This must be one of the scariest things that has passed through my hands, but it can’t sit in my heart.
I know I’m going to piss off just about everyone I know, and everyone can find something here to be offended about. But we can’t play the “offended” card while children are dying. So, if my silence means even one more person has to die in a school shooting because we can’t talk about it, then offend you, I shall.
Here it goes.
Our hearts are on fire again because it happened again.
The last time I wrote that line, it was about inequality and people senselessly killing people.
It seems there are a few things that will wake a sleeping heart, and babies dying is one of them.
I am not smart enough to hold a political debate. So, I won’t do that.
I don’t care for guns enough to have a gun debate. So, I’m not doing that, either.
But every living person has a heart, so I figure we can start with what we have in common.
Most people either have kids, or know one, or at least, used to be one. So, I feel like it’s a worthy conversation. If nothing changes, nothing changes. So, instead of crying into our hands again, and holding our faces again in disbelief, let’s do the brave thing and talk about it. That seems to be what we have failed to do, time after time.
The question that jumps out of me is, “when is enough, enough?”
Let’s talk about “heart problems”. I think we can all agree, innocent, precious children should not be massacred. This should not be a worry they wake up with. This should not be a worry we wake up with.
My four- and eleven-year-olds are afraid of monsters. When I was little, I was afraid of ghosts or goblins. But if they only knew that the real monsters are people. Just people. Could be anyone. And there’s not really a way to spot them coming. And inaction. Standing by and watching evil. Learned helplessness. Those are greater evils than any boogeyman. And there isn’t a big enough stick, or magic flashlight to hand them, to slay these monsters.
So, what do we tell our children? How do you explain what just happened to a four-year-old? It happened in Columbine on my fifteenth birthday, so we’ve been living with it, too, too long. It became noise in the news to me, still young and full of my own issues and worries, mostly about myself, my life, my school, my plan, my purpose, my own well-being, my family. You get the point. Until 2012. I had a one-year-old. And as I drove him home from daycare the day I heard about Sandy Hook, we were listening to our “Fun Baby Radio” on Pandora as usual, and the song “Mr. Sun” came on, and I had to pull over.
“Oh, Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me. Oh, Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, hiding behind a tree. These little children are asking you, to please come out so we can play with you. Oh, Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me. Shine down on me, shine, shine, shine. Shine down on me, shine, shine, shine.”
All I could think of was all the mommies that didn’t get to hold their babies that night. All the babies that couldn’t fathom such evil in the world, shot down, lives cut short. Dreams disintegrated. Just, emptiness. Empty beds. Empty desks. Emptiness where moms and dads once saw future college plans, or weddings, or little league games. Just, life. Snatched from their grasp. And for what? What is the defense to this atrocity, and so many others?
So, many, others.
I pictured little children holding hands, and playing ring around the rosies, around a tree, under the sun. I cried uncontrollably for children I never knew, and people I never met. We rush around just to get the kids to school, so we can get to work on time. Hand them their lunch and rush them out of the car, because we have commitments to keep, and a living to earn. But even if we think it, somewhere in the back of our minds, most times, we don’t act like we worry about not seeing them later. That would be too much to bear, every morning. But it’s a possibility. It’s why they put more cameras. It’s why we have to sign in at the office, hand over our licenses, and why we can’t have lunch with them, anymore. We’ve grown accustomed to this new normal, and like the proverbial frogs in boiling water, we forget why. Until it happens again.
Divided, We Fall
Every time we talk about this, we are divided, and we have got to get this together. If we can’t agree between two of us, how can we change a broken nation? When we involve the government, half of us blame them for not doing enough, and half of us think they already do too much. Half of us are waiting for them to save us. And the other half raise their “Come and take it” flags, and dig in their heels, as if to say, “I wish you would.” Call it what you will, but I believe there is a force out there, which wills wrongdoing and draws its power from the evil in our hearts, from sin itself. And you know, it is to the enemy’s benefit that we argue amongst ourselves. The Bible tells us we are to agree about anything we ask. Maybe that’s why this keeps happening. Because we are divided and can’t agree on what we are asking Him for. I believe prayers are heard and answered, but if we as a nation just keep arguing from our own separate corners, holding rancor in our hearts for our fellow countrymen, what exactly are we praying for, other than for God to fix something we, ourselves, have broken. And I am not sure about you, but that’s not how He’s worked in my life. Usually, He helps me get sick of my own BS and then gives me the strength to fix it myself.
