The first school shooting that got my attention was in 1997 in Pearl, Mississippi. My son and I had moved back to the Mississippi Delta and I was sitting at my desk at work with NPR playing in the background when at the top of the hour a newsperson interrupted to report a shooting at Pearl High School. The shooter, they said was sixteen. That couldn’t be right, I thought. That kind of thing doesn’t happen here. My son, at the time was also sixteen. What if it had been his school? What if it had been one of his classmates?
Unfortunately, since that day there have been so many others. The ones with names indelibly written in our memories like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Stoneman Douglas, and the ones, no less tragic, that we don’t remember by name, but that also represent a sickeningly useless loss of young lives and the end of life as they knew it for countless parents, friends and communities across the country.
What’s different this time, is that the kids of Stoneman Douglas have somehow found the strength to take their unimaginable grief, emotional trauma and rage that something so unspeakable could happen at their school, and channel it into action. There’s an awful lot to be said for youthful enthusiasm. The last time we saw youth mobilized like this was in the late 60’s when young people protested to end an immoral war that took nearly sixty thousand young American lives. And before that, it was the civil rights movement, when young African Americans, some no more than children, peacefully stood up, sat in and marched to bring an end to discrimination and segregation. Both of these movements changed the course of history.
The kids of Stoneman Douglas are speaking out because they feel betrayed by the adults that they looked to for protection. I’m not going to point fingers, because the truth is, all of us as adults have let them down. We have let them down by not having the courage to take up this cause for them. Every time another shooting occurred we were outraged and disgusted, but all too soon, we were lulled back into inaction until the next mass tragedy occurred, or until it came to our kids’ school. And in the meantime, young people are being gunned down every day – lost lives that never make it to network news. We hear all the same excuses, the same hopelessness that anything can be done to reduce, if not prevent gun violence. Our elected representatives tell us it’s just too hard, that guns are not the problem it’s mental health, or the isolation of youths, it’s bullying or violent video games, or the corruptive influence of social media. But let’s face it – it’s all of those things.
Can’t we finally acknowledge that there are commonsense steps we can take that would help better regulate gun purchases? Can’t we tighten up reporting mechanisms to keep violent offenders, or domestic abusers, or the adjudicated mentally ill, or people on the terrorist watch list or no-fly list from being able to buy guns? What is so wrong with background checks or waiting periods? Are we going to stand by and leave this fight to the kids or are we going to finally stand up and be the adults in the room and say “never again.”
This is not about taking anybody’s guns or trampling their 2nd Amendment rights, this is about the right our kids have to LIFE without fear of being shot. Let’s quit making this about politics and make it about protecting our kids. If our elected representatives don’t want to listen, let’s keeping talking, and writing letters, sending emails and voting, until they do. The kids from Stoneman Douglas have it right. We need to put on our big boy pants and get on the side of right with them.