A Life Without Hope

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Let me start by saying that this isn’t a post about gun control, but it is about a school shooting. So, while  there may be little bits of my opinion in there, please don’t think it’s the take home message I am trying to leave you with.

Today, T.J. Lane, 18, was sentenced to 3 life sentences plus 25 years with no possibility of parole for the murders of 3 students at their high school (Lane did not attend the high school) as well as 2 counts of attempted murder, and felonious assault. He was 17 at the time of the shooting, and the fact spared him from the death sentence.

I think his life is an extreme example of what happens to a person who has no hope. From what I’ve read about his life, there’s never been the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” for this kid. As he grew up, he saw his dad go to jail for attempted murder, he had been arrested for violent acts himself multiple times. He attended a behavioral disorder school alternative (for good reason). He had serious mental problems. He had severe depression and hallucinations. I don’t present these facts to justify his actions; just to evidence my thoughts that his entire life, he’s never experienced hope.

His actions the day of the shooting and since further evidence the fact that this kid’s life was hopeless. Typically, school shooters have expressed reasons why the did it; they planned it extensively; shooting people has often been a way to retake control. This wasn’t the case for T.J. He has said multiple times that there was no reason, and that seems to fit the story. He wasn’t bullied, wasn’t well acquainted with the victims, in fact, it seems that he just decided on the fly to open fire while waiting for the bus. The one detail I question, that hasn’t had a real explanation put forward, is why he was carrying a handgun and a knife that day to begin with.

T.J. made sure he was convicted. Ohio law, where he was convicted, says that a child cannot be be charged as an adult if they don’t understand the charges, court procedures, participate in his defense, punishment if convicted, is mentally ill, or has an intellectual or developmental disability. He didn’t allow his lawyer to file the motion for a mental evaluation. In fact, he didn’t allow his lawyers to present any real defense. He plead guilty to all charges without attempting a plea deal.

The last bits of evidence that he lives with no hope occurred today at his sentencing hearing. After entering the court room he took off his outer shirt to reveal that his undershirt read “KILLER” in permanent marker. He was smiling as the judge announced his sentence. In the middle of the court appearance, he swung his chair around to face the victims’ parents, flipped them off, and said, “This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you.” It seems obvious to me that he wanted to be sure he was in prison until he died. All of his actions, from the shooting until today, suggest that was his goal.

This story has intrigued me since the story first broke last February. School shootings in general have always held an interest to me. Perhaps it has to do with the hit list/safe list that my name was written on in 8th grade. Perhaps it has to do with the kid that I sat next to in Speech class in 10th grade that was removed from class by police because he had a gun in his backpack. Perhaps it’s because I grew up during the “heyday” of school shootings. Perhaps it’s just because I became friends with several people in middle/high school of whose stories he reminds me. Perhaps it’s because there are people I know today of whom he reminds me. Whatever the reason, this case stood out to me.

As I read the news stories this afternoon about his final actions in court, and perhaps joy, that he would be in prison until the day he dies, I couldn’t help but wonder why! Why would anyone want to be jail? Why would anyone work so hard to ensure that they would be? He clearly didn’t want to die, or he would have killed himself… he would be on suicide watch. He wants to live, but he wants to live in prison. Why?

Then it hit me. He has no hope. The world isn’t predictable. Sometimes, it flat out sucks. But jail is different. It’s the same every day… occasionally people change, but that’s it. You don’t have to worry about making decisions. You don’t have to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There doesn’t have to be one. Everything is decided, everything stays the same. It’s a shame that someone can feel that the best, safest place for them is jail — but it seems to be the most reasonable explanation.

I am beyond grateful that I have something more to hope for. I don’t know how anyone can function without hope for more. Hope for something past this world. Hope that good will win. Hope that there is more to life than this; more than the here and now. I take pity this kid. Not because he was treated too harshly, not because he’s just a kid. I take pity on him because he’s got not hope. Except for an act from God,  he will go his entire life without experiencing true hope. Perhaps one day his eyes will be opened and he won’t have to experience hopelessness for eternity.

Anyone else who’s familiar with the case care to give me your input?


The New Gun Debate


Lately guns have been on everyone’s minds. Approximately 7 weeks ago Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and 6 adults after first killing his own mother and ending with him killing himself. The nation froze at the tragedy — I remember being on a lunch break at work and reading a news article of the piece and really couldn’t believe what I was reading; it was just too shocking to be true.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, 1,280 people have been either murdered or accidentally killed by guns in the United States. Slate’s count was 1,475 including suicide and police shootings. It’s crazy how a centerpiece of American freedom, an item that without which we would still be British subjugates, can suddenly be on the low side of American opinion.

