Hinsdale High School Cowers in the Face of an AK-47 (T-Shirt)

If you’re local to Chicago, you might have been following the story of a suburban boy who was suspended last week from Hinsdale Central High School for wearing a t-shirt with an image of an AK-47 on it.  As reported by Annemarie Mannion in the Chicago Tribune, the student in question wore the t-shirt pictured below and was stopped by hall monitors because of its provocative nature.

Photo from the Chicago Tribune used with permission.
Photo from the Chicago Tribune used with permission.

The dean of students then gave him three options:  1) remove the t-shirt; 2) turn the t-shirt inside out; or 3) go home for the day and be marked with a suspension.  The boy opted for the third option and was sent home.

Today, the boy appealed his suspension to the Hinsdale School Board, arguing his first amendment rights were violated.  The Board then reversed the dean’s original suspension and it will be removed from the boy’s PERMANENT RECORD.  You all remember the threat of something landing on your PERMANENT RECORD, right?

So much of this story disturbs me, I don’t quite know where to start, but let’s do this.

  • Guns have no place in our schools.  I don’t know what else to say about this.  Guns and schools do not mix.  End of story.
  • First amendment, schmirst schmendment.  This kid went in front of the School Board to assert that his first amendment rights were being violated.  “I decided to go home for the day because I felt it was a infringement of my First Amendment right to freedom of expression,” he told the board.  What, exactly, was this student attempting to express by wearing the inflammatory image of an AK-47 on his t-shirt?  The AK-47 is an assault rifle, an Avtomat Kalashnikova, first manufactured in World War II Russia for the sole purpose of killing in a military combat setting.  Not hunting.  Not providing food for family.  Not for sport.  Solely for killing human beings in a more efficient manner.  Do you know how many results will be found if you Google “school shootings with AK-47”?  1,650,000.  If this student could articulate what exactly he was attempting to express, not whine that his rights were being violated, I would want to hear it, but I am fairly certain I would strongly disagree with any POV that advocates for personal use of an AK-47.
  • Discipline must be consistent.  Hinsdale Central’s school dean is who first meted out the suspension on the grounds that the provocative t-shirt, and yes, the image of an assault rifle is provocative, most especially in a school setting, violated the school’s dress code policy.  Per the Tribune, “The handbook states that students are subject to disciplinary action when they wear clothing that ‘is deemed vulgar, inappropriate, unsafe or disruptive to the educational process (e.g., advertising/display of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sexual innuendo).'”  The dean determined that an AK-47 depicted on a t-shirt in the school environment was indeed inappropriate and disruptive, correctly, I believe.  The school superintendent originally agreed with the dean’s actions, stating that schools maintain the right to prevent school children from wearing offensive clothing.  Today, the board reversed the suspension.  Kid wins.  Hooray for AK-47s being glamorized in schools everywhere!  Parenting 101 mandates that when a punishment is handed out, a punishment is handed out.  The best and easiest way to create chaos for children is to provide inconsistency in their parenting and discipline.  If an assault rifle on a t-shirt is found to be disruptive to the educational process, then it is disruptive to the educational process.  My writing this blog post is evidence of that — it is front page news in Chicago.  Send a message to our children that discipline is discipline.  Be consistent.  Stand by your dean and common sense.
  • Guns have no place in our schools.  Again, this is self-explanatory.
  • Stop confusing the issue of guns.  After reversing their decision to suspend the boy, the superintendent today said that school personnel will, moving forward, attempt to distinguish between lawful images of guns that do not promote violence and other images that do promote violence.  Huh.  Last I checked, all guns promoted violence.  I mean, that’s kind of the whole point, right?  Guns are made to harm and/or kill.  All guns.  It just is the nature of the beast, no getting around it.  What the Hinsdale School Board did with their reversal today was confuse a pretty straight forward issue — guns have no place in our schools.  By opening the door to this idea of gun clubs being harmless entities when those same clubs use the deadly image of an AK-47 with the lingo, “Team AK,” well, they are sending an extremely confusing message to their student body and loads of headaches for their staff.
  • Guns have no place in our schools.  

I make no bones about where I stand on the gun issue.  In our beloved Constitution of these United States of America, the Second Amendment guarantees the right of its citizens to bear arms.  I get it, I will not argue with that, own a gun, as it is your right.  But times have changed, folks, and we have become a gun loving society that embraces its guns beyond any stretch of common sense.

This child, an 18 year old Eagle Scout for cripes sake, believes he has the right to express himself in a school environment by wearing the image of a deadly weapon used expressly for the purposes of killing human beings more efficiently. What he is trying to express is beyond my peace loving comprehension, I know, but for the life of me, I cannot understand why the Hinsdale School Board would kowtow to the feeble arguments about expression when children across America are being gunned down in classrooms.

It is simple, Hinsdale School Board.  Set an example.  Structure a school environment that does not tolerate the glamorization or romanticization of guns in any instance.  Be consistent with the message.  Educate instead of placate.  Guns have no place in our schools.  Period.  Class dismissed.

