April 20, 1999. How many of us remember where we were when we heard the news that 2 students with guns had come into Columbine High School and killed 12 students, one teacher, injured 21 other students, and then killed themselves?
What was school like when you attended? I’m a 73 year old woman. When I went to school I remember being anxious some days, or during some moments of the day. What was that about? As someone who was always trying to be perfect, my fear was based on being called upon and not knowing the answer, having my art project criticized or made fun of, being told my handwriting was really bad and that I needed more practice, being hit on the knuckles with a ruler by the piano teacher when I hit the wrong note, or not getting a good grade on that math or English paper I turned in. These were all very uncomfortable times. But did I fear for my life while in my school building? No. It was often a time of excitement and curiosity. I could use my energy to learn all sorts of new things. The fact that these first 12 years of education were my time to be a sponge and absorb as much as possible was respected by those whose responsibility it was to provide me with information that was mine to absorb.
How different things are for students and all the school staff now. And, why is that? Our society is saturated with guns. And the answer to all of the mass shootings that have happened since Columbine, by some, is that we put more guns into schools. What if we didn’t? What if we figure out ways to “harden” our schools that involve having working metal detectors at every door of every school? What if we have appropriately trained resource/safety officers at each school? These professionals would receive hours of special training in the normal behaviors of students appropriate to the ages/grade levels of the students populating the schools where they are assigned. What if we valued the lives of each school student and staff enough to have the recommended number of counselors in each educational facility? How would the costs of these preventive measures compare with other ideas being floated around such as intensive training and arming of teachers and other school staff? What are the possible negative consequences of that idea? What other kinds of preventive measures could a room full of students come up with, if they were brainstorming and knew a number of their suggestions were actually going to be implemented?
Contrary to the views of some, arming teachers or other staff is not primary prevention. Primary prevention means keeping any person with a gun, intending to harm others, out of the school entirely. Primary prevention means creating the same kind of internal school environment present when I went to school. The thought that I could die while in school never crossed my mind in 18 years of formal education.
As a mature adult in society today I have no comprehension of what it is like to go to kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school, or college/university and wonder every whether I’m going to get to come home as a healthy person at the end of the day. Kindergarten, first graders, and students at all grade levels practicing mass shooting drills crawling under desks? Perhaps we didn’t give this much thought. I didn’t. Until I heard some of the students from Stoneman Douglas High School speak about the fact that they were “the Columbine Generation” and realized nothing of any real preventative value has been done during these past nineteen years. What is it like to sit in classrooms, or be classroom teachers for the past nineteen years, wondering if this is the day a gun toting person is going to rupture the membrane of your school? How much energy goes into worrying about this that could have been used by each human being present to carry out their responsibilities of the day? I have no frame of reference for that. But I can’t help wondering why our society has just seemed to accept that children and school staff should have this as a part of their lives. What is the reason for this? We are a creative nation. Are adults in the U.S. abdicating their responsibilities to come up with creative primary preventive solutions to protect our young people?
Other countries have not handled the aftermath of even one mass shooting this way. And once they created new procedures and truly meant “Never Again!,” young people could trust that their schools were safe places to be. This promotes the growth of an overall much healthier society, physically and emotionally.
There are 325 million people in the U.S. The most powerful gun lobby organization is supposed to have 6 million members. That leaves 319 million of us that don’t belong to it. Any organization only has as much power as we give it. This is a choice each of us makes as a human being. Why have we accepted that it is okay for our senators and representatives to not listen to us, the average person, and to only listen to people who give them the most money? They are supposed to represent us, to listen to us, and to vote the way a majority of us tell them. How are we telling them? A February 2018 poll frequently cited on Google finds that 97% of persons in the U. S. want universal background checks done on gun purchases. The poll included gun owning participants. Opportunities to pass bills on some of our most controversial issues, such as a bill on 100% background checks for gun purchases just don’t come up real often. Interesting how that happens. The last time our senators and representatives had an opportunity to do this was after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Newsweek’s December 14, 2017 online article points out “It has been five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and zero pieces of national gun-control legislation have passed to prevent a similar massacre. But more than 100 have failed. “
As the energized students of the most recent school mass shooting in Florida have begun to tell us, if our elected officials fail to do what we put them in office for, then it is time to look for new leadership and vote the politicians who have failed to abide by the wishes of the majority out of office. We have an opportunity to do that in primaries and in the midterm elections of 2018. What will be your role to make this happen? There is a grass roots movement and these young people are fired up and ready to go. There are lots of pieces of this process. May we each find one that captures our interest and our energy, no matter our age. If you are reading this and are at least age 18, please make sure you register to vote, keep your information up to date with your local voter registrar, have the legal document(s) to present at the poll, and vote during the open dates to participate.