A lifetime ago, I was a callow 15-year-old sophomore at Seattle’s Ingraham High School. On one particular school day, a pretty girl flirted with me, and I was happy to flirt back, even though she warned me her boyfriend was the jealous type.

Within minutes, I saw her boyfriend steaming down the hallway in my direction. He was a jock, an upperclassman and a bit of a hothead. He slammed me up against a locker and told me to stay away from his girlfriend. I quickly agreed that would be a wise course of action. He let me go and that was that.

I had not thought of that minor kerfuffle for decades until it was brought to mind when the grim news broke last week that a 17-year-old male student had been gunned down by a 14-year-old boy at Ingraham.

Details of the incident are vague. Apparently, there had been a fight over a gun among several kids in the lavatory, including the 17-year-old and a friend of the 14-year-old who may have brought the gun to school. A short time later, the boys passed in the hall. Sharp words were exchanged. Allegedly, the younger boy pulled out the Glock 32 handgun and shot off eight rounds. Five bullets hit the 17-year-old and he died on the polished hallway floor.

After the shooting, I received a text message from one of my Ingraham classmates, probably the school’s most notable graduate: 

“More than sad at Ingraham,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote. “Maddening. What would have been a fist fight in our day is now a shooting because everybody is carrying. Doubly maddening because otherwise good things are going on there … We recognize the need for more mental health resources in our schools and we are doing that with millions of dollars right now. Sadly, the frequency of violence is increasing while our nation is awash in guns.” 

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Inslee is right that the easy availability of guns has turned too many juvenile confrontations into homicides. It was fortunate that the jealous boyfriend who came after me all those years ago did not have a gun, or that I did not have one tucked away in my locker, but, back then, that would have been unthinkable. Now, besides too many firearms, we also have way too many angry young men who have been sucked into believing a macho ethic that will not allow them to ever back down, with revenge required for even the most meaningless slights. This is not a moment to panic and go hog wild with security in Seattle’s schools; heavy-handed measures that do little but make the educational environment even more unappealing to students. This kind of shooting is still exceedingly rare. We need to redouble our efforts to identify susceptible kids and steer them away from violence, away from guns and toward an understanding that human life is the most precious thing of all.

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