With all the media attention on the damage that guns are doing to innocent people, state and federal legislatures have been debating what needs to be done to reduce the number of killings with firearms.

If you are part of the camp that says, “You can’t eliminate firearm deaths by regulating firearms, so we shouldn’t make any regulations at all,” you might as well leave now,  because nothing more I have to say on the topic will appeal to you; mainly because you’re wrong.

There’s a large group that says, “We don’t need to regulate guns, we need to improve mental health.” I agree completely that mental health needs improvement. If the legislatures that were making that claim actually believed it, they would be putting mental health bills up for debate — however, to improve mental health they’d have to undo all the stuff they’ve worked so hard to get rid of for the last 20 years. They don’t want gun regulation, but they don’t want to seem callus — but they don’t actually believe what they say.

Ok, so I’ve trashed the other side: What do I think?

I believe we should have the ability to enforce the regulations already on the books. The NRA has been able to use their congressional members to push limitations on the ability to enforce gun related regulations that have already been passed — an example of which is the damage the patriot bill did the ATF — look it up, you’ll be amazed. And the clauses in there to limit them were written by the NRA directly.

I don’t believe that guns should be regulated extra hard because different pieces of plastic make them look scarier. Pistol grips on a rifle don’t matter to me. What I care about is the things that allow would be murderers to do as much damage as quickly as possible. I can’t understand why anyone would need 15 rounds or more to protect their house or to hunt. If your aim is that bad that you need to rapid fire to hit the target, you shouldn’t have a gun in the first place — a firing range for target practice is the only place you should be holding a gun.

I also think that background checks and registration of firearms are reasonable. The background checks don’t need to include every detail of the buyer’s life — just whether or not it is legal for them to own firearms. I also believe the government should have a reasonable idea of what firearms are located where and registration is the way to do that. It can protect legal gun owners from being in trouble if their former weapons are used in a crime (see my next point), if they publicly acknowledge that they no longer own that weapon. We have to register our cars annually and that has already been deemed non-intrusive, so I don’t see why a 1-time registration of a firearm is so much more intrusive.

The argument I hear from the conservative side is that all the regulations only affect law abiding, responsible gun owners. That’s why, to protect responsible gun owner’s, I suggest that if your weapon is used to commit a crime, you are in part responsible for that crime and should be criminally charged with something to the affect “failing to maintain responsible possession of a firearm” with increments depending on the affects the firearm had directly on any victims. The fact is, the legally owned guns belonging to responsible gun owners do not get used in shootings; but too often someone else’s gun is getting used to kill innocent people.

For example Christmas Day last year, 2-year old Sincere Smith killed himself while playing with his dad’s new .38 pistol. It is true, that the dad was charged with involuntary manslaughter in this instance, but surprisingly enough, it doesn’t always happen that way. For example 4 of the guns used by the shooters in the 1999 Columbine shooting were obtained from friends — did the friends or friends’ parents ever get charged? No.

The question comes about stolen weapons. Responsible gun owners know and report when their firearms are stolen. They keep them locked up and away from children. They don’t allow mentally incompetent or unstable use their guns. A gun reported stolen would obviously not result in the owner being charged, because they showed responsibility. If the evidence suggests that whatever crime a gun was used in was stolen before the gun owner could have noticed, they wouldn’t be charged either — the goal is not to be unfair, but to encourage gun owners to know where their guns are and make good choices about who has access to them; not to punish for being an owner.

NRA VP, Wayne Lapierre stated after the Sandy Hook shooting that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This argument has been proven wrong twice already. January 10th, a school shooter at Taft Union High School was talked down by a teacher and security guard to handing over his weapon. January 31st, a school shooter at Price Middle School had his weapon taken away by a liaison officer after shooting 1 student before he could continue. Some have pointed out that the officer was a good guy with a gun; however, the officer never un-holstered his gun — the gun didn’t stop the shooting. Even though it keeps getting reported that it was an armed guard that stopped it.

So where does that leave me? I am totally in favor of responsible gun ownership. I enjoy the rare occasion that I get to go to a shooting range, and would really like to own a gun — the only reason I don’t now is that I can’t afford one. I support the measures that Obama has put through executive order and generally support many of the measures being debated in Congress. Obama doesn’t want to take our guns away or make it illegal to buy or own a gun as some media experts choose to report; he wants to have the power to enforce the ones already in place.

What’s your opinions? Post it in the comments or a link to your own blog post about the topic!