Opinion by Christian Harrison of Clarksville
Growing up in the south, I got pretty used to guns. They were in the movies I watched, the games I played, and members of my family were not shy about their ownership. Honestly, I’d never feared guns before March 2nd, 2005. Mostly because I had been told they would be the only thing standing between me and a bad guy.
But on March 2nd, the bad guy was the one with the gun. On that day, my bus driver, Joyce Gregory, was murdered in front of me, my little brother, and 22 other students in grades from Kindergarten to Senior. It was a smaller county with one school and the bus driver had a lot on her hands, trying to deal with students of all ages. One day, she made the fatal mistake of giving a sophomore student a write-up for some form of smokeless tobacco.
I remember that. We were near the center of the small town square in Dover, TN. Mrs. Joyce was not happy, as she had previously gotten onto the students in the back for “dipping” on the bus. If I remember correctly, we pulled over on Main St. near where the Stewart County Clerk is now. She gave at least one student a write-up, which apparently got him in trouble with the school. I was 7 and didn’t care, because it seemed so small when the bigger kids were always getting in trouble for something.
It was either the next day or shortly after that I had gotten on the bus like every other day. Dew on the grass tickled my legs as I waited at some time near 5:45. Within 30 minutes we had pulled up to the house of Jason Clinard.
This is where my memory gets fuzzy. I remember pulling up to the gravel driveway where I heard Mrs. Joyce managed to get out “Good Morn-” and then it went fuzzy for about 20 seconds. I heard 3 gunshots and when I came out of hiding I looked around and didn’t see anything at first.
But what I did see has been burned into my brain. What’s amazing is that the shooter immediately ran and never saw what he did. He never saw what my brother and I had to see in front of us. At 7 years old I watched a woman’s life violently drain from her eyes, blood drip from her lips as she used the last of her strength to shut the door between the killer and us. As she slumped in her chair, she looked up in the mirror and I swear I saw the life leave her eyes. There has not been an instance of gun violence since where I haven’t been reminded of her face.
After Mrs. Joyce had passed on, her foot came off of the brake. The bus began rolling down a hill and was it not for one high schooler, we likely would have crashed into some woods in rural Stewart County. Luckily we hit a telephone pole and ran into an old couple’s house once we climbed out of the back of the bus. An hour or two later we were home safe, sound, and set up for a life of paranoia.
The kid had access to an unlocked nightstand where his father kept a .45. As someone who had clearly exhibited a history of mental health issues in a foster home environment, that gun should have been locked away from any children. Jason Clinard killed a woman because he was severely ill and had access to an unrestricted firearm.
I don’t like to tell this story, being so macabre. However, gun de-regulation, such as permitless carry, will only lead to new generations of traumatized youth like I was. Kids will continue to see people they look up to bleed and die until we get serious about gun reform. Who has to die at the hands of a mentally ill adult?
To Governor Bill Lee, I mainly just have questions. Do you think that mentally ill teenagers, convicted felons, and the mean-spirited should be allowed to carry guns anywhere they please? If the answer is yes, then I have one follow-up. Who do YOU have to watch die before you start caring about the lives and safety of the people in this great state?
Joyce Gregory was always so nice to all the kids. Stewart County was never that populated and she would help out with the local Boy Scouts. This woman was a grandmother, a wife, an aunt, and so important to so many people. She mattered, may she rest.