Click here for a list of schools shootings in America from 1764-today.  

Newtown: Speaking Up About Gun Violence

A year ago tomorrow I was driving home from a lunch with two old friends in Milwaukee.  Mary Tyler Son was giggling in the back seat and I called my husband to let him know when we would be back in Chicago.  He was audibly distraught and asked if I had heard the news about the latest school shooting.  I hadn’t.

I waited until my boy fell asleep and then I turned on the radio.  It didn’t take long for me to start crying.  I didn’t have to see any footage of desperate parents or scared children.  Just the idea of what had happened a few short hours earlier was enough to cue my tears.

For a few days there, my little corner of the Internet sobered up.  We empathized when we picked up our children from school that day.  We collectively strategized about how to discuss a school shooting with little ones.  We confided in one another about our fears and our vulnerabilities. And then, well, life went on.

Except for a lot of families in Newtown, Connecticut, life has not gone on as before.  Their lives are forever changed after losing someone they love, twenty of them children, to gun violence.  Their lives are a shadow of what they were before that December day.  Those families have forever lost their innocence.

One of the details that has stuck with me is hearing from parents of slain children what it was like to have the clothes that their child was wearing the day of the shooting returned to them. The clothes tell the story of what really happened in those classrooms.  They have holes that shouldn’t be there and are covered in blood that shouldn’t be there.

The clothes tell the truth of what guns do and how they kill.

Something changed for me that day last December.  I spoke up about guns. As a blogger, guns are sort of like religion and politics — they are taboo. They provoke too much intensity on the Internet to create discussion. Instead, when you mention guns in your blogs, people tell you you’re an idiot and threaten to teach you about why you should own a gun in the first place. They talk about knowing your address and how many kids you have.

It’s scary, to be honest.

But enough is enough.  Something needs to change.

You can argue that the problem is really about mental health.  I won’t disagree with you.  Our mental health system is as broken in America as is our gun regulation.  I dream of a day the mental health lobby is as powerful and feared as the gun lobby.  We will all be better off.

Today another school shooting occurred in Colorado.  A high school student brought a gun into his school and harmed two students before killing himself. Not an hour after that was reported I am already starting to see status updates blaming the mental health system for failing the shooter, his gun a seemingly insignificant detail.

Give me a freaking break.

Enough is enough.

We need to do better.  All of us.  I don’t give a flying fig if you own a gun or not.  The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, if you feel the need to do so.  Have at it, folks.

But if those arms can be bought without any sort of delay or registration, yes, I have a problem with that.  If those arms are the type that soldiers use in combat, yes, I have a problem with that.  If they are left out in a place that kids can access them, yes, I have a problem with that, too.

Common sense gun laws.

The impact that the children and families of Newtown had on me was significant.  Some would say, living in Chicago, that my response is hypocritical, as gun violence is epidemic in my hometown.  That’s a fair assessment and I own that.  Somehow, it’s been too easy for me to chalk up Chicago violence to gangs and drugs — things that are well out of my day-to-day life.  Newtown helped me to see the global aspect of gun violence on children, including those in my own back yard.

Here’s the thing.  You read my words.  You’re reading them right now.  My blog is a part of life for some of you.  That is some hard core stuff.  And so, I use my voice now, when the spirit moves me, to write about guns.  I worry a little about if that could hurt me or my family in some way.  I worry more about staying quiet about something so important.

Right now, Mary Tyler Son is standing over my keyboard asking the question, “What are you writing?”  “Well, I’m writing about guns, and how they hurt people,” was how I responded.  I want him to know, just as I want you to know, that we need to do better in America where guns are concerned.  And I will keep writing about it, too, until we do.

Since last December 14, here are the posts I have published about gun violence:

I get that I’m one mom blogger in a sea of thousands.  I know that while 25K folks might follow me on the Facebook, I’ll be lucky if two thousand of you read this post.  I’m not curing cancer here, I’m not testifying before Congress, I’m not organizing protests or leading marches.  But I am doing what I can to educate and start a discussion about the impact of guns on America.  And the reason I am doing that is because of the 26 people who died on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.

I write for Charlotte Bacon and Daniel Barden and Rachel D’Avino and Olivia Engel and Josephine Gay and Dawn Hochsprung and Dylan Hockley and Madeleine Hsu and Catherine Hubbard and Chase Kowalski and Jesse Lewis and Ana Marquez-Greene and James Mattioli and Grace McDonnell and Anne Marie Murphy and Emilie Parker and Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner and Caroline Prividi and Jessica Rekos and Avielle Richman and Lauren Rousseau and Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto and Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.

I write these words because sometime after that horrible day, the families of the people who died got a package containing clothes worn by someone they love, most of them children, and that clothing had holes and blood that shouldn’t have been there and that blood and those holes told the story of how their loved one died.

And nothing about that is okay.

Newtown Angels