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In December of 2012, I stood in front of my students and, in a trembling voice, said “something has happened at an Elementary School in Connecticut.”
It was my first semester as a teacher. I knew the job would be challenging, but I never imagined it would require this moment.
The very next day, there were reports of an intruder on the school’s campus. I locked the doors, shut off the lights and shuffled kids into a science closet where they sat, absolutely silent, until we got the all clear.
The instinct, as teachers, to protect and care for your students is so innate that we never thought twice about it. Having a plan to protect your students from flying bullets became normal. But nothing about this is normal.
The unending cycle of school shootings in Texas
It feels difficult, if not impossible, to put the emotions, the trauma, the grief and the anger into words anymore. The crushing weight of the loss and the rage is at once overwhelming; and yet there is a template for this.
There is a plea for prayer, a flash of anger at the inaction, protests with calls for policy change, a promise to vote differently in November – and then silence. Until the next time.
We inundate ourselves with the same data that points to the same conclusions: this doesn’t happen in any other country on Earth. We furiously spar over policies for gun control, school security, violence in the media, mental health supports – and then silence. Until the next time.
And even if these horrific tragedies come in a rash, back-to-back, as they often seem to do… the cycle continues.
But in that silence and in that meantime, there is suffering.
Twenty-one families in Texas are suffering.
Ten families in New York are suffering.
And more than 17,000 other families across the country know that suffering from this unimaginable and avoidable pain this year.
Perhaps that is the deepest pain in all of this: the realization that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Policy change would have saved lives in Uvalde. But our leaders refuse even after Texas school shooting
This nation endured more than 250 shooting incidents in the 72 hours leading up to the massacre at Rodd Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
A teenager was able to purchase two “military-style-weapons” on his 18th birthday. He was able to pass a background check, buy an assault rifle from a licensed dealer, and go back the next day to buy hundreds of bullets. He could then return just a few days later and buy a second gun.
In Texas, that teenager with a history of anger and violence could carry a handgun in public without a permit. That same teenager could purchase even more guns without a check, registration or waiting period at any gun show.
At any point along the way, legislation could have stopped the horror in Uvalde.
Red flag laws could have allowed concerned family members to have the guns taken from him by law enforcement. Purchasing limits could have ensured he wasn’t able to buy multiple guns and bulk amounts of ammunition in the same week. Waiting periods could have prevented him from having possession of the guns until after Summer break began.
And bans on assault rifles would have made certain he couldn’t walk into an Elementary school armed with military-style weapons.
These solutions are common sense.
The shooter did not act alone
And yet in the days to come, politicians will label this a “mental health crisis”, while simultaneously doing nothing to increase mental health supports in this country.
The fact remains that there are more guns in the United States than there are people. The number of guns in this country has increased by more than 35% in the last decade, according to reports.
It does not have to be like this, and yet we allow it.
The horror of the Texas school shooting in Uvalde and the shooting in Buffalo was not solely brought on by the gunman. These moments of horror exist because our nation and its leaders continue to refuse to act.
“‘The shooter acted alone’ is the most inaccurate assemblage of words in the American lexicon,” wrote one user on Twitter.
This is not an isolated incident. This is not one person. And this is not normal.
Students deserve to learn without hiding in dark rooms.
Teachers deserve to teach without using their bodies as shields.
Community members deserve to shop for groceries without fearing for their lives.
And our children deserve to be able to grow up, to go to school, and to come home safe.
But for some inexcusable and inhumane reason, our leaders won’t let them.