Guns right, no guns left

The instructions were easy; the results were, I guess, to be expected.

“If you have a gun, stay to the right,” the exasperated voice repeatedly yelled. “No gun, keep moving to the left.”

Oaks logoI’m sure I wasn’t the only one to pick up on the right/left, conservative/liberal, gun/no gun irony.  There were many more people headed right than keeping left the morning my nephew Larry and I went to the Oaks Gun Show in suburban Philadelphia.  We stayed to the left. We were gunless.

The no-gun left line was moving only slightly faster than the armed one on the right as show security officials wanted to ensure that those attendees who were packing had proper locks or other safety precautions in place for their weapons.

A couple in front of us in the gun free line had a young girl with them who was maybe eight or nine.  She was cute as a button with a blonde ponytail reaching about halfway down her back; it was sticking out from a small camouflage National Rifle Association baseball cap perched on her head.

Phil headshot

Phil Robertson

The male adult with the girl was wearing a black t-shirt bearing a large image of Phil Robertson’s head and beard and the words “Happy, Happy, Happy.”  I assume this is a catchphrase on the Duck Dynasty television show. I have not yet caught an episode, so I wasn’t really sure.

Larry and I were there as part of my ongoing hunting and firearms research project as I finish up my gun free school zone magazine article.  Before we were even in the door — with the two gun/no gun lines, the pre-teen future NRA member and the Phil Robertson fan in front of me – I knew I was out of my element.  Thankfully, I had an expert with me.

As I’ve mentioned in several earlier blogs, I’ve relied on two guys in the know to help guide me through the unfamiliar environment of gun culture – my dear friend and neighbor Rus and my nephew and golfing buddy Larry.  Larry is the husband of my wife’s brother’s youngest daughter Eva.  He’s a Penn State engineering graduate and a lifelong hunter who grew up in central Pennsylvania.

Larry with crossbow

Larry, with a crossbow

We knew the show was going to be crowded as we sat in traffic for a mile and half before entering the parking lot.  It was bumper-to-bumper from before the exit on Route 422, down the ramp, under the highway and back up a local road on the other side of the freeway to the exhibition center.

As we inched along, Larry explained how New Jersey’s restrictive gun ownership laws did not make it profitable for gun shows to be held in the Garden State.  The waiting period in New Jersey can be as long as 30 days; in Pennsylvania, as we would learn once we finally got inside, people were filling out forms, paying their money and walking out with weapons.

“Keep moving.  Ammunition? Keep to the right; same as guns,” we heard Mr. Frustrated yell once again as we finally remitted our $12 admission fee – Larry refused to let me pay (I would pick up lunch later in the day) – and we were in.

two more signs

Two other signs

As I was out of my element, and really didn’t want a confrontation – this is a gun show, for goodness sake! – I tried to be as unobtrusive as I could, both taking notes and taking photographs.  One shot I had to get was of the stacks and stacks of gun signs on tables just past the entry foyer.  Two of my favorites were: “We do not dial 9-1-1, we have 9mm” and “If you can read this, you are in range.”

An elderly man walking determinedly with a cane passed by us as we entered the main hall.  He had a rifle with a long carrying strap flung over his shoulder with a little white paper sign taped to a long dowel sticking out of the barrel.  The sign read “$350 or b.o.” Larry explained that it was an older, probably collectable, Remington long rifle that the man had brought to the show to sell.  He was not the only private gun vendor we saw hawking his wares that morning.

My first rifle

“Not a toy”

The main exhibition hall was immense, but it was only one of four rooms of about the same size that were filled, almost shoulder to shoulder, with gun enthusiasts, hopeful owners and the curious.  There were pistols, rifles, shotguns and accessories as far as you could see.  The crowd was mostly white males, but there were women and there were many more children than I expected.

What there were not that many of were African Americans.  We spent about two-and-a-half hours walking up and down aisle after aisle, and I would say I saw fewer than 10 persons of color.  Very surprising, considering how close we were to center city Philadelphia. I actually saw two different couples – one older, on a bit younger – several times.  I found that demographically fascinating.  Despite his expertise in the field, Larry was of no help on this issue.

