EDITORIAL: 30 years after Laurie Dann, our schoolchildren keep dying

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Laurie Dann | Sun-Times archives

Thirty years ago this Sunday, a woman named Laurie Dann walked into a school classroom in Winnetka and started shooting children. One precious boy, Nicky Corwin, was killed.

Back then, we honestly thought this was an aberration, an anomaly, something horrifying but impossibly unusual. People don’t kill kids in schools.


Now we know differently. Now we wait for it. Now we see it coming like slow-motion bullet in a Hollywood movie.

We recoiled again on Friday, as we always do, when we heard that 10 people, most of them students, had been killed at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. What a horror. But, truth be told, we did not gasp or cry in quite the way we did when Laurie Dann went on her rampage — and we sure as hell were not surprised.

What innocents we all once were.

This editorial page this month is engaged in a campaign called “31 bullets” to bring a little more sanity to our nation’s revolting gun laws. You can go online, at 31bullets.suntimes.com, and read 31 ways to do just that. We offer suggestions on how you can help.


But can we confess something here? We don’t know if we’re doing something useful or wasting our time.

Because nothing ever changes.

This year alone so far in the United States, there have been 22 school shootings in which someone other than the shooter was hurt or killed, according to CNN.

Sometimes it was a gang fight that led to the shooting. Or a family fight. Or a suicide. Or just an accidental discharge of a gun that led to somebody being wounded.

Sometimes, it was a cop shooting a teen who was shooting a gun, as at a high school in downstate Dixon on Wednesday. In that case, the cop’s quick actions prevented students from being hurt.

Then there was the time a deeply disturbed young man, Nikolas Cruz, walked into a high school in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people.

And now on Friday, another young man walked into another school, this time in Santa Fe, and killed 10 more people.

The usual blather followed.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those injured and killed,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who has earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.

When the NRA gives you an A+, it basically means you’re opposed to any gun restriction short of a ban on backyard bazookas.

“Spare us your thoughts and prayers and do your job,” roared back Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Yes. Do your job.

And we, the responsible people of middle America who are so tired of seeing children die, will do our job.

RELATED: A survivor of Laurie Dann’s deadly day says peace begins with ‘each of us’

We will reject the lie of pro-gun extremists that even the most modest gun laws are an assault on the Second Amendment. We will fight for saner gun laws that also respect the right of Americans to own guns, especially for such clearly justified purposes as protecting their homes and hunting.

Our aim in our 31 bullets campaign is not a ban on most or all guns, though we strongly favor a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons. An AR-15 in civilian hands is just stupid. Our aim is much more to regulate the sale and ownership of firearms to keep them out of the hands of people who pose a danger to themselves and others.

A man hugs a woman Friday outside the Alamo Gym where parents wait to reunite with their children following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. | Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP

A man hugs a woman Friday outside the Alamo Gym where parents wait to reunite with their children following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. | Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP

In the case of the Santa Fe High School slaughter on Friday, for example, we don’t know yet just how deranged the shooter might have been. We don’t know if others had spotted him as dangerous days or weeks before.

But we do know that Laurie Dann in 1988 was a clear and present danger — red flags were everywhere — even if nobody could stop her from legally buying a gun.

With that in mind, our 31 bullets campaign is calling for such modest reforms as these:

  • Requiring a national background check for anybody buying a gun, even at a garage sale. (Bullet 5)
  • Creating a national gun owner license, like the one we have in Illinois, that requires applicants to complete a safety training program and pass a test. (Bullet 8)
  • Giving families the right to petition the courts for protective orders so as to take guns away from a family member who poses an imminent danger. (Bullet 11)
  • Prohibiting people on a federal terrorist watch list from purchasing guns, just as they are prohibited from taking commercial flights. (Bullet 20)
  • Requiring a biometric lock on a gun such as a thumbprint, once the technology is refined, so the gun can be fired only by an authorized person. (Bullet 22)
  • Requiring a 72-hour “cooling off” period in Illinois before a person can purchase an assault weapon. (Bullet 25) Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday killed such a proposed law by, in an amendatory veto, loading it up with other provisions that he knew would never fly in the Legislature.

If you are a staunch defender of gun rights, please consider this list, which we compiled with the help of gun reform groups and the communications firm Ogilvy & Mather Chicago. We see no threats here to anybody’s Second Amendment rights, nor do we believe there should be.

We see only an honest effort by folks in the reasonable middle — where we believe most Americans reside — to curtail the carnage in our streets and schools by striking a fair balance among competing interests.

Consider Bullet 11. We can only wonder how Nicky Corwin might be doing today, alive and well, had somebody close to Laurie Dann been able to petition a court to have her guns taken from her.

We have thought about Nicky quite a bit over the years. He was an exceptional child, a natural leader, and we have always felt sure he would have grown up to be an exceptional adult.

Instead, he lies buried in a Skokie cemetery, his lost life unchanged for 30 years.

Except that little Nicky now, somewhere, has so much more company.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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