2 Years Later, Burlington Author's 'Please Don't Get Murdered At School Today' Essay Still Resonates

Feb 18, 2018

With the 17 people who lost their lives when a gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last week are still very much on the minds of Americans a two-year-old essay by Burlington writer Kimberly Harrington has renewed resonance.

Her piece, found in McSweeney's, a magazine that offers mostly humorous fare but has room for some satire with a strong bite as well is called "Please Don't Get Murdered At School Today."

Here's an excerpt:

I'm sorry I wish I had better news but let's keep our sympathies where they belong with the powerful and the armed with those who feel threatened in the face of the most toothless efforts to hold back the bloodshed and those who believe scary monster stories about their guns being taken away.

Let's face it it would be easier to take away the ocean or the stars.

You can read the full piece here.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Wertlieb: This essay is in the form of a conversation that you have with your child. What prompted you to write it?

Harrington: It sort of took shape over time. And I think it's also very telling that when I went back and forth with the editor of McSweeney's once he accepted it — that he said 'well we need to be careful not to run this too close to the next shooting.'

I was surprised he accepted it in the first place; It's quite dark.

You can find Harrington's piece here: http://bit.ly/2EIrfeL
Credit screenshot from the web version published on McSweeney's in January of 2016

But where it really was inspired by was this place of me reflecting on my morning routine with my kids: I was really getting into this quite ritualistic habit of making sure I said, 'I love you' to them every single day that they left for school.

But it would even come down to almost a superstitious level of saying, 'I love you.' That if we had gotten into a fight that morning and they ran out the door to the school bus, I would almost be shouting it after them.

Because I had to tick that box every morning even though I was simply sending them to school. I wasn't sending them off to war, but that's what it was starting to feel like.

Wertlieb: You know how inflamed opinions on both sides of the gun control debate can get after something like this happens. And your essay actually seems to anticipate some of the very arguments that we're hearing even now.

For example:

That some people who don't believe gun control laws will solve anything would rather focus on more money and resources going towards making schools themselves safer, more fortified, perhaps even training educators know how to use weapons for defense in an instance like this.

Excerpt from Kimberly Harrington's "Please Don't Get Murdered At School Today"

Yes I know.

I know you're going to be late.

Just to wrap up, our country has chosen a shift of the way regarding your safety away from our lawmakers and gun manufacturers and instead put it squarely on the shoulders of your principal and teachers.

These people who kneel down on the first day of school so they're just as tall as you. These people who shake your hand and say good morning and help you rehearse for the spring concert and take you on field trips to see different rock formations.

They are now in charge of keeping you from getting murdered which really is the least they can do for all that money they make.

Harrington: It's insane that we think bulletproof backpacks and things along those lines are the answer.

Wertlieb: Anything feel different to you about the aftermath and the reaction from this latest atrocity? Because one thing I haven't seen before is the very vocal reaction of teenagers from this school.

Harrington: It all felt the same to me. To be honest, we've been here so many times in the wake of Sandy Hook I really went down an incredibly dark rabbit hole when it came to media. I felt like I couldn't stop watching what was happening.

I felt like if I kept watching — maybe — if I kept reading and watching what was happening that it would take a little bit of the grief and sorrow away from the parents. You know, the least I could do is bear witness to what had happened.

And of course that's not what happens. You just watch the same story over and over again. It doesn't help.

And so I stepped back a little bit from media. But I did see the amazing speech during the rally and I felt— I was in tears. Clearly, which is not very hard for me.

I felt hope — really for the first time in a very long time. The anger and the intelligence and the power of the voices that we're seeing from those affected at that school I think have enormous potential to make change and I truly truly hope that it does.

Wertlieb: My daughter came bounding home from school the day that parkland happened blissfully oblivious. She's not been listening to the radio or watching TV on this.

And she came in the door, I gave her this extra long hug and her reaction was, 'Dad, I have to go to the bathroom. You can hug me in a minute!' You know and she went off and I thought 'OK maybe I'm being overly dramatic here.'

Until a couple of days later I found myself reading news over the air about a teenager who was charged with attempted murder for allegedly planning the same kind of carnage right here at a school in Vermont.

I wonder what the thoughts were going through your mind when you heard about the Rutland story just after Parkland.

Harrington: I was aware of it. I certainly don't feel like nothing like this will ever happen in Vermont. We see it happen in every community. This country is just getting so numb.

Wertlieb:  Liberals and conservatives in this country can have totally different views on things like gun control. But it's not like one group has kids and the other doesn't.

Do you think there is an opportunity here at all to reach a commonsense-compromise that can get us at least closer to doing something about the one thing that every sane person agrees should not be happening which is kids being mowed down by rapid gunfire at their schools?

Harrington: Your question reminds me of a moment that I had with someone I went to high school with who is a member of the NRA and we got into a huge debate over guns.

I was living in Portland, Oregon, at the time. I was in my bubble, he was in his bubble. And we really kind of went at it.

And then he pointed out, 'but the difference is my son if he's in a friend's house and sees a gun he knows exactly what to do.' He knows how to handle it essentially.

And it was the first time where I really thought like 'OK I have an academic argument.' If my kids or I was in that situation I wouldn't know what to do. I wouldn't know how to handle it.

I can see a situation where a child stumbles across a gun thinks it's a toy does not handle it. So I think that there can be those opportunities if we respect the person we're talking to — to have those conversations and to realize that each person has a piece of the puzzle that is probably useful.

Again, I go back to the assault rifle thing.

It doesn't seem that we should be worried about children going to school because of someone's hobby.

I feel like there are so many responsible gun owners who keep coming forward who keep expressing willingness. This is the epitome of a situation where there are many things that can be done.

Read Harrington's full essay, "Please Don't Get Murdered At School Today," here.