Larry’s knowledge, however, was called into play at one of the first tables we stopped.  Firearm tyro that I am, I had no idea that shotguns were produced in different lengths for different uses.  The longer the barrel, Larry explained, the more accurate the weapon was at a greater distance, and the more concentrated the spread of the projectile shot pellets.

Chart of choke types

Shotgun choke settings

This, however, is not always the case, as he went on to show me, and explain, the concept of a shotgun choke.  Having a choke at the end of your shotgun – not every shotgun comes with an adjustable choke – allows you to control the spread and accuracy of the same weapon quickly, and in the field.  This, Larry explained, allows a hunter to use the same weapon to go after small, close-range game and larger, longer-range game with the same shotgun.

“Keep in mind,” he told me as he manually adjusted the choke on the sample shotgun he was holding, “you’re carrying this gun for 10, 12, 15 hours through the woods. If you can bring a shorter, lighter weapon and still use it effectively at various distances, it makes a world of difference.”

He handed me the weapon.  “Imagine carrying this long, heavy shotgun for 12 hours,” he said, “either in your two hands, or over your shoulder, without ever putting it down.”  It was heavy.  I agreed.

While more expensive models have a greater number of choke settings, the three basic positions are full, modified and improved with average optimal ranges of 50, 30 and 25 yards, respectively.

As my nephew finished his choke talk, Bob – the vendor whose shotgun Larry was holding — came over and offered it for sale for $350.  Larry replied he was in the market for a new shotgun, but said he was saving up for a new set of Ping irons.  Bob laughed and said it’s tough to have two such expensive hobbies – hunting and golf – and we started talking.

Larry checks out a pistol

Take your pick of pistols

Bob, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said he carts his inventory of about 200 pistols, shotguns and rifles to, roughly, 42 gun shows a year, logging about 48,000 miles annually. “It’s a living,” he said.  “You meet fascinating people.”  I’m sure you do, I told him as we shook hands and moved on.

Of all the different types of weapons on display and for sale, pistols were the most plentiful.  They were lined up on tables, mounted to boards and kept under glass – every one of them secured with a bank-pen-like security chain.  “Too easy to pocket and walk away with,” Larry explained as he aimed a bright-pink .38-caliber pistol at the ceiling.

Pink was a predominant color for the pistols that were not the standard black or silver in an obvious gesture to attract female firearm fans. There also were quite a few miniature pistols that could easily be concealed in a palm or pocket for added protection.

switchblades galore

A rainbow of switchblades

There were almost as many switchblades on display as there were pistols.  Table after table.  Surprisingly, these were not tethered in place for security, but there were a few more vendor/attendants keeping an eye on this merchandise.

Several vendors offered do-it-yourself bullet-making machines – along with scales, empty cartridge shells and bags of shotgun pellets of many varying sizes — although we did not see any actual, ready-to-fire ammunition available.  I guess there are some lines that aren’t crossed, even in Pennsylvania.

Predominating the non-weapon paraphernalia for sale was quite a bit of Nazi memorabilia, including swastika arm bands. Sadly, this was not isolated to one or two tables, but was pretty much spread throughout the four exhibition halls.  I realize that if people are willing to buy, other people will sell, but I would have liked to see that line not be crossed as well.

Interestingly, one of these Nazi vendors was located across the aisle from a full-size, seemingly ready-to-operate World War II medical tent.  Aside the tent was an original WWII Jeep and next to that was a tank.  Yes, a real tank!  I thought that was the coolest part of the show.  This Army gear took up an entire end of one of the halls. The WWII re-enactors told Larry and me that, just like Bob from Tulsa, they visit a number of gun shows each year, with their impressive array of materiel in tow.

Two more t-shirts

No shortage of shirts

A quick stop at one of the several deer jerky stands for free samples did nothing but increase our appetite, so we decided to leave and grab lunch, but not before after we took a glance at some t-shirts.  A few of our favorites were: “Alcohol, tobacco and firearms should be a convenience store, not a government agency” and “Waterboarding instructor.”

It was just about 1 p.m. when we left the building and the crowds still were pouring in – “guns to the right, no guns to the left.”

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A brewing blog brouhaha

There’s a bit of a battle – a belligerent brouhaha – brewing on my blog “A-Hunting I Will Go.”

