A Letter from Vermont: A Near Miss

A lovely morning, the bright mid-February sun illuminating the very air as it bounced off last night’s fluffy snowfall. Now clouds have begun to fill in from the west, turning the day chilly and dank.

This coming week is forecast to be as much as 30 degrees F above seasonal norms. There will likely be sap runs and some adventurous souls will likely sunbathe if the sun appears long enough. We are also into Winter break at many of our schools, with families taking off to the ski slopes or to warmer climes for the week.

Speaking of school, our small state was stunned this week when a young man was arrested for planning an attack on the small rural high school he once attended. The eighteen year old had been in a mental health treatment program in a nearby state, but had come home to carry out the well planned attack.

All this began unfolding on Tuesday, the same day as the Florida high school shooting, and reminded us that we are not immune to the epidemic of mass gun violence. We Vermonters pride ourselves on having created a pretty fair place to live and to raise children, so it came as a shock that one of our own kids could live with such fierce hate and intent to harm others.

As far as we know the young man was not motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, as was the youth in Florida who chose to attack a predominantly Jewish high school. Rather, the Vermont youth had previously attended his chosen target high school, and knew some of the students and teachers there. His rage seems to have been more personal.

As always, following actual, or potential, acts of mass violence, we are left to ponder what is truly happening in our society that encourages Caucasian males to plan and carry out mass killings, and what we might do about it. (Virtually all of the mass shootings during the past ten years and more have been conducted by Caucasian males.) I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, although I am certain our leaders’ encouragement of violence in support of ideological goals must contribute to the problem.

While mass shootings rose significantly last year, along with the rhetoric of violent change, during the first six weeks of this year mass violence has been particularly virulent. Yet those in power appear unwilling to reign in either their hate speech, or the availability of the assault rifles that are the weapons of choice in mass shootings, weapons that may be purchased for less than $500 US when purchased with abundant ammunition.

Here in the U.S. the level of everyday violence is rising, along with a sense of unease and vulnerability. Now, when we say goodbye to our loved ones in the morning we collectively find ourselves wondering whether our partners will arrive safely home from work and our kids from school. We also wonder how we are to create needed change when the gun lobby uses its wealth, and the greed of our politicians, to block any and all attempts to make meaningful change.

Here in Vermont there is a long and healthy culture of hunting for subsistence, and rifles and shotguns are often family treasures as well as tools. The idea that those weapons could be turned on our loved ones, friends, and students remains abhorrent to most of us, even as the likelihood someone will use guns to create mass tragedy and suffering, even here in Vermont, increases.

After this week Vermonters are talking about mass violence from very personal perspectives, a conversation that promises to last well beyond this fall’s election cycle.

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18 thoughts on “A Letter from Vermont: A Near Miss

  1. I sure hope the conversation continues – and people ask candidates for office at both state and national levels their positions on reasonable gun control and how much they are receiving from the NRA and/or the weapons industry.

  2. Here in the UK we look on in horror when the news of these shootings break. Why do they always seem to target schools and children? Of course we also have mentally ill and dangerous people intent on causing harm to others, and I’m thankful that it is difficult to get hold of firearms here.

    • Andy, our current system is designed to sell guns. Now everyone is being encouraged to arm themselves in order to stop gun violence, surely and oxymoron. Every time I think things cannot possibly get crazier, they do……. Having been laid up with bronchitis has been a blessing in that I have not felt like engaging with media. It has been a vacation of sorts I guess. Maybe I should go tho the lighthouse……

  3. I grew up in a hunter family and a shotgun is safe with proper training. I cannot figure out what an AR-15 is used for — other than mass murder. The young ones will/are leading the way out of this insanity.

  4. I can only agree with you about your thoughts about all those mass shootings, Michael.

    I follow the news from here and the last news from the “leader” and I found it difficult to believe my own ears. Instead of reducing the access for weapons, he would arm both teachers and guards. This must stop and the same with that leader.

    I like to read about the young students, as now demand new rules for having weapons. This revolution has been long expected and hoped for.

    In other parts of our world, there are strong rules about weapons and not many shootings of innocents like we see in US. It is so sad, not to be able to feel good about the possibility to see your family again, when they split up in the morning. So very stressful, I feel.

  5. There was an interesting analogy around in the media recently…

    If a child hits other children with a stick, what do you do?
    – take the stick away
    – give the other children sticks
    – give some children sticks, the ones who are likely to help those who can’t defend themselves

    • In sixth grade there were a group of bullies who tormented several of us. One day one of the kids finally fought back. Then, suddenly, we all joined the fight and pummeled the bullies, who eventually fled to a teacher. The teacher refused to intervene and the bullies were only saved by the end of recess bell. Interestingly, that seemed to stop the bullying…..

  6. It is such a sad state of affairs, Michael. I have not been able to let my heart think about the Florida shooting…it was so close. There is something about proximity to this kind of violence. When it is far away we can think, “Oh…nothing like that could happen here.” I felt the waves of shock and pain as the twin towers fell and we could watch the smoke and debris drift by the Jersey shoreline. Terrible! Are we failing as a country in the area of mental illness? (I know other areas for sure) I think most of these mass shootings have a component of mental illness that goes untreated.
    Sending happier thoughts…and hope you have plenty of rations for this storm…it looks like it could be a biggie!! And to think I complain when the temperature drops to 50°!!
    I hope you are well…stay warm and safe.

    • Lorrie, in spite of forecasts for a few inches, we receive something like 17. Somehow we all mostly went about our lives. The snow fell over three days so we were not inundated….. And you?

      I guess racism and hatred are forms of mental illness. Maybe they are more about hardness of the heart than about the mind? Yes, we are collectively failing and things will only change when we collectively acknowledge that. Maybe we will yet learn to place people and the natural world above money.

      • Ah! Michael…your lips to God’s ears!

        Wow! 17 inches! I’m happy to report no snow in Florida…but it has been one of the colder winters in a long time…when I say cold I mean in the 40’s at night (some were 30’s) and highs of 60’s (50’s).
        If I’m not mistaken I think tomorrow is spring!!! Hope you get spring weather soon.

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