Call to Action: Let’s Save Ourselves
Like I said, I don’t follow politics. I don’t trust a one of them. I don’t trust thoughts and words that are betrayed by the actions of the same person speaking them. I don’t trust people who point fingers rather than roll up their sleeves when people’s children’s lives are at stake. I don’t trust people who make excuses sooner than discuss solutions, and then benefit personally from these excuses. I don’t trust people who bank off wickedness, and then tell us they’re doing all they can. So, no, I don’t follow politics. But I’ll believe the NBA coach who, during a press conference because his team was going to the finals, could not contain his emotions, and said he’s sick of seeing this, and was so disturbed he couldn’t continue with any other type of conversation. That’s honest. That’s real. And he’s in good company.
So, let’s roleplay for a moment. Let’s pretend there is no government. No one to point a finger at. No one is coming to save us. Pretend that Uvalde was our town. Now, what do we do? Pretend we no longer have the excuse of being too far removed from the problem to take some sort of action. Pretend we had the decision in our hands, and no fingers to point. We have to do something. Because doing nothing isn’t working. When it’s your kids, what do you do?
I know people want to immediately put more guns on more people and post them up at each door. But for years now, the reports of these things come back saying security guards were shot upon entering the building, and they get in through open doors, anyway. That’s not working. So, put better people? Sharper shooters. Ok, a military level expert force at each school door? Is that sustainable? Plus, every workforce grows tired, or grows sparse, and then it gets soggier, then we wind up with no security guards, or untrained folks wielding lethal weapons. It’s not sustainable. It hasn’t been effective, so far. And, if that person at the gate has their own kids to worry about, who won’t see them for dinner that night if they step in to stop a shooter, you have a conflict. You have a hesitation. And you have 19 more children slain. 30 more. 169 more. I really don’t think the answer is more guns. That’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s diluting the problem, not answering it.
Don’t give me that “it’s because they took prayer out of schools,” stuff. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, but in this context, it feels like an excuse to skirt any personal responsibility we have for our own issues. Perhaps the country went down the toilet when they took prayer out of schools, but can you tell me that every one of the children who have died didn’t come from a praying home? Can you tell me that only the Christian kids are safe from this sort of thing? You can’t. I don’t mean to belittle faith and prayer, I will still pray over my kids, and I am teaching them to pray, too. I believe in it. But I think that argument turns a deaf ear to anyone who doesn’t share your faith, as if to say any kids’ lives are any less valuable. Please, let’s not do that. “Jesus loves all the little children of the world.” We complain that the government took prayer out of the schools, but does everyone who says that read their Bible with their child, and pray with them? If we want to say it’s because we took Jesus out of the equation, let’s take some ownership and stop blaming the government and the schools, let’s cover our own home in prayer, and our neighbors’, and our friends’, and our city. Let’s let God back into our home, and our hearts. Let’s read His word and teach our kids to read the Word and follow it. Let’s teach them to be more like Jesus, and less like us. You know what happens when we do that, kids will pray anywhere, anyway. Not because the government commands it, but because they want to. Let’s not say our kids don’t pray in school because the government stopped it. If they don’t pray, it’s because we haven’t taught them to. Let’s start there. But let’s not point a finger and be done with it.
“It’s not a gun problem; it’s a people/sin problem.” OK, granted. But that is accepting defeat. Because there is sin in every heart, because we are human, and man is fallible. And as long as we are human, there will always be sin in the world. That’s the downfall of free will. The downfall of man. I refuse to believe this is something we have to live with, that it’s a reasonable accommodation to free will, and that there’s nothing we can do about it. Obviously, if God could take the sin out of every heart, there would be no hell, there would be no evil, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Not to mention, there are people in other countries, but other countries don’t struggle with this as much as we do. Let’s be humble enough for just a moment, for the kids’ sake, to stop and think outside the box, America.