I’ve received some back-and-forth comments on my latest hunting and firearms post – “Was it something I said, or wrote?” – in which I opined that an interview I had planned with a gun rights spokesperson was cancelled due to the ongoing Bundy Ranch controversy in Nevada.

I’d like to address that discussion, but first some background:

I’m working on a magazine article about a proposal to create gun-free school zones here in New Jersey.  In an attempt to seek comment from all sides of the issue, I set up a phone interview with Eric Reed, founder and president of Gun Rights Across America.  As it turned out, Mr. Reed was scheduled to call me on the same day that the standoff over grazing right fees came to a head between rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management.

As I mentioned in the blog, Mr. Reed spent the afternoon tweeting updates about the ranch controversy and was too busy to call me.  Or he just blew me off.  I still don’t know.

Three of a kind - vertical

THREE OF A KIND: (From top) Cliven Bundy, Phil Robertson, Donald Sterling

The post generated a number of comments from those who have sided with either the government or Mr. Bundy on the ranch issue.  Two of them are “Bob,” better known as “3 Boxes of BS,” — (Don’t you just love the cloak of anonymity the Internet provides? – but I digress.) — and “Joe,” better known as “Joseph F. Berenato.”

Bob argues that Bundy is right because the government keeps changing the grazing regulations and is charging outrageous fees.  Joe agrees with the government and says the BLM is justified, after two years of non-payment, to seek restitution from Bundy. (You can read their separate statements in the Comments section at the bottom of “Was it something . . .)

I’ve read their arguments and done some research and I’m siding with:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – the man who just placed a “banned for life” sticker on the forehead of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

It seems that Bundy, and Sterling, and Phil Robertson from ZZ Top (Or is it Duck Dynasty? I get them confused.) are nothing but old, bitter, white racists.

Have you seen Mr. Bundy’s comments on African Americans?  That all “the Negro” does is sit on the porch all day?  That they’re all on government subsidy? That they were better off as slaves?

These revelations that Bundy is way, way out in right field (definitely not the “left” field of common colloquialism), make all his points about guns, grazing and government intervention moot.

Cliven Bundy.  Hero of gun rights advocates, poster child for conservatives, a man standing up to the “devil Barack Obama” – exposed as a reprehensive racist.  How does your shining star, your symbol of all that’s Right with America, look now, Fox News?

The sheep’s (or, I guess, cattle’s) clothing has been pulled back and our righteous rancher has been revealed as nothing but a cowardly bigot, using prejudice as a plate on which he’s serving the rancid meat of hatred.

Bundy is no different than Don Sterling – a man cheating on his wife with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter; a man who tells that same woman it’s OK for her to sleep with blacks, just not for her to bring them to Clippers games.  Adam Silver did the right thing: Sterling was banned and fined and hopefully will be run out of L.A.

Bundy is no different than Phil Robertson – a man who equates homosexuality with bestiality, who wonders if blacks were happier back in the days when they were picking cotton.  The A&E network initially did the right thing by suspending Robertson, but eventually bowed to the power of the almighty dollar.  Shame on them.

Really, people?  This is 2014.  We must root out racism; we must purge prejudice. We should be working together to feed, clothe and educate our children, to end war and disease, not questioning or reliving battles that were fought 50 or 150 years ago.

I love America.  I’m proud of my country.  I’m embarrassed, however, to share my citizenship with these three men who clearly have a problem understanding the meaning of “liberty and justice for all.”

Sadly, this blog brouhaha is nothing to laugh about.

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Was it something I said, or wrote?

Eric Reed stood me up, and I don’t know why.

Maybe it was the comments in my “A gun virgin no more” blog about being “a pacifist” and “a liberal” that prompted the President and Founder of Gun Rights Across America not to follow through on a promise to call me for our interview on gun-free school zones.

Maybe he’s a fan of either John F. Kennedy, or Lee Harvey Oswald, and didn’t care for the analogy I made linking the events of November 22, 1963 with my shooting range experience.

Maybe he didn’t like the way I looked in the golf photo on my “About Me” page.

I hope that his blowing me away (oops, probably shouldn’t use that phrase in this context) – I mean, blowing me off – was related to the Bundy Ranch assault that was going on the same day we were to scheduled to speak.  He did, after all, spend most of the afternoon of April 11 tweeting about the then-unfolding standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Bundy tweets reading down_Page_1Maybe I could understand: On one hand, there was an unfolding issue of major importance, affecting countless individuals with the focus on one individual and, on the other hand, . . .

