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God, guns and Friday afternoon football

High school football on Friday afternoons? In Florida? The early season's cruel heat is only one of the arguments against doing what St. Petersburg High School and some other schools in Pinellas County are considering.

Classes would have to be let out early. There would be problems with buses. Working parents might not get to see their kids perform.

But the disadvantages diminish as St. Petersburg High's Herb Anderson and his fellow athletic directors ask themselves the question posed by the police chief in a current advertisement for the lobby Handgun Control.

"Who goes hunting with a MAC-11?"

Youthful drug gangs, among others, and St. Petersburg has them.

Anderson is concerned about the possibility of drive-by shootings.

The problem, he emphasized, is not with the players or student spectators. It's not on the field. It's not inside the gates. It's with passers-by who might be looking for diversion and excitement.

"When you turn the lights on at night," he said last week, "you don't know what to expect."

The illuminated fields for SPHS, Northeast, Gibbs and Lakewood can be seen easily from Interstate 275, Anderson pointed out.

"You turn the lights on, and they'll be attracted."

SPHS normally fields six police officers for a home game. There's the school resource officer for each school and four other officers working off-duty for extra pay.

But for one game last season St. Petersburg police sent another 10 on-duty officers. For a second game they sent 11. Fortunately for the school, it didn't have to pay. The extra strength would have cost $900, nearly a third of an entire night's gate.

There were special reasons. A gang had come onto campus during school hours to continue a quarrel with a student. They beat him with a baseball bat. Rumors flew that they would be back at night, during a game, with even deadlier weapons. Police were ready.

Anderson said the police stopped two of the gang cars the first night not far from the football field. In one case, the people in the car seemed nervous about what police might find in the trunk. But they hadn't been seen breaking a law, and the police had no pretext to search it.

Other schools have had problems with sporadic post-game brawls. Once, it was enough just to let tempers cool. But some hot-tempered young men now have machine pistols like the MAC-11.

It's not certain that SPHS or other schools in St. Petersburg will move their games from Friday nights to Friday afternoons.

There are, as Anderson said, the "logistical problems." The switch would also require the cooperation of visiting teams. Upper Pinellas schools, Anderson suggested, don't fully comprehend the problem because they don't have it.

Rob Hosack, the county school system's athletic director, says the option of changing games from Friday nights to Friday afternoons "certainly will be given every consideration." He would "rather not say," however, whether reluctant schools would be compelled to accept the switch.

Anderson finds himself yearning for the good old days, "when our most serious problem with the Northeast game was whether they would come down and paint their logo on our building and whether someone from here would go up and dump green paint in their swimming pool."

The good old days were when the worst thing teachers had to fear was getting hit with a spitball. Now they worry about getting shot.

In the good old days, kids did not own handguns, much less machine pistols. Something happened, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) has bullied Congress and most of the state legislatures into doing nothing about it. For the NRA's Marion Hammer, the assault weapons issue boils down to "a matter of taste." If you prefer a machine pistol to a hunting rifle, you ought to be able to have it.

"You would get a far better understanding," said NRA Executive Vice President J. Warren Cassidy in the Jan. 29 Time magazine, "if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions in the world."

That should console fans if they find themselves sweating in the scorching sun at this fall's high school football games. It's the least they can do for God and guns. Hallelujah for the NRA!

Here is a modest proposal to the gun lobby. I'll give them everything they say about the Second Amendment. Give everyone a right to own a gun, no questions asked, no militia necessary.

But it would have to be the same kind of gun that hung over the fireplace when the Second Amendment was passed.

If Herb Anderson only had muzzle-loading muskets to worry about, he wouldn't have a problem.

Martin Dyckman is the St. Petersburg Times chief editorial writer. His wife is a teacher at St. Petersburg High School.

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