How Did we Get Here? Let’s Zoom Out
Where does it start? A lot of the reports say that the shooters first murdered their parents, or grandparents, or other guardians before they go take out their rage on tiny little innocent lives. How are we missing this?!? There are reports of bullying that leads up to violence. What we have is a culture problem. Culture means all of us.
By the by, dear faithful friends, let us not forget that Jesus died for the shooter, too. Those people are also God’s children, and something, somewhere, went terribly wrong. So, let’s not act like it’s an “us vs. them” issue, and accept that it’s systemic and we all have work to do. Maybe that person’s innocence was taken as a child, and so they want to take it back from someone else. Times twenty. Maybe they’re made to feel odd and want to get back at everyone that never accepted them. Maybe, they were completely and utterly ignored, and think this might get someone’s attention. Maybe, they were abused, and so full of rage. Maybe they didn’t get enough spankings or didn’t get enough hugs. Maybe, they were brought up in a completely wholesome environment and some wickedness spawned in their heart one morning. Who knows? We know hurt people, hurt people. But we’ll never know why if no one ever talks to them to find out.
Here’s the problem with a faithful argument: God loves everyone, but yet this evil is allowed to continue. So, how do we reconcile this? What could we be doing better? What are we supposed to learn from this?
What is our assignment?
I think the answer is, we could all do better.
The way I see it, it’s a cultural problem. I call it a “heart” problem. Hear me out.
I think we all need to engage with our kids. We, as a people, have an addiction. We certainly have an addiction to our phones, and to any other shiny surface in which we can see our own image. We are selfish. We honor ourselves first, and our endeavors, and our families get the leftovers. We are busy. We are spread thin, trying to make ends meet and make a living, and pursue our dreams, our careers, or maybe a love life, that maybe we cut important corners. We let teachers parent our kids by proxy. Maybe it’s because we literally only have 90 minutes a day to feed them, bathe them, check their folders, and put them to bed. Maybe we are too busy. We let the kids get their values from TV, instead of talking to them about ours and instilling it in them. We give them a machine to keep them quiet and still, so that we don’t have to discipline them. We keep them entertained so that we don’t have to educate them, have the tough, hard, awkward conversations or be the “bad guy”. We medicate kids because we don’t know what else to do, or where else to turn. I’m not saying some brains don’t need medicine, I’m saying maybe we overdo it. Maybe we underdo it. Maybe we can teach them meditation instead of medication. I don’t know, but this merits some attention and resources. We need to get that right. We pursue anything that makes us feel good after a long day, and then spend our time on that, while the child goes unattended to. Maybe we eat on the run instead of at the table, where we can see each other’s faces and ask how everyone’s day went. We let them play video shooter games instead of going out and talking to kids in town and ride bikes like we used to, get scuffed up and learn how to resolve our conflicts. (Or how to take a well-earned whippin’, am I by myself in here?) Kids just get swallowed up by this virtual reality, where it’s them against the world, and anything goes, and they never learn how to talk to people, or respect people. Their sense of reality is broken. We teach boys to shoot as soon as they are strong enough to carry a rifle, but we don’t teach them how to talk about their feelings. We keep them so busy, they don’t catch a break long enough to figure out how they feel about something, or work out difficult details of their day over quiet calm conversation. We leave them to be raised by machines, and we don’t really know what influences them all day long. Then, we don’t ask, how was their day? We don’t ask our teenager why they’re acting like a shithead because they’ll probably lash out at us, too. Maybe it’s self-preservation. Maybe it’s selfishness. Maybe it’s just sheer exhaustion/burnout, “I can’t take one more thing going wrong today,” or “I don’t have time for this.” Maybe we are addicted to success and difficult kids threaten our image of what life should look like, so we look past them. Whatever it is, we are addicted, and we are comfortable being addicted. We are addicted to our guns. Anything that makes us feel safe, or powerful, or entitled… or… hell, I don’t know why people carry guns. I don’t really like them, myself. But I have plenty of people who I love that love guns. Who knows? My point is, it’s easier to point fingers when we’ve failed, than it is to admit any fault we had in the matter.