. . . there was Bundy Ranch.

OK, maybe my interview seeking comment for the magazine article I’m writing on how to keep the elementary school in my backyard from becoming the site of the next Sandy Hook-like slaughter wasn’t as critical as armed government agents facing off with Mr. Bundy and a coterie of armed private citizens, but how hard is it to send a tweet?  After these past four months of online and in-person research for this article, I can type 140 characters in my sleep.

Al Bundy - Married With Children

Not at Bundy Ranch that day

I attempted to reach Mr. Reed multiple times in the days after our aborted interview through regular, public Twitter and through Twitter’s DM (direct message) function.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I was so excited, several days earlier, when I finally was able to find someone in the pro-gun arena who would speak with me about my article.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, I have been spreading my journalistic wings during this research project, trying to use more technical and innovative ways to contact sources to interview.

National Rifle Association? Not a peep despite multiple requests submitted electronically through the press/medial link on their website.

Larry Pratt and the Gun Owners of America? Nothing. No response.

I never had the chance to find out, but I wonder if the series of tweets I sent out using as many conservative, gun-related hashtags I could identify is what finally broke through.

my gun hashtag tweets

(By the way, the copy editor in me refused to use the very popular gun-related hashtag #2ndammendment.)

When Eric Reed found me and began following me on Twitter, I – in turn – followed him.  Soon after, I received a tweet-back thanking me for my interest.  I’m sure it probably was automated, but I seized the opportunity as an invitation to reply and sent a DM to Mr. Reed who, to my most pleasant surprise, immediately answered.

At first, I asked if he would agree to a Twitter interview – looking, of course, to earn a few social media stripes – but quickly agreed Eric Reed DMto a phone call when he said that was the mode of communication he would prefer.  I asked if I could call him, but he said he’d rather call me.  I gave him my number and when he replied . . .

. . . I figured we were all set!  Who would send someone a smiley face (with a nose!) and then stand them up in an interview?

However, when 3 p.m. came and went on Friday, April 11, without my cell phone ringing, I figured I had to have done something wrong.

I’m worried it all began to unravel when, just before we ended our DM conversation, I gave him the link to my research blog.  Ooopsie!

Ruby shoots Oswald

Dallas Det. Jim Leavelle, Oswald and Ruby

It was my goal to speak with as many people as possible for this article, including those from every side of the issue.  I believe I still nailed the article, but it would have been nice to have a few quotes from Mr. Reed and to have included the Gun Rights Across America perspective on gun-free school zones.

Maybe a mention of Jack Ruby would have clinched the deal.

Or, maybe not.

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Old dog learns new trick

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts on my firearms research blog, my goal is more than just research.  I’m also looking to improve and upgrade my information collection methods.  For me, with nearly 40 years of journalism and public relations experience, the interview process always has been – with pen and paper in hand – recording facts, quotes and observations from in-person or telephone discussions.

For this project, though, I’ve been challenging myself to learn new techniques in all areas of research and interviewing, which is how I arrived at Google Docs.  I presaged my actions in this area with one of my earlier blog entries – “Con-‘Doc’-ting an online interview” – and this update will detail how it went and what I learned from my online interview with Steve Baker, Associate Director of Public Relations for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).

NJEA logoIt went very well, thank you, and I learned quite a bit.

I started the process with a visit to the Google Drive section of the main Google website, where I created a word processing document (similar to, but not exactly, a Microsoft Word document).

I was a bit confused at the beginning of the process as Google wanted me to create a Google Drive account to get started.  I thought this would cause all of my documents to be stored remotely in a Google-administered cloud, which I didn’t want to do.  (I already back up my documents online with Microsoft One Drive through my Nokia Windows phone and my Microsoft Surface 2 tablet.)

There was no choice, however, so I went ahead and opened the account.  I now have a Google Drive storage area with one document and a Microsoft One Drive storage area with thousands of documents.

After that short stretch of rough seas, however, it was smooth sailing.  I created the Google word processing document and typed in a welcome note to Mr. Baker explaining that I wanted to discuss with him the association’s position on the proposed gun-free school zone regulation working its way through the New Jersey Assembly.

