first since 2002 without any typical school shootings, CBS News reported last week.

According to CBS, Everytown for Gun Safety, which tracks gun violence in the United States, found that seven shootings occurred on campuses in March, but four were unintentional discharges, one was between adults on a football field during a weekend, and two were on college campuses and did not involve students.

So, what did it take to halt the shootings, at least temporarily? We certainly can't thank Congress or the president, for they neither can nor will take action.

Rather, it took a deadly pandemic that forced schools across the country to close their doors and temporarily switch to online classes. So, while school shootings are on hiatus, the coronavirus has more than filled in. It's already killed thousands of people in this country alone. More will likely die until we develop a vaccine.

Once our children get to return to traditional classrooms, I hope they do so safely, both in terms of covid-19 and guns.

Schools need security, armed police officers or well-trained security officers. But let's forget even the idea of gun-toting teachers or armed parents who may have little training and zero temperament for the dual role.

I cannot think of a single person who could adeptly handle a gun with one hand, operate an overhead projector with the other, and keep watch over 30 sometimes rowdy fourth-graders or sullen teenagers. And who's to say teachers are always cautious or even mentally stable?

My mother, my sister and I are former teachers. I would have been unqualified to carry a gun to school, and so would they. So would most teachers I've known.

Teachers must occasionally leave their classrooms, sometimes with little notice (a fire or tornado drill, for instance), and have little way to make sure a gun is secure. Lock it up, and they can't access it fast enough when they need it. Don't lock it up, and just wait for another Laurie Dann wannabe to grab it.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

Editorial on 04/19/2020

Print Headline: Old enough to remember


Sponsor Content