The state is more concerned with making sure our kids pass their stupid tests so schools can get their funding, than they are about making effective policy to put an end to this madness. Money first. People later.
Schools marginalize difficult children, because they don’t have the resources or the training to handle anything that’s not easy. Mental health is not always easy to spot, but there have to be some identifiable warning signs. Maybe school officials are afraid to call the parents of a troubled child and say, “I think your kid is a sociopath.”
Maybe the teachers are too overwhelmed and not prepared to handle the mental health of each child. Here is a huge miss in our society. Teachers have to spend their own money to buy supplies for the children. They are pressured to have the children pass state tests. They are put in charge of more kids than they can physically attend to. They love our children, and they are giving their lives for these kids. What more do they have to do to prove it to us? Can’t we bail them out? Give them resources? Give them supplies? Give them some help? Maybe put a mental health professional in each and every school? Let’s put our time, attention, and money where it can make a difference in these classrooms. And then, yes, pay them a fair compensation for their education. I studied with people who were special education majors in college, but my study was in psychology. Did you know some of their curriculum is psychology? Is that the same for all teachers? Why don’t we make it a requirement that teaching degrees take some level of psychology so that we can do our best to reach all kids, and be able to detect warning signs? A lot of times, our kids are at the mercy of a teacher’s own mood management, or limited by the bounds of their own mental state. For heaven’s sake, let’s do wellness checks with the teachers. They already are charged with so much responsibility; I doubt they want to expand their area of responsibility to include sniper skills. Stop putting more on the teachers.
Maybe children are unkind to each other and could use a better example. Instead of teaching them self-promotion and teaching them (even if it is inadvertently) to be fighters, to be tougher than the next guy; maybe we can teach them love for others, and kindness. I know our schools have put banners on every wall in the hallway reminding kids to be the “I” in “Kind,” This is a good start. But then who is watching them at recess to see if they practice it? Maybe we can teach them how to win together, rather than beat each other? Inclusion versus exclusion? Whatever it is, let us teach it, and let us be it. Sometimes, the greatest kindness comes from enduring harsh conditions. Where are we missing the lesson? Do they know how much danger they are in? Maybe we shouldn’t hide it from them. Maybe we should tell them at home why they have to do shooter drills at school. Everything affects everything. And if they are old enough to die in school, maybe they could be trusted with the knowledge that practicing kindness could save lives, and why.
And, the guns. If you have an addict, who has tried every trick and rule and method in the book to control their use/abuse of a substance; you don’t give them more and hope they will suddenly be able to control it. You take it away. Now, now, I’m not saying someone’s coming for your guns. But maybe we can entertain the idea of getting rid of the ones that can do so much damage. I know people love their guns. And like I like my coffee, the stronger, the better. But in a society, the good of the many has to outweigh the good of the few, and I think maybe we can come to an agreement. If this were your home, and your school, and you just lost a child; and someone asked you, would you trade in your gun(s) to have them back? Well, would you? (I would trade my husband’s guns to save a kid.) What are we willing to sacrifice? I’m not willing to sacrifice my kids. Call me crazy. I know, I know, that trigger didn’t pull itself. Maybe they just don’t need to be so accessible. Maybe before we put a gun in their hands, maybe we should arm them with love, safety, and social responsibility in their own homes. Maybe we should teach them to use their words before we teach them how to shoot. I’m not sure it’s a weapon-of-choice issue. The statistics say most common weapons were handguns. (Campus Safety Magazine, below).
Truth in Numbers
Below, you’ll find statistics on school shootings, and on child abuse in America.
Could these things be related? Correlated? I’m not saying correlation equals causation. But, maybe?
The school shooting data below includes stats from 1970 to 2021. Partial 2022 data can be found on the CHDS website.
- There have been 1,924 school shooting incidents since 1970.
- 2021 had the greatest number of incidents, with 249. The next highest year was 2019 with 119.
- Since 1970, 637 people have died in shootings at schools. Additionally, 1,734 were injured and 73 suffered minor injuries.
- 2018 was the year with the highest number of people killed, including the shooter, with 51 killed. This was the year of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, which claimed 17 lives.