Here’s how I started out:

This is a “Google Docs” document being shared by Steve Baker and Steve Royek.

Steve: We both can call up this document up and write on it simultaneously.  This way, I can ask questions and you can reply in real time back to me without each of us having to open, compose and send separate email messages.

It also provides an easily downloaded and saved record of our conversation.

I saved it and shared it with Steve by entering his email address into the appropriate field and hit send.  With the stroke of one key, I had started my first online interview.

Of course, I then saved it again and shared it with one of my personal email addresses so I could check for myself that it worked.  (I’m not too anal-retentive, am I?)

I then sent Steve a separate email message explaining the process to him again and reminding him of the day and time we had agreed to “meet” “online” for our “interview.”

When that appointment arrived, several days later, I signed on and opened up the document and waited.  Just after 10:30 a.m., I typed in the words . . .

Good morning

. . . and waited.  About 30 seconds later, the words . . .

Hello back!

. . . appeared on my screen, and we were off and running.

I’d estimate we spent about 45 minutes or so typing discussion topics and questions and follow-ups and answers back and forth to each other.  Only one or two times did we “step” on each’s others statements – my description of multiple Google Docs participants typing at the same time.  That led me to share with him the story of my earlier foray into the technology that I outlined in my “Con-‘Doc’-ting” post with the description . . .

. . . on those occasions when (the 14) of us were “talking” at the same time, my computer screen looked like a kennel cage filled with newborn puppies, flopping, butting and nipping each other for attention.

His reaction?

That’s nuts!

By the end of our discussion, I had all the information I needed from Steve, and the NJEA, for that portion of my gun-free school zone article.  I also had a typewritten – and easy to read – record of our discussion.

Google Docs is a very useful online interview tool and one that I definitely plan to use again, if not on this project (the research days are fast coming to an end as my deadline looms) then definitely on other work going forward.

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Different route, better destination

The main goal I had heading into my meeting with New Jersey Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson was to make sure it was different from any other interview I’ve conducted before – and it definitely started out that way.

I got lost driving to his office.  I never get lost driving anywhere.  I always know where I’m headed.

“One-thirty Black Horse Pike, right?” I asked Kaitlin, one of the Assemblyman’s aides when I called from my car.  After she agreed, I said “I’m at 128 and it’s an auto body shop.  The 132 building next store is an empty warehouse and there’s no 130.”

“We’re right behind Applebee’s,” she said.  I could see the restaurant sign about a half-mile down the Pike, on the other side of the road.

About 10 minutes and several parking lot loops later, I arrived at the offices of the Fifth Legislative District and walked into the strip-mall storefront office for my interview with the Democratic lawmaker about his bill to create gun-free school zones here in the Garden State. It’s going to be an ethnographic style interview: No set questions, just general discussion topics.  Just like my drive to the office, I hope I don’t get lost along the way.

I was met at the door with laughter from Kaitlin and her fellow aide Alexis.  “That happens to visitors all the time,” Alexis said.  “For some reason, there are two 130s and they’re on opposite sides of the road.”

Assy. Wilson’s chief aide, Arlene Evans, then approached with a smile on her face and I could tell I was in for an enjoyable – and hopefully informative – afternoon.

The lobby was clean, white and bright with a full wall of windows facing out toward a number of older and recently refurbished retail establishments.  The long front countertop and the two sidewalls of this reception area were filled with stacks and stands of brochures.  If constituents needed information on anything from healthcare, mortgages and business licenses to tours of the Statehouse, legislator biographies and voter registration, they definitely would find it here.

This northern-most corridor of the Black Horse Pike, which was one of the first roads linking Philadelphia and Camden with Atlantic City and other South Jersey shore points, is a fitting middle-of-the-road location for a legislative bailiwick that crosses counties from Camden and Gloucester and stretches from urban Camden City to suburban Magnolia Borough to rural Harrison Township.

Camden, however, is clearly the tail that wags the dog in this district and – from a look around Assy. Wilson’s office – it’s near and dear to his heart as well.

