What tipped me over the edge this week were the two pictures of elected officials’ families with children holding lethal weapons and the sick joke from one of the parents’ note to Santa, “Please bring ammo.” Enough already, more than enough, over the top. I can opt out of the news and social media and have considered that more than once in recent weeks. We all have choices about what we take in but when it concerns children, where I spent a large part of my career, I remain interested in their education and welfare. I am leaving a world to my grandchildren that I hope they do better with than we did. Noam Chomsky, who turned 93 this week, said the same thing.
My oldest child celebrated a birthday last Saturday. She was born December 4, 1962, and before she had her first birthday, JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963. I remember thinking then, what kind of a world is she going to grow up in and what’s likely to happen next. Five years later, MLK, Jr, and Robert Kennedy were both killed by an assassin’s gun.
I was a social activist working to help integrate housing, education and employment, not the most popular activity where I lived in suburban Detroit. I had spent a couple of days with King a month before he was murdered. I was also involved in protests against the Viet Nam war and I was a supporter of women’s rights having to do with abortion, illegal at the time, but available through an underground network of licensed medical providers both here and abroad. After threats on my life, and harm to my family, which I took seriously, I retreated for four years while I completed a second Master’s degree and a Doctorate in Human Development and Human Behavior. I did not make a study of the causes of violent behavior although I spent part of a term in a state penitentiary and another one in a state mental hospital to learn more about those populations. Soon after I left graduate school there were attempts at assassinating two more Presidents, Ford in September, 1975 & Regan, March, 1981, both thwarted by the Secret Service.
The U.S. has had 1,316 school shootings since 1970 and these numbers are increasing. There have been over 200 school shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012. Some thought we would have been shocked into sensibility by Columbine in 1999 but not much has changed about our gun laws in 22 years and given today’s climate, one has to wonder, what next? Why should over 278,000 students have had to experience a shooting in their school? Why should schools have to have shooter drills that remind me of the nuclear bomb drills of years ago? The shooter drills are based on reality. The nuclear bomb was a threat but serious enough to warrant that kind of fear and response. Numerous bomb shelters were built and there was a familiar sign that told people where safe places were in case of an attack. It was a black circle with three yellow triangles inside. To say that we live in a world where violence kills 1.6 million people annually has no impact. When those 20 elementary kids at Sandy Hook were murdered, you might think that would have changed the narrative but it hasn’t. And since then, how about Parkland? At least that mobilized a lot of people and spawned a movement called “March for Our Lives” Most recently we saw 4 kids killed last week at a high school in Oxford, Michigan. The evidence is 93% of the shootings are planned. As with other diseases we need early detection and earlier intervention and treatment.
In 2008 I was Principal of a high school with 450 students and a staff of 60. At an early morning assembly with everyone present in the auditorium, a student appeared suddenly from behind the curtain with what appeared to be an AK-47 (Kalishnikov Assault Rifle) and waved it back and forth while shouting, in his makeup and costume, that he was The Joker. A deadly silence was palpable. I was in the back of the auditorium and signaled a Dean of Students on the front row to get him off the stage immediately if he could, by whatever means necessary. The student did not go willingly but was overpowered by the larger, stronger adult and escorted out the back while shouting resistance. We discovered that the gun was an exact replica of the AK-47 although plastic and harmless. When I asked another Dean sitting down front what his reaction was, he said the only thought that came to his mind was Columbine. Many of the students ducked down in their seats, others seemed frozen in place. The student was removed from the school and after some help, went on elsewhere with his education.
What all of this says to me is that we have not yet had the resolve to make some necessary changes to stop the killing. Yes, it’s partly a mental health issue and yes it’s partly too many available guns. We need both prevention and intervention and we need it now, not next year.