New Hampshire Under Siege

Yearbook Shots

No guns allowed in senior graduation photos, say the Brady bill bunch.

By 11.17.04

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A picture might still be worth a thousand words, but just make sure one of those words isn't "gun" -- at least not while in a New Hampshire high school.

Blake Douglass, a 17-year-old student at Londonderry High School, is about to take his high school to court over their refusal to allow him to wear a shooting vest and hold an open shotgun over his shoulder in his senior picture. Douglass, a longtime hunter and skeet shooter, said he simply wanted to honor his hobby. It's seems reasonable enough, especially in light of the fact that the school has allowed every other manner of prop to be displayed in other students' senior portraits, from musical instruments to cars.

"What they're doing is basically discriminating based on content or message," Douglass' lawyer Penny Dean told the Associated Press. "You can't do that. You might want to, but you can't -- and especially you can't with a broad policy like this."

But Superintendent Nathan Greenberg felt that if Douglass's portrait were allowed to run as is, "it could be construed that the school could be endorsing guns." Endorsing guns? What, are they afraid the school is suddenly going to become the O.K. Corral if a picture of a gun is in the yearbook? They shouldn't weight their own endorsements so heavily: School officials endorse abstinence and sobriety every day, too, and few young people these days seem to take those seriously. Incredibly, Greenberg also raised the specter of Columbine-like school shootings in arguing against the picture, as if any kid with a gun, no matter how well behaved or responsible, would suddenly become a murderous thug. "Maybe it's not fair but that's the reality," Greenberg said. Somebody's been watching Bowling for Columbine.

Strangely, Greenberg never felt the need to step into the senior photo process when past students had pictures run in the yearbook of themselves with nooses, liquor bottles, and baseball bats. Underage, illegal drinking is apparently an acceptable hobby, but hunting is not? A noose which is -- let's face it -- only good for hanging oneself or others is cute, but the mere image of a skeet-shooting gun has the potential to spark a school massacre? Somebody over at Londonderry High has got their priorities screwed up. Greenberg now says some of these pictures unfortunately "slipped through." He certainly picked an interesting time to put his foot down.

VIEWS SUCH AS SUPERINTENDENT Greenberg's are reinforced by the simplistic demonizing of rural states by anti-gun organizations like the Brady Campaign. This year's Brady Campaign Report Card handed a dismal D-minus to the state, and went so far as to claim they were sending all of New Hampshire to "the time-out chair," for failing to impose the draconian gun laws they have suggested. That New Hampshire does not have a serious gun problem is insignificant to these folks. They don't care about results. They are only interested in keeping up appearances. How else to explain the Granite State's D-minus for nine gun homicides in 2001, while Massachusetts had 80 and still earned an A-minus?

And please spare us the argument already bubbling up into the throat of every foe of the Second Amendment. The discrepancies are not simply a factor of population differences. And as a sidebar, so what if it was? The reality on the ground in New Hampshire is that the people have shown themselves worthy of their right to bear arms and places are not being shot up left and right. A safe state is a safe state. Nevertheless, while population does affect the numbers, it does not come anywhere near to exonerating the Brady Campaign's fuzzy math and self-righteous proclamations. Let's use the clearest example. California (rated A- by the Brady campaign) had 499 handgun deaths in 1998, while New Hampshire (rated D-) had 9. California's population is roughly 27 times bigger than New Hampshire's. Twenty-seven multiplied by 9 equals 246 handguns deaths. That's still less than half of A- California's rate.

CLEARLY, THE NATIONAL ANTI-GUN lobby wants to believe the worst about the state. Even though these findings have no basis in reality, the powers that be at Londonderry High School have opted to accept it as gospel. So be it. But Blake Douglass deserves praise for not only protesting but sticking to, um, well, his guns. The principled young man refused an offer to have the picture appear in a different part of the yearbook as a compromise. This was likely nothing more than an attempt to shut the young man up and call off the media hounds. Douglass's life would certainly have been much easier if he had taken the deal and moved on. It is never fun to speak truth to a power you must deal with every day. But Douglass didn't back down. He retained counsel and is fighting a lonely fight for what is right. For this, we should all be thankful.

If this act of discrimination had gone unchallenged, it would give tacit approval to the idea that guns are to be only feared and regulated. Instead, Douglass is showing an entire school and community that there is another point of view. Assumptions of what it means to be a progressive thinking young person are being questioned. Certainly many will walk away from this convinced as never before that our liberal brethren and Michael Moore are right and all guns are terrible and need to be kept out of the hands of ruffians. But in others the seeds of doubt will be planted.

It takes an act of courage to create fertile ground for such seeds. Here's to Blake Douglass for stepping up to the plate and dissenting when it would have been easier to just take off the vest.

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