The 2000s Were a Different Time

One spring day during my sophomore year of high school, I brought a gun to school.

It’s not what it sounds like.

First off, it was an Airsoft gun, a black plastic handgun replica almost indistinguishable from the real thing save for a bright orange ring around the barrel’s tip. Secondly, I didn’t bring any of the ammunition, although those little plastic pellets sure could leave a welt at close range. And third, I’d volunteered to bring it as a prop for the school play—and gotten the director’s verbal permission to do so.

The night before, I wrapped the gun in a T-shirt and stashed it in the innermost zippered pocket of my backpack. This was 2004, well into the post-Columbine era, and I was fully aware that I was playing with fire here. I didn’t say a word to anyone about it. I kept the zipper closed and tried my best to stay out of that entire hemisphere of my bag. I felt an odd mix of guilt, anxiety, and elation every time I felt its hard outline as I retrieved a textbook or notebook. It was the giddiness of a student who gets to swear in class by virtue of being asked to read a passage from “Catcher in the Rye” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” out loud.

Nothing of note happened that day. I surrendered the weapon to the drama teacher during after-school play practice. His eyes widened just a little as I pulled it out, like he’d just realized the full ramifications of asking me to bring this particular prop. He asked if I’d been able to take a deep breath since I stepped through the school’s double doors that morning. He also thanked me for my discretion—for both our sakes, he said.

These days, bringing a gun to school “as a prop for the school play” is the kind of thing that makes headlines in this very publication. Any teacher who tasked his or her student to do so would likely find themselves out of a career by the end of the school day. And—given the wide variety of weapons detection systems and other security measures in place in K–12 schools—it seems unthinkable now that I’d be able to have something like that on my person all day long without anybody noticing.

This article originally appeared in the May / June 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning and Campus Security and Life Safety. He can be reached at


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