Many of you know I used to be a newspaper columnist in Northern Los Angeles County. I wrote about random things and issues that affected my community. Sometimes I polled my colleagues in the newsroom for materials, like for this one that contrasted our attitudes with a current news story …….
“Damn it! If that kid leaves the garage door open one more time, I’m taking away his keys.”
“There was a girl crouched beneath a desk in the library and the guy came over and said ‘Peek a boo’ and shot her.”
“That drama teacher is so hard on them. She kept them late again.”
As students took a math test, the door opened and a teacher staggered in, covered in blood. He was shot right in front of them.
“Why can’t you be more responsible? Pick up your room. Do I look like your maid?”
“He was shot twice. In the back. My brother jumped over him to get out.”
“I’m not going to make my child wear a uniform. That stifles their creative expression.”
“You should be safe at school. This should be a safe place.”
“No, I’m not getting up to give you a ride to school. You should have set your alarm.”
“We were just sitting in the room, praying. Some people were crying. We were thinking, ‘We’re in here, come rescue us.’ I heard a boy cry, ‘Please, don’t shoot me,” then another voice and a gunshot.”
“I’m too busy to come to your game. Can you get a ride home with somebody on the team?”
“Our teacher was so awesome. She helped us so much, she kept such a cool head, even though she was going through the same thing. Her husband was a teacher in the next room and she couldn’t get to him.”
“I just don’t understand your friends. They dress so weird.”
“He put a gun in my face and said ‘I’m doing this because people made fun of me last year.’”
“Don’t bother me now. I’m watching my show.”
“Her name is not on any list. They don’t know where she is.”
“Where do you think the money is going to come from? Get a job!”
A sign held up in a window read: Help. I’m bleeding to death.
“I’ve told you time and time again, the dishes are your responsibility. I’m sick of having to play cop.”
“My sister. He went back to get my sister.”
“If you were where you were supposed to be and doing what you were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“I thought it was a prank for morning announcements. But when I saw how big the gun was, then I knew. I know it had to be real.”
“How many times have I told you, my messages are important. And is that phone permanently attached to your ear?”
“Somebody yelled, ‘Everybody in the room leave now.’ We thought it was a fire.”
“I’ve been through more bomb drills than fire drills. We’ve all been taught to get down and stay down, because it there’s bombs, there might be guns.”
“They were just like ‘We’ve waited to do this our whole lives.’ And every time they’d shoot someone, they’d holler, like it was exciting.”
“We have 2,500 students here at this school. Counselors can’t spend very much time with each one.”
“I wrote goodbye notes to my parents, my sister and my little brother, because I left before he got up… ‘I hope I haven’t taken your love for granted … I’m glad I was the one to go through this and not you … I love you. I hope every time you hear this, it grows in meaning.’”
“We hardly ever see each other anymore, with our crazy schedules. It’s a big deal for us to sit down to dinner together.”
“It still hasn’t sunk in. We hear Columbine High School and I think, “Whoo, hey, I go here.’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m so glad I’m safe here.’”
Bye, honey, I love you. Have a good day at school.
When I wrote the column above, which was published in The Signal newspaper in April 1999, my message was one of perspective. Did we appreciate our kids? Did we ever consider what our last words to them might be? Could we even wrap our heads around the concept of school shootings? Columbine, in all its horror, introduced a reality that we swore we’d never accept.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Yesterday, 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Teachers. Coaches. Students who will never grow up and achieve greatness because a disgruntled 19-year-old student was able to walk into a gun store and purchase an AR-15 assault rifle, then revisit his former campus and fulfill a prophecy he promoted on social media.
Florida law does not allow 19-year-olds to buy beer. They can, however, purchase murder weapons with no problem.
There were warning signs with the suspect. We preach “See something, say something,” but when are we going to take it further than lip service? We know that shootings – not just in schools, but churches, movie theaters and concert venues – are a problem, but what are we doing about it? Now, there are 17 shattered families planning funerals because there is a large group of people who value the right to own firearms more than the rights of human beings to live. (To learn more about the victims of the Parkland shootings, visit http://amp.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article200220844.html)
My hope is that this blog gets at least 24 hours of airtime before there is another incident like this one.
Eighteen years ago, I was trying to make us think twice about how we treat each other. Today, I have the same motive, but the ennui makes me sick to my stomach. That column should have been a standalone, an unusual situation that happened once in a blue moon, but yesterday’s shooting was the 18th in 2018 alone. Today’s journalists are writing those stories and columns again. School shootings have become so routine that there is practically a template for them.
There is something we can do, without removing the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Require responsible gun ownership. Require safety classes and security measures that keep guns away from easy access. We can restrict access to firearms to those with mental illnesses or prior convictions. We can require background checks at EVERY juncture of a firearm purchase, and the same for ammunition. We can eliminate the availability of assault weapons and those that carry more than six bullets. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for civilians to have these kinds of weapons, period.
The change must also happen with our elected officials. Instead of hand-wringing, use those hands to call, write, email, contact your elected officials (find them here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and ask them to force the discussion of the nation’s safety across all party lines. Your state legislators can make changes too. Tell them to make assault rifles harder to get than a license to drive a car. Tell them that 17 dead is 17 too many for us to accept. Fight the resignation that “there’s nothing we can do.” If your officials are in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (and by association, gun manufacturers), vote them out of office in favor of candidates who will take a stand and protect our citizens. If you want to get involved in gun control political action, check out https://everytown.org, an umbrella group that works to promote positive gun safety.
It’s time. It’s time to have the discussions NOW. It’s past time to stop the violence of convenience – where murder weapons are as easy to get as a Slurpee.
Because we all deserve to tell our kids “Bye. I love you. Have a good day at school.”
Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”
Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!