Today I don’t write about gun laws or assault rifles; I don’t write about hundred round clips or political ideologies. Today I write in an attempt to assuage the alternating numbness to anguish I am experiencing at yet another school shooting and yet another incomprehensible act of premeditated malice in my community. As a human being I keep asking the unanswerable, why? As a parent, I keep asking the unanswerable, dear God in Heaven, why?
Friday, as I was returning from a holiday lunch with my co-workers, I received a call from my daughter telling me her own school was in lockout and asking what was going on at Arapahoe High School just down the street from our house. Texts were beginning to come through from friends about an active shooter at that location. In this day of information immediacy, I swiped the screen of my phone, and my heart sank as I read the breaking news headline that a shooter was indeed inside the school and reports of casualties were rampant. Oh no, please, not again.
My next thought was to my own child and her emotional comfort. “Everything’s okay, you are safe where you are, listen to what your teachers are telling you, try to get in touch with your friends and make a mental note of the ones that respond…cell service is probably spotty over there, so this might be the only communication they get out. Oh, and honey, I love you.” I hung up the phone with the comfort my child will come home to me, but not without a sympathetically maternal pang of guilt for that relief and peace of mind. Other families will not be so fortunate.
Later, as the news reports began to peel back the complex layers of this day, I sat in my living room with two high school seniors and we talked honestly about what happened at the school. The shooter’s name was officially released, and just as I suspected, he is known to my family. I will not say anything else in regard to the individual other than to ask what has changed in this world that revenge, vengeance, and retaliation are carried out with such intent of public, mass carnage? In the last fifteen years, Columbine High School, Platte Canyon High School, Deer Creek Middle School, and now Arapahoe High School, all in my proverbial back yard, have witnessed gun violence toward its student body in one form or another.
I found myself oddly speechless as the teens talked about how they are prepared for incidents of mass violence in their school. I listened as the two young adults laughed nonchalantly at the fact they no longer have scheduled tornado drills, but active shooter, lockdown drills on a semi-regular basis. I guess I should be grateful that the school district is preparing them for our community’s greater potential of an unnatural disaster that might come their way. Mostly, I’m deeply saddened that this is the world and the abhorrent “new normalcy” in which our children reside.
I grew up in a suburban gun society. I don’t remember a single household, including mine, that didn’t have a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun hanging on the wall; a collection of family firearms prominently displayed in a bevelled glass case; or a hunting rifle mounted in the back window of the family pick-up truck. Yet, the only violence I witnessed in all my years as a student was three male on male fist fights, one, a nasty incident with a box cutter, and a female hair-pulling session that resembled more the pseudo-reality of today’s real housewives. Retaliation toward teachers and school administrators manifest itself not in today’s armed vigilante, but in car-key grooves down the side of new automobiles and the odd pocket knife protruding from a matched set of Michelins. Unacceptable behavior? Of course, but not massively destructive and certainly not deadly. So, what has changed while we obviously were not looking? What makes young white males take their frustrations and their fury out on their peers and their society with the intent on a collective swath of explosive devastation?
My opinions on the NRA leadership, military assault rifle sales to the public, multiple round magazines, and adequate background checks have no bearing on what happened at Arapahoe High School on Friday. I wish they did. I wish I could point once again to lobbyist-driven, lax regulation and rail against the obstruction of common sense gun laws. I wish I could publicly record the instances of right wing retaliation to recall our finally courageous Congressional state leaders, but I cannot. The shotgun used in the attack on AHS was bought legally at a local retailer by the 18 year old assailant…as was the large amount of ammunition that was purchased the morning of the attack. So where is my control, where is the face of some political hack I can point toward and say if you had not stood in the way, this would never have happened? I cannot. And as a parent, honestly, that scares the hell out of me.
What has changed in the last 20 years, the last generation, that possesses an individual to address a societal slight by means of mass-casual destruction instead of fists, or yes, even a box cutter? What has changed that a school, even an elementary school full of souls no one can counter as innocent, can become the next combative front in a conflict waged by a haunted, private pain? Have we become a society so self absorbed that our own individual destruction is not enough, that going out alone in a blaze of unjustified glory just isn’t sufficient? Have we produced a society so desensitized to violence or too enamored by its celebrity that that we don’t care the effects our destructive actions have on others? Is revenge no longer a dish best served cold, but piping white-hot from the end of a loaded gun?
Answer me, damnit! Answer me so I can fix it; answer me so that no other mother has to wake another morning wondering if this could be the day. I refuse to accept more complacency that this is now simply the world in which we live. Imagine had Dr. King simply accepted his time served in a Birmingham jail and the local politicians’ musings that “this is just the way the world is”. In that same vein, we have a moral responsibility to reject such marginalizing discourse when it comes to the growing threat of mass violence in our schools.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t condemn as insensitive the portrayals of school shootings such as the one Kurt Sutter penned in this season’s Sons of Anarchy. He is simply making a statement regarding access, complacency, and the mental mindset of today’s youth. What I believe he is saying is, ‘Fuck yeah, get outraged…but not at the messenger, at the truth’. Get outraged that since Columbine in 1999, there have been 22 school related shootings, all but three of these in the United States. Get outraged, moms, more than just One Million of you, with the same kind of fervor that you boycott a J. C. Penny spokesperson or protest a Super Bowl sized wardrobe malfunction. Get outraged and demand a change in how our media celebritizes acts of violence. Get mad as hell when flippant, politically convenient statements such as “arm all the teachers” and “we are fortunate; this could have been much worse” are made. The tragedy at Arapahoe High School took 80 seconds in its entirety, with an armed deputy racing to the scene from inside the school. How fortunate do you think these students and parents really feel?
Access, complacency, mindset…which one do we change? I’m not so naive that I’m going to say take away the guns. I’m not here to debate the Second Amendment. What I am saying is that we alter or change the one over which we, as parents or citizens, have the most control. Consistently remove any one of these reactive elements, and the final product will be different. We owe it to our children to try. We can no longer apply a band-aid to this cancer and call it a cure. As they say at Arapahoe High School, “Warriors always take care of one another,” isn’t it about time we as Americans become warriors as well?