I remember the first time I heard about a gun being taken into a school, and the children who were killed. The sadness and shock still linger in my heart as if it were yesterday, not sixteen years ago. I was barely 15 years old at the time. I was in high school, and oh, so proud! The students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, were the same age and older. But age did not prevent tragedy from changing their lives forever on Tuesday, April 20, 1999.
Many other lives changed that day, also; my life was one of them. As Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked through the halls with guns, firing off 188 rounds of ammunition, they didn’t just change lives in Colorado; they changed lives around the world and instilled fear throughout the nation.
Even when I was a child, I had a great compassion for children. I was a “stick-up for the little man” and “stand up to the bullies” kind of kid. I began distrusting adults from a very young age, but I believe in the innocence of children, and have always felt compelled to defend and protect them.
When I went to school, it was the safest place in the world, I thought! Children fight, fuss, pick on one another, and then bounce back. Teachers are there to save the day and protect them! No one could hurt us . . . right? I was wrong.
At the end of my sophomore year…
I learned that children can kill.
I was no stranger to mass destruction and horror at that point in my life. I am an Oklahoma girl. April 19, 1995, just four years before, I sat in vocal music class and waited for the teacher to arrive. It was my first class of the day, and my favorite! I remember the look on my teacher’s face as he walked in the door, head down, heavy laden, and looked up to greet the class. That day I learned something, too, as bombs shook our city and claimed the lives of 168 people.
I learned that adults can kill.
In both of these moments in history, I also remember how the world seemed to stop. I remember how teachers, friends, parents and students stood speechless, or cried for strangers — true tears! I remember how shocked we were that a gun was even in the hands of a child, much less found in our schools. We stood in awe, disgust and terror. We were enraged! We sought justice! We sought protection! We vowed: “Never again!”
And when our city was attacked at the hands of terrorists, we cried as a nation. We cried for the deaths, for the fear, but, most of all, we cried for the children. We built a memorial. We lined the fence with stuffed animals and photos. We lit candles and lined the sidewalks with art. We joined hands in prayer, hugged and cried together. We guarded our children from pictures that flooded the news. We watched speechless and they sifted through the ashes and dust. We were enraged! We wanted revenge!
It shook our foundation. It rattled our security. It threatened our lives, our children, our families. Again, even then, we vowed the same: “Never again! We are The United States of America! We will not be shaken! We will stand and defend!” There wasn’t a soul in the city who didn’t scream it. We raised our colors, lowered our flags, removed our hats, put our hands on our hearts, and we pledged our allegiance to the red, white and blue. And then what happened? We forgot.
Maybe that’s why May 24, 2014, we added another school shooting to our list, and 100 other school shootings before that.
What happened to our rage? What happened to our fight? What happened to protecting our children, our sons, our daughters, our neighbors? We became accustomed. We sat back and watched. The more often it happened, the more normal it became, until we grew comfortable and complacent. It’s not our fault… right? Wrong.
There is something to be said for a nation that sees guns in the classrooms and children lying dead at their parents’ feet, and does not rise to stand against it! We might as well be holding the gun, as a nation, as we quickly seek to justify, explain and deflect it! We blame the children. We blame the parents. We blame mental health. We blame bullies, drugs, video games and television. We simply shake our head and turn the channel, or scroll past the news on our social network feeds.
We don’t stop dead in our tracks anymore. We are no longer taken aback by it. We don’t mourn as we used to, nor do we invest too much thought. “Kids these days have no respect!” we scream, as if we are not the people who lead them. We create trending hashtags and divert attention to women and sexual assault. We take advantage of the latest trending cause “#YesAllWomen” we type and send, putting anything after the tag because it helps us gain attention. And in the days to come, we’ll dismiss it, while our children continue paying the price. Enough is enough!
If we are not willing to focus on protecting our children, even if it costs us our guns, then we do not deserve them, America!
My daughter is approaching 11 months, and I fear that one day she won’t see guns as dangerous, but as necessary; I fear that she’ll be taught that violence is normal, and to live in fear. I fear that my daughter will not know what it’s like to attend school and feel safe. I fear I will witness my daughter’s death before she has even lived her life. I’m not okay with that! We, as parents, we, as a nation, need to join together and face the facts:
People pull the trigger.
We can continue to wave them proudly with pride, and defend our “right to bear arms.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in that right! But when we make it normal, and discount it as expected, when we put a gun in the hands of our children at the age of 5, and justify it with “they’ll need to learn someday” or “it’s just the world we live in today,” then we have lost our focus on account of our pride! It will be our children, the future of this very nation, who pay those costs!
When I was 15, I remember thinking to myself that what I was hearing about would be a part of history one day.
I never imagined we would allow it to become a way of life.
Photo via Chambers Visual