Shooting, normalized

A couple weeks back I received a phone call from my brother, a high school history teacher in Utah.

“You’ll never guess what happened to us today in school,” he said.

Only one guess popped into my mind, but I didn’t float it his way. I didn’t want to sound like a doomsayer who automatically assumes the worst in any situation. Plus, I was almost certainly wrong. So I kept my mouth shut and asked what happened, only to have my concerning presumption confirmed.

“There was a shooter today.”

My brother teaches at Fremont High School, where on Dec. 1 a student brought a loaded 9mm pistol to school, intending to shoot an ex-girlfriend and then open fire on whoever surrounded him. No shots were fired; the student was apprehended “without incident.”

A spooky moment indeed — it’s never enjoyable to hear a family member was in danger. But what surprised me most wasn’t the details of the day, or the fact that there was a shooter at all. What I remember most was my own reaction and that of my brother.

I was surprised by how calm he was when he called, even though he had a three-hour lockdown to process everything and responding officers said there was no reason to hide students. He sounded like he was describing any other day. His speech wasn’t hurried, and he wasn’t off to a comforting glass of whiskey. Our conversation ended when he arrived at the ski shop where his skis were being tuned.

He sounded like a bullfighter with a broken bone or a painter with a stained shirt: What had happened that day was just part of the job. With all of the recent shootings, he said, he figured it was just a matter of time before an unhappy kid with access to a gun decided to bring one into Fremont.

He might have felt differently had shots been fired, or had someone been hurt. But that’s beside the point. A student with fatal intentions and a weapon designed for the task entered a public school, and neither my brother nor myself were surprised. The two of us grew up in a rural town where I’d guess five percent of vehicles had firearms in them, so both of us understand how easily a firearm can be brought to a campus. But that could just as easily be an accident, a forgetful kid forgetting to remove a .22 after hunting coyotes. The Fremont student, though we’ll never know to what degree, was at intent on killing another person.

And that’s no longer shocking, both for those inside the school and those watching from the outside.

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