As the former wife of a soldier, for a long time my biggest fear was losing my spouse in combat. That was a real fear. An expected fear. When my oldest child decided he wanted to join the National Guard, I again had to fear losing one of my precious loved ones to terrorists in foreign countries. I even had mild concerns about being targeted in the states simply because we lived on military installations. Again, these are relatively normal and understandable fears for anyone who serves or loves someone who serves but it’s just part of life and we learn to live to with it. I never expected to be worry more about my school aged children than I do about the soldiers in my life. I never even saw that coming.
I should have. Just twenty years ago, around 50 miles from my hometown, there was a school shooting in small town Kentucky. They were relatively unheard of then. I believe it was actually the seventh school shooting ever. Even experiencing something like this so close to home, I think most of western Kentucky still felt like these kinds of things happened to other people. Certainly we didn’t expect our little corner of Kentucky to be the scene of another school shooting twenty years later. Certainly we couldn’t have envisioned a time when mere weeks into the year, there would be eighteen school shootings. Certainly we never envisioned a time when our children were targets and when even life in a small town couldn’t afford us the luxury of sending our children off to school without fear.
As parents we are afraid and fear brings out the worst in us. We start looking for ways to understand what can never be understood. We start looking for someone to blame. We start ranting and fighting and alienating each other in a time when we need to come together. These shootings didn’t happen in a vacuum. Just in comparing the Marshall County shooting and the most recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, there are correlations that go far beyond the weapon of choice. Stories of kids who didn’t fit in. Children with difficult home lives. Parents who died. Mental illness.
I am NOT opposed to stricter gun control laws. I am NOT opposed to more extensive background checks and wait times. I am NOT opposed to finding a way to ensure that someone who has posted on social media that they are going to be the next school shooter, has to work a little bit harder to get their hands on a firearm. I truly don’t think that these measures will eliminate the problem, but I think that we are a sophisticated society with unsophisticated laws. I think it just makes sense.
The things is, while I do agree that there should be changes to the law, I don’t agree that the problem is guns. Did you know that more troops are lost to IEDs than gunfire? Did you know that Timothy McVeigh managed to kill 186 people while injuring another 600+ and no guns were involved? Do you realize that what we have here is a bigger issue than who can LEGALLY obtain a gun? Legalities only apply to law abiding citizens, after all. Could we all agree that getting hung up on the way that the terror is delivered is preventing us from having open discourse on how to resolve this horror?
So twenty years ago we had less than a dozen school shootings total and now twenty years later, we have had eighteen in a month in a half. What has changed in the last twenty years? The first recorded use of a firearm was in 1364. Firearms are becoming more sophisticated, but they aren’t new and they aren’t anything that we didn’t have twenty years ago. What has changed?
Social media happened. Parents stopped parenting. I would be lying if I said that I monitored everything that my nine year old watches on YouTube. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true and it’s part of the problem. We are all busy. We never stop. We pacify our children with access to the entire world so that we check a couple more things off of our list. Our children are learning how to be citizens of this world and they aren’t necessarily learning from us.
Social media also allows our children who are bullied to never have a break from that bullying. Your tormentors can follow you home in 2018. I honestly can’t imagine navigating my teenage years with the addition of social media like our kids know today. Some of those kids go home to loving families who can help ease some of their pain but others go home to absent parents, abusive parents, no parents at all.
Mental illness happened. Okay mental illness is nothing new but this new world we live in where everything is at our fingertips allows troubled individuals to emulate what they see on the news, on Instagram, on Twitter. We have given everyone access to just about anything that they could hope to find and while that unites some of us in positive ways, that fuels others in destructive ways and there is still a stigma. Still. Not to mention the cost of healthcare. Even with good insurance I still can’t manage to utilize my behavioral health coverage without being billed for costs that I’m not responsible for. Don’t even expect to be able to seek help without insurance or without paying up front. Our healthcare system is flawed but that’s another day.
We’ve become too politically correct. I hate saying that because I hate the fact that there will be someone out there who will read that sentence and think that I’m some conservative alt-right person who wants poke everyone with a stick while calling them a snowflake. That’s not the case. At some point though, we have become so busy making sure that no one is ever offended, that we have stopped becoming alarmed by alarming behavior. The guy in Florida posted that he wanted to be a school shooter on social media. SERIOUSLY?! That statement coupled with the fact that he had already been identified as a potential issue means that he should not have been able to buy a gun legally and he should not have been able to just walk into that school, pull the fire alarm and then patiently wait.
We blame our children for not alerting someone. We blame our children for not caring. We blame the children who take guns to school, forgetting that they are teenagers who appear to be mentally ill on top of the range of issues that teenagers are already facing. We blame the government for not having stricter gun control laws. We blame our fellow citizens for not voting the way we believe they should have. Honestly, the only people we aren’t blaming is ourselves. We are the ones raising these children. If we aren’t teaching them how to be responsible members of society and if we aren’t teaching them to come to us with anything because we are way too busy to actually be present in their lives, WE ARE THE PROBLEM. You, me, all of us.
Could we step up, admit where we have been wrong and brainstorm together? Can we put blame to the side by all accepting where our own blame lies and try to fix this shit? Can we break it down into the smallest of parts so that they are more manageable. Step one, start really parenting our own children. Teach them to be aware of their surroundings instead of glued to their phone. Teach them to be kind to their classmates and that there are adults they can turn to if something doesn’t seem right. Then can we talk about how we are going to make their schools safe zones? Can we acknowledge that no law can protect them as much as metal detectors, locked doors, and armed security guards? Can we stop saying our children shouldn’t have to have armed guards at their schools and accept that sadly they do and that we will do what it takes to keep them safe even if it makes us uncomfortable? Can we just try?