Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Stopping Power

The stuff spread all over the wall. It was not quite a stain, but something more purposeful, as if a painter had carefully brushed each red streak out from the gloopy center. The mottled bits of bone and brain matter formed bric-a-brac of shapes and textures, as vast and diverse as the young mind that they once composed. The human decoration hung only for a second more, then a soapy brush wiped through the spot. It had to be done—the smell would attract flies, which would certainly that disrupt evening’s parent-teacher conference night.

Marie McKinley knelt down and scrubbed the build-up from every crevice around the molding. She noticed a spot of blood on the collar of her pastel yellow blouse and frowned—another thing to clean, another errand to run.

“Ah, Marie—it’s been such a long time!” The voice caught her by surprise, which did not happen often. She was one of the best hunters in Heller County, and her daddy had told her that she had the “ears like a wildcat, eyes like a bat” ever since she was a little girl. Most bats, of course, are practically blind, but the McKinleys never let such facts disrupt their way of life.

Marie turned around to examine which one of God’s wondrous creatures had greeted her. She saw before her a noble figure nearly six and a half feet tall. His handsome grey suit clung to a pair of muscular arms, and his bright gaze appeared fixed to the horizon, perhaps spotting an idyllic future off in the distance. Maybe it was just the sweat in Marie’s eyes, but his brown hair even seemed to have tints of red, white, and yes, even blue. Here was a good, strong man, the kind that you might see in a presidential portrait or an underwear advertisement.

“Tucker Freeman, you are looking as put together as ever. Oh god, I guess I should be calling you ‘Senator’ now, shouldn’t I?” she giggled.

“Now Marie, you’ve known me since Sunday School. Besides, I’m a politician for the people. It’s still Tucker. Nobody even calls me Senator Freeman.” Senator Freeman threw back his head and chuckled along with her until he took note of the mess. “They told me about the accident as soon as the assembly ended, but I didn’t realize it was one of your own boys. I’m sorry.”

Marie got up and used a Kleenex to wipe some of her son’s gore from between her fingers. It was not an uncommon event these days. The occurrence of school shootings had risen so much in the past five years that authorities statewide could not keep up with every case. They soon gave up prosecution altogether. Eventually, the costs of cleanup took up such a large chunk of the budget that Congress found itself without enough money to properly host their yearly gala and gourmet dinner. This spurred them to pass the controversial Offspring Accountability Act. It stipulated that, “in the event of the death of an American citizen in a state facility, the deceased’s parent or legal guardian bears sole responsibility for restoring the educational facilities to their prior state of cleanliness, cleared of any residual corporal tissue or odor.” It was really a pain in the backside of working parents everywhere, but it paid for one hell of a prime rib au jus back in D.C.

Marie shrugged. “Yeah, it was Bobby. Just as much of a nuisance to me now as her ever was,” she remarked, pointing to the blotch on her collar. “Can’t really say it’s a surprise though. Chubby little bastard was too slow to ever outrun a bullet.”

Freeman grasped her shoulders and stared deep into the eyes of his fellow American and potential voter. “Marie, your fortitude in this time of distress truly inspires me. Bobby was an outstanding young man. Just know that his death honors our most fundamental values and sacred laws.”

“Oh, I know, Tucker.” She clasped her bloody hand around his wrist as a tear rolled down her cheek. “The last thing we want to do in the face of such tragedy is to forsake our traditions and compromise our freedoms.”

Marie dried her face and reached into her sweater with both hands. “Besides,” she announced with a smile, “I’ve still got these two sons.” She brandished a pair of silver Nighthawk T4 pistols, engraved with her initials in a tasteful cursive font. “Plus, you can’t ever forget about Ol’ Rusty.”

Ol’ Rusty was a fully functioning replica of a 1768 Charleville flintlock musket that Marie kept in the back of her PT Cruiser. The weapon was a product of a bill that preceded the sweeping pro-gun reform of the next couple years. Frustrated by countless arguments of historical necessity by most of Congress, opponents of the Second Amendment announced that the government might as well issue Revolutionary War rifles to all U.S. citizens. The suggestion caught fire, and one morning every household in the country found a historically accurate firearm delivered to their front porch. With a bit of practice, the average shooter could hit a target from as far as 30 feet away and fire up to seven shots in the span of five minutes, barring the occasional misfire. The gun was identical to the model used by the Minutemen in every way, except everyone agreed that it would not have a bayonet. These were modern folks, after all, and they were not barbarians.

The two admired the shiny pistols for a whole orgasmic minute. Images of majestic bald eagles and Dirty Harry Callahan swept through their minds. Fittingly, the sound of gunfire echoed in the distance like a patriotic drum.

“You should really put those away.” Marie and Freeman broke out of the daze and whipped around toward the interrupter. Ms. Tessa Ballard, the young fifth grade history teacher faced them. She was a diminutive, mousy woman who rarely spoke above a whisper. She clasped her hands over her mouth, horrified that she had said anything at all.

“What right do you have to tell me what to do?” snapped Marie. “My Bobby died today, and it all would have been for nothing if I didn’t have the God-given right to hold these

“But isn’t that the problem?” Ms. Ballard asked, staring at her shoes. “A gun like that killed Bobby, it—”

“Now pardon me for one second, Miss.” Freeman put his hand out and stepped forward. “Try to understand. We can’t blame poor Bobby’s death on a gun. A gun is just a tool, and an extremely useful one at that. Truth be told, there are a lot of bad people in this world, and that means that you can’t ever know when you will be called upon to defend yourself or the values you believe in. The ability and preparedness to protect oneself could be the difference between life and death.” He spoke with the confidence of a well-endowed Clark Kent.