An Air Force veteran who served as a Camden police officer and sat on the city council, Wilson’s love for his hometown was evident by two solid walls of photos in his office.  While there are, as one might expect, the standard shots of the assemblyman with other lawmakers and family members – including his darling three-year-old granddaughter Brielle – the majority showed Mr. Wilson with groups of Camden schoolchildren from the numerous youth outreach programs he either sponsors or participates in.


New Jersey Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson

“It’s all about the kids,” he said with a smile and an outstretched hand as we met, an excellent beginning to an hour-and-fifteen-minute-long, multi-faceted discussion.  At numerous points, it wasn’t clear who was interviewing whom as the assemblyman sought as much information from me as I was hoping to absorb from him.

As this particular blog post is more about style than substance, I’ll save the “who, what, where, when” . . . Oops! There’s my journalistic bias creeping in. . . . I mean the information I learned from our talk . . . for my feature article.

What struck me most about the format of our discussion was – as some readers might recognize from the 2003 book Postmodern Interviewing – the way it seemed like “a conversation between two equals” instead of dominant interviewer and subordinate interviewee.

In their book, Gubrium and Holstein discuss something they call “reflexive dyadic interviewing,” an interview style in which the reporter/researcher shares personal experience on the topic at hand with the person being queried.  The more questions I answered from Assemblyman Wilson about my feelings on guns, gun-free school zones, crime, criminals and the law in general, the more he seemed to open up to me about why he is introduced this bill and what he thinks must be done in our state – and country – to protect our children and save our cities.

While I was conducting this interview with an ethnographic as opposed to a journalistic spin, I could feel myself shifting from the position of “distanced observer” – my stance in the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted in my life – to “feeling participant.”  I definitely thought I was able to “learn things I could not learn before, both about (the Assemblyman) and about me.”

It felt comfortable and natural to conduct an interview, or – more correctly – take part in a discussion, of this kind.  I believe the end result – the information that I gleaned – was more nuanced and detailed than it might have been had I just asked prepared questions and transcribed emotionless answers.

This interview – as it was with one of my main sources of information – will ensure I don’t get lost on my way to completing my feature article.  With such ethnographically collected information at hand, I believe my route to a successful article is quite clear.

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Con-“Doc”-ting an online interview

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my research into hunting and firearms for my article on New Jersey’s proposed gun-free school zone law is taking me in a number of different directions.  This work not only is expanding my knowledge of the topic, but also my understanding – and use – of online research tools.

Zotero, an application that assists in the collection, management, storage and citation of scholarly article and books and general interest media pieces, is one of these high-tech programs designed to make the 21st Century researcher faster and smarter.  Another of these helpful tools is Google Docs.

Owned and operated by Google (what isn’t these days?) and part of the Google Drive service, Google Docs allows users to create online documents and work with multiple users in real time.  It’s an amazing way for several people to collaborate on the same text . . . as well as being an easy-to-use communication method.

As my hunting and firearms research continues, I’ll be using Google Docs tomorrow morning to conduct an online interview with Steve Baker, Associate Director of Public Relations for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).  It’s “so 20th Century” to hold a phone on in-person interview, so I’m “tech-ing” it up a bit with this Google application.

Docs, however, was not my first choice of communications tools.  My initial thought was to Skype with Steve, but – thanks to the incompatibility issues between Microsoft and Apple (a feud that sometimes seems longer than The Hundred Years War) – the FaceTime app on his iPhone can’t hook up with my Surface 2 tablet.   We’ll give Google Docs a try and I’ll have the online fallback of trading email messages ready to go if there are any issues.

Among the topics Steve and I will be kicking around on Docs will be a look at the NJEA’s support of the gun-free school zone bill and whether it goes far enough.  The proposal currently working its way through the state Assembly does not ban legal guns in and near schools, but tacks on additional penalties (higher fines, longer jail time) for those in possession of illegal firearms in these areas.  I’m also planning to discuss the other side of the issue as well: Are armed guards or police stationed full-time in schools seen as an effective deterrent to these unthinkable crimes.

In addition, as I’ve done in other interviews connected to this research, I want to explore the relationship between being a gun owner and a parent.  Is one more important that the other? Can you be a caring parent and a responsible gun owner?  It seems, in my mind, to be a classic “oil-and-water” scenario as I can’t imagine a workable mix of 1.1 million New Jersey gun owners and 1.4 million New Jersey school students.  We’ll see what Steve thinks.