- California, Texas and Florida are the states with the most incidents.
- 1,086 incidents occurred outside on school property and 672 occurred solely inside a school building.
- The most common location for a school shooting is in a parking lot (21.8%), followed by a classroom (10.3%)
- Most school shootings (18.4%) occurred in the morning, followed by at a sporting event (10.2%) or during afternoon classes (10.1%).
- 685 incidents were the result of an escalated dispute (37.1%).
- 515 victims were females and 1,729 were males.
- The most common time of year for a school shooting is in the fall.
K-12 School Shooter Statistics
Here are some statistics specific to the shooters:
- In 887 incidents (43.1%), the shooter was a current student at the school.
- 409 shooters (19.9%) had no school affiliation.
- In 1,259 incidents, there was one shooter.
- The shooter was male in 1,737 incidents and female in 79.
- In 984 incidents, the shooter targeted specific victims. In 278 incidents, the victim(s) were random.
- In 217 incidents, the shooter died, largely from suicide (86%).
- The most commonly used weapon was a handgun or multiple handguns, which were used in 1,344 incidents. A rifle or multiple rifles were used in 107 incidents.
- The most common age of a shooter is 17, followed by 16 and 15.
Listen closely, fellow countrymen. In 2020, Texas led the nation in child abuse. Yep, in the “greatest nation.”
Also, in 2020, child abuse numbers dropped significantly. One could surmise that with the pandemic and school closures, less cases were detected and reported. That doesn’t mean the abuse stopped. It means the schools are a big detector. Thank God for the people who care. But we still have a problem. We don’t know how to respect and treat our greatest gifts. I was shocked to find out that the mother was the most common perpetrator in child abuse cases.
All images above captured at https://www.statista.com/statistics/639375/number-of-child-abuse-cases-in-the-us/
About 1,600-1,800 children die each year due to child abuse/maltreatment. https://www.statista.com/statistics/254919/number-of-child-fatalities-due-to-abuse-or-maltreatment-in-the-us/
Everything affects everything. Shootings don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a society that has forgotten itself.
While we are busy being busy, our kids are under full blown attack, and it’s getting in through the cracks in our hearts. Anxiety, depression, bullying, and abuse run rampant in the country. Child suicides are a thing we have to worry about. Read that again.
The writing is on the wall. So, maybe we all have work to do. But I refuse to believe there’s nothing we can do.
Where do we start?
I think we need to parent with more purpose, and recheck our priorities. The chances of kids living to see 18 are dwindling every time this happens, and that’s not a long time; we should use it wisely.
I think we teach kids kindness. Raise our own. Take care of the people that take care of them. If I didn’t have another dollar to spend, or a government to lobby, I think we teach people how to treat people. I think we limit the guns and maybe make them harder to access. (I’ll leave it to the experts to decide what, how, how many.) I think we pay attention to mental health and treat it like we treat physical illness, and make it our second language. I think we teach our kids how to talk about their feelings and talk to us and to each other. I think we lead by example. I think we focus on the family unit. I think we can trade in the video games for board games and battle royales for family night. I think we enact the magic phrase, “Are you ok?” and make it a safe question to answer. I think instead of/along with beefing up security, we beef up psychological/ emotional support in each school. And yes, I think we petition the government. But let’s do it after we’ve decided as a family, as a town, as a school district, as a city, as a state what we need. And then, we don’t take “no” for an answer. Use your voice. Use your vote. Make it as loud as the antivaxxers at a pep rally. (No offense). And then, I think we pray like our house is on fire, like our school is on fire, like our country is on fire. Because they are. But what are we praying for?
I’m praying for mental health, for discipline, for child safety, and for peace. And healing. Lord, heal our land. Heal our parents. Heal our hearts. Heal our hurts. Heal our pride. Heal our prejudices. Heal our pains. Help us to break cycles. Heal our kids. Help us to teach and practice love, and peace, and grace, and patience. Help us as a nation to put God over sin and greed. Help us to be more like Jesus, and less like us. Oh, turn our eyes upon Jesus. In our hearts and in our homes. Amen.