Up until the ’70s, especially in rural areas, it was commonplace to see kids entering and leaving their school campuses with rifle bags slung lazily over their backs. Guns were left in school lockers, and rifles and shotguns were routinely seen in high-school parking lots, hanging in the rear windows of pickup trucks. A good friend of mine is from North Dakota. His father was telling me recently that in the late 1960s he would hunt before school and then take his rifle — and his bloodstained kills — to school to show his teachers. He and his friends would compare their shooting techniques in the school grounds. Nobody batted an eyelid. In North Dakota, school shootings were non-existent; in the country at large, they were extremely rare…

Such attitudes would no doubt be regarded as alarming today, as unthinkable as the old — and true — slogan that “America grew up with a rifle in its hand.” So widespread has been the shift in educators’ attitudes that in 1990 Congress legislated to render all schools “gun-free zones.” The law made reasonable exceptions for weapons that were taken to school “for use in a program approved by a school in the school zone” and, regardless, it was struck down on grounds of federal overreach in 1997. Still, that such an exception needed carving out at all would have astonished many a few years earlier, not to mention inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of harmless students who, in the process of going about their business, innocently and safely kept rifles in their cars.