“I don’t know that he died for anything. He got into an argument with Jake Mundersen and—”

“That’s Jake Allen Munderson.” Shooters were always identified by three names—John Wilkes Booth, Mark David Chapman—and Freeman would be damned if he broke with tradition at this crucial point in time. “These boys were simply taking part in a great historical legacy. It’s just a shame that they didn’t know enough about it and someone got hurt. You see, guns aren’t dangerous if you know how to use them. That’s where our educational system fails us. We aren’t teaching today’s youth when it is appropriate to use a gun in school, and when it isn’t.”

“Wait a second.” Marie cut into the good senator’s lecture. “I’ve heard about you, Ballard. You’re the one who’s telling the kids that they can’t have their guns out in school. For all we know, it’s your bull crap that got Bobby killed!”

Ballard’s lip quivered as she slunk back to the opposite wall, realizing that this year’s parent-teacher conference night would be a particularly difficult one.

“That’s right, Ballard. I know your kind and I know what you think. And I don’t like you and your Groucho Marx socialism stepping all over my constitutional rights. I may just feel the need to defend myself.” She shoved her two barrels of American steel into the face of the Commie bookworm.

Ballard trembled at gunpoint. She knew what she was supposed to do in this situation. She like, every other teacher in the country, signed a pledge promising to react to threats of violence with violence of her own. Just months ago, the government had mandated that all teachers carry a firearm in the interest of preventing future school shootings. And this was no ordinary peashooter—it was an H&K Fabarm FP6 Entry short-barreled shotgun, perfect for gunning down truants and troublemakers in the close-quarters of the American public educational system.

But Ballard could even barely lift the thing, let alone point it at someone. Still petrified, she looked to Freeman for some reprieve. “Can’t you do something about this?” she begged him.

“If I were to interfere now, I would be infringing upon yours and Mrs. McKinley’s right to liberty. I’m confident in your mutual ability as exceptional American individuals to resolve this conflict in the best way possible.” He smiled and motioned for the two women to continue with their standoff.

Ever so slowly, Ballard stretched her lanky arms into the bag at her side. Fumbling in between her lesson books and notepads, she retrieved the cold, deadly metal, locked and loaded for some primetime mommy killing.

Marie chirped, “Ooh, pinko bitch came to fight.” Any grief she had experienced earlier evaporated into a cloud of giddy jingoism.

Ballard wanted to point her gun back at Marie, she tried to hoist the sights up to her eyes and take aim, but she could not. The shotgun fell out of her hands and clattered uselessly to the floor. She wanted to condemn the senator for his poisonous rhetoric and ineffective decisions, but she could not. She collapsed against the wall in tears.

“Now ladies, I think we’ve had enough,” Freeman cut in.

Marie did not want to listen. “Say your prayers, pinko!”

She shoved a pistol into Ballard’s cheek.

“No, no, no. Marie, I’m sensing that this is getting us nowhere. Please put your guns down, and let’s show Miss Ballard here how to properly operate a firearm.”

Marie panted heavily. After a moment’s hesitation, she complied with Freeman’s wishes and dropped her twin pistols to the ground.

“Miss Ballard, I would hate to see you get upset by all this. Don’t believe all the terrible things you see on the news and read in the papers. Despite the occasional accident, we, as a society, are making progress.” He stepped forward to embrace her. “Please don’t worry. I am in complete control.”

But he never reached Ms. Ballard with a reassuring hug or chin-up-you-can-do-it pat on the back. A lone bullet burst through the hallway window and careened into the head of Senator Freeman. Skull fragments shot out like fireworks on the Fourth of July in between his outstretched arms. A true patriot, he even stood for a moment in death before falling to the ground. Even months afterward, no one would be able to say where the shot came from. Most likely, some children became careless while playing outside with their guns in the schoolyard. The kids did not have much else to do those days. Television and video games failed to catch their interest due to unrealistic standards of violence—how could they ever hope to kill off characters as often as people did in the real world?

The body of the late, great state senator lay still upon the floor of the hallway. He fell with his right hand over his heart, the American flag pin in his lapel gleaming beneath the mighty fluorescent lights. It all would have made an inspiring campaign photo, had his head not been missing.

The two women stared at each other, bespattered in the lifeblood of Tucker Freeman. Ms. Ballard tried to speak, but all that came out was a short spurt of vomit that landed on the senator’s shoes. His leg convulsed upon impact, as if the mere thought of any projectile excited him enough to give a final impassioned kick. Ballard, though, could not take any more. She sprinted into the nearby library and locked the door. Marie just laughed and slid her bucket of cleaning supplies to Tucker’s feet.

“Well, at least there’s mess I don’t have to worry about,” she said aloud. She headed out to the parking lot to find her PT Cruiser and Ol’ Rusty.

Fifteen minutes later, the principal stumbled upon the fresh body in the hallway, and he trudged back to his office in search of a phonebook. He had to find out whether or not Mr. or Mrs. Freeman was still alive. If so, they had quite a bit of cleaning to do.



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