Marston: Heard around the West
October 27, 2014
Multiple-choice question: We know our public schools need help, but what kind of new gear do you think they need? (A) grenade launchers; (B) mine-resistant armored vehicles, or MRAPs; (C) M16 rifles; or (D) all of the above. Pat yourself on the back if you chose D. We've been hearing a lot lately about the militarization of our police departments, but thanks to another Pentagon giveaway program, school districts across the country have also asked for — and received — surplus weapons and vehicles equipped to withstand artillery. When the press began taking note, education and civil liberties groups roared in protest: What were educators thinking? Finally, the Los Angeles School District, the nation's second-largest with almost a million students, announced that it would "remove three grenade launchers it had acquired, because they are not essential life-saving items within the scope, duties and mission of the district's police force," reports The Associated Press — though the district refused to let go of its cache of 60 M16 rifles and one armored tank. Elsewhere, Utah's Granite School District and Nevada's Washoe County School District each decided to keep M16 rifles for undisclosed reasons. San Diego's school district got creative with its MRAP, removing its weapons mounts and turrets, painting the mine-resistant vehicle white, and filling the inside with teddy bears and medical supplies for potential "emergencies to evacuate students and staff." At the Baldwin Park School District in California, however, the schools' police chief admitted she was dismayed that her predecessor accepted M16 rifles from the Pentagon: "Honestly," said Jill Poe, "I could not tell you why we acquired those. They have never been used in the field, and will never be used in the field."
Guns do the darnedest things, firing at the most embarrassing moments. At Idaho State University in Pocatello in early September, an instructor was wounded in the foot after his concealed handgun went off during a chemistry lab session. The teacher, whose name was not disclosed, was treated and released from a nearby hospital; no students were injured. The law allowing anyone with a concealed-carry permit to take a firearm onto public college campuses was passed early this year despite opposition "from every university college president," reports the Spokesman-Review.
Then there's the now-infamous story about the Utah elementary school teacher whose gun accidentally shot a toilet, causing it to explode, reports the AP. Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery, who taught sixth grade at Westbrook Elementary School in Salt Lake City, was taken to a hospital afterward, but said to be in good condition after being treated for bullet and toilet fragments lodged in her leg. You could argue it wasn't her fault: The Granite School District "requires teachers who carry guns at school to keep the weapons on their body at all times, even in a bathroom stall." Miriam Walkingshaw, co-founder of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, said the incident was exactly what the group feared: "The risk of having any guns near children is greater than any risk teachers hope to prevent." Toilets in Utah may have a fatal attraction for guns. In 2009, a customer's concealed weapon fell out of a holster, hit the floor and fired — "shattering the toilet."
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Three cheers for three chinook salmon seen swimming in the Elwha River above the recently destroyed Glines Canyon Dam in Washington's Olympic National Park. Not a single salmon had been seen in the area for 102 years, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, because the dam was built without a fish passage. The final blast removing the dam took place in late August, and snorkeling biologists saw the first fish return just a few weeks later. With the dam gone, 70 miles of habitat for salmon have opened up "in a river system once populated by thousands of chinook salmon, some reaching 100 pounds in size."
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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