A week after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the note was found scrawled on our middle school’s bathroom wall: “I’m gonna shoot up the school on 2-21-18.”
That was the first threat. Within 24 hours, the elementary, middle and high schools in my tiny, rural Kentucky town had all received written warnings of gun violence, and all three schools, approximately 3,700 students, were placed on “soft lockdown” (told to shelter in place) while the sheriff’s office and Kentucky State Police investigated.
I live in Anderson County, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 with 72.2 percent of the vote. We have 38 Christian churches to serve a population of 22,000, and lots of talk about God-given Second Amendment rights. When I moved here in 2014, the first question I was often asked was, “Where do you go to church?” Neighbors joked that the elderly man who previously owned my house kept a cache of guns in the closets and under the couch cushions. For security.
Guns and gun ownership are sacrosanct here, and people who do not live in rural America do not understand what are and aren’t acceptable topics of conversation. Last Saturday, for example, I’d set up for the morning at our newly-renovated library to sign people up for writing classes. A friend who owns a local business stopped to vent about Parkland, but waved off quickly, in silence, noting the group of women elders behind me discussing the shooting, scripture and the need to get prayer back inschools.
Talk of church and prayer and getting back to “the good old days” is the norm here. Talk of gun reform or gun control is not, and talking openly outside this norm — especially if you are a business owner — can hurt your livelihood.
The day after the Parkland shootings, our Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, knowing better than to use the word “gun” in these parts in the aftermath of a shooting, called for prayer and restrictions on video games and movies. Bevin knows how to hit his mark, tweeting after the Vegas shooting, “You can’t regulate evil,” and that he thinks the shootings are a cultural problem, not a firearm problem.
As all three of our Anderson County schools received threats of gun violence this week, we counted on not Bevin but the Facebook page of our small-town newspaper, as communities do now. Panicked parents left comments and got into the kind of no-filter social media arguments we’ve grown numb to:
“I was so in hopes for a peaceful day for students. Evil is rampent in our little town. We need Jesus now!”
“Whoever is sayin hold back the lashings needs to get a grip. … Making threats like this is serious and needs to be punished … my kids or your kids doesnt matter. Be A PARENT!”
That’s what life is like here in red America, where the questioning of religion and guns are equally off-limits. Where we have fortified a barbed entwining of church morality and guns. Hence the common refrain, “my God-given Second Amendment rights.”
The president, like the NRA, looks to guns as the means for demanding respect. Well-meaning pundits ask that we show gun owners some respect. But Americans do not need to respect gun owners more, because we already do. We respect them the way we respect a hell-and-damnation preacher or an abrasive, controlling father. We respect gun owners because we are afraid of their guns.
Meanwhile, this week in rural Kentucky, a 13-year-old girl was charged with terroristic threatening at the middle school and was arraigned in juvenile court and ordered held in juvenile detention. An 11-year-old girl from the elementary school was charged with one count of terroristic threatening.
The investigations are ongoing. We are looking to our governor and the president we voted for to lead. We are saying our prayers. And nobody is talking about guns.
Teri Carter is a writer living in central Kentucky.