By the way, an excellent feature of Google Docs is how it creates a written record of the online conversation.  This is especially valuable for me and my chicken-scratch handwriting.  For example, I’m crafting this blog after having just finished an “old-fashioned” phone interview (on a landline, for heaven’s sake!) and I’m hoping I can read at least half of the notes I scrawled on my notepad.

One final thought on Google Docs:  I recently participated in a 14-person “Doc-versation” with some research colleagues and, on those occasions when most or all of us were “talking” at the same time, my computer screen looked like a kennel cage filled with newborn puppies, flopping, butting and nipping each other for attention.  Since every participant is automatically assigned an identification color, the 14 hues racing across my desktop made the experience seem like an acid trip as well.

We’ll save drug-free school zones, though, for another day and time.

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Drilling for knowledge

I’m leaving no door unopened, no stone unturned, no well of knowledge undrilled in my general hunting and firearms research project and my specific article topic on legislation that would create weapon-free school zones in New Jersey.

In addition to my experiential research – visiting a large regional gun show, touring a local elementary school – and my in-person and online interviews – including a state legislator, a national guns rights advocate and a psychologist specializing in gun violence – I’ve read quite a few scholarly articles on these and related topics.  This post takes a closer look at the types of information available online and how these articles create chains of information.

To fully understand why schools might need to be surrounded by a gun-free buffer, one must look at the core causes of school shootings and school violence in general.  This is what led me to the first article I’ll explore – “Predicting School Bullying Victimization: Focusing on Individual and School Environmental/Security Factors.”  This work was created by researchers from Texas A&M International University, Illinois State University and the University of Texas branches in Arlington and San Antonio.

“Predicting” – a 14-page report with a whopping 83 scholarly references – concludes that gang activity is a significant contributor to school violence and that security guards are seen as an effective deterrent to such violence.  Interestingly, these armed security guards, as officers of the law carrying legal and licensed firearms, would still be permitted on New Jersey school grounds under the proposed law. That specific piece of legislation looks to provide additional penalties to those found with illegal weapons in or near school buildings.

The report also notes that most school violence is focused on younger children.   Fourteen percent of sixth graders in the study group were victims of violence while just two percent of 12th graders were victimized.  This fact piqued my interest as I will be touring an elementary school as part of my article research.

This led me to “Indicators of School Crime and Safety.”  This 189-page, chart-filled behemoth – compiled with a scant 14 citations – is jointly researched and issued each year by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice.  “Indicators” was referenced several times throughout “Predicting” and, as I want to include as many facts and figures as opinions and examples in my article, I followed the numbers and read “Indicators.”

I was astounded, and a bit frightened, to learn from this second article that six percent of students actually had carried a gun on school property.  Male students were twice as likely to bring guns to school as female students and, while the racial group identified as being most likely to carry a gun to school was Native American students, there was no statistical difference in the number of Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian students toting weapons with their schoolbooks each morning.

The report also noted that students tended to avoid certain locations in their schools based on what they believed to be a higher possibility of violence occurring there.  Topping this list were such places as the school entrance, restrooms, hallways and stairwells and even the cafeteria.   This reference to certain areas of school buildings being violence magnets prompted me to think of my upcoming school tour and I wanted to learn more.

This information in “Indicators” came from the “Juvenile Justice Bulletin,” a publication of the U.S. Department of Justice.  This third article, a 12-page scholarly work with 39 references, is part of the federal YOEM program, or Youth Out of the Education Mainstream. This initiative addresses the issue of children who are truants or dropouts, have been suspended or expelled or are afraid to attend school due to violence.

Among the solutions offered in the report to deal with student absenteeism, especially as related to firearms in schools, was one reminiscent of some driver education programs: Gruesome videotapes graphically displaying the tragic results of gun violence.  Other initiatives directly involving students included partnerships with hospital emergency rooms and crisis intervention hotlines as well as counseling programs and public information campaigns.

Among the related outreach programs involving faculty and the community were organizing parent-student patrols both inside and outside school buildings, offering school safety training to teachers and – bringing us full circle – establishing gun free school zones.

I found each of these articles to contain important detail and perspective that will enhance my research.  I look forward to using excerpts from them in my upcoming nonfiction magazine article.

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