“I’d jump in front of a bullet if it meant I’d save someone else.”
The words stopped me in my tracks.
“Please, don’t be a hero. You’re my only son,” was all I could say.
I’d never heard something so brave, or terrifying from my little boy. To be fair, my “little boy” is a man now. He’ll be 18 in a couple of weeks. Still, he’s my baby and the words shook me, leaving me in angry tears.
I wondered if my father had said the same thing at the tender age of 17 when he left high school to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The only thing he ever wanted to be was a soldier. He was prepared to do what must be done for his country—no matter the consequences.
“I would take a bullet to save the life of another human being.”
Did those words leave my father’s lips as he prepared for war? Could he speak such a thing to his mother? Or, would it have left her in tears, too? Mothers don’t want to think about our young men going off to war or jumping in front of bullets.
When my son said he’d take a bullet, I believed him with my whole heart. The only times he’s ever been in trouble in his young life, he went down protecting or defending someone else. He stands up for the underdogs. He loves his friends fiercely. He will do anything he can to help someone else, even when it hurts him. That’s the kind of compassionate, selfless young man he is.
Yes, my son sounded like a brave soldier that day. But, he wasn’t talking about deploying to a distant warzone. He wasn’t talking about taking a bullet for one of his brothers who fought beside him in combat. No, my son wasn’t going away to war. He was going to his high school in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared to take a bullet to save a classmate in the event of a mass shooting.
“I’d charge down the hallway at some asshole with a gun if I thought I could stop him.”
His words filled me with pride—and dread. These are thoughts my brave, sweet son should not have in his 17-year-old psyche. These are things kids just shouldn’t have to think about at all.
When I was a kid, we had fire drills to make sure everyone knew how to get out of the building in case of a fire. We had tornado drills to make sure everyone knew how to get to a safe zone to tuck and cover. We had evacuation drills on the bus to learn how to get out quickly in an emergency.
We did not have active shooter drills. Active shooter drills did not exist when I was in school.
Back then, our faculty watched the perimeters of our campus. They made visitors sign in at the office, and made sure the dangers of the world didn’t make it to our halls and classrooms. It was easy then because the bad guys with the guns were outsiders. They were easy to spot because they were out of place inside the walls of our school.
Back then, the bad guys with guns weren’t students.
Tomorrow, my son’s school district has closed in response to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They want to gather all of their staff, faculty, resource officers, and leadership team to revisit and revamp our school safety protocols and policies. While I appreciate the proactive approach, I absolutely hate that it has to be this way.
When I received the email from the school district announcing the closure, I went to social media to talk to other parents, curious if we were the only district, or if others had done the same thing. Our district stated there have been 18 shootings in the past six weeks in American schools. This began a Facebook debate about what exactly qualifies as a “school shooting,” since in some of the 18 instances in which a weapon was fired on a school campus didn’t end with injured or dead students.
What in the whole, entire, holy actual f*ck are we doing, America?
Have we become so numb to the violence in our culture that we now need to quantify in bloodshed or lives lost what “counts” as a school shooting? Or, can we just for a minute agree that if someone is firing a weapon on school property, that’s not okay? Even if no one was hurt, the potential for danger was present and real—and for f*ck’s sake, when is having a gun in a school ever okay?
Before we jump on the gun control bus, let me state very clearly my position on that. It’s basically the same as my position on everything: power to the people. The more you try to take guns away from the good guys—the law-abiding citizens who go through the proper channels to purchase guns legally for protection, recreation, or hunting—the less good guys we’ll have with guns. But, the bad guys? They’ll still get their guns on the street, or by force, or however they can—just like they do right now.
Unarming the good guys is not the way to take guns away from the bad guys. And personally, I’d like to know there are some good guys out there with weapons, just in case we need them.
Every time there is another school shooting, the gun control debate ignites. And while I think it’s important to have that conversation, I also think we’re missing the root cause of the issue.
It’s fine for responsible adults to own guns. It’s not fine for kids to have access to them without adult supervision. Period. That’s one question I need answered. How do the kids who shoot up their schools get their hands on these weapons in the first place? Do their parents know that they have access to deadly weapons? Do the kids get the weapons from the parents?
Where are the parents?
Right after the gun control debate, we go to the other classic question: where are the parents? It’s easy to judge, to assume they must be absent, or abusive, or just plain irresponsible and reckless. But, what if they’re not? What if they are just like us? What if our kids aren’t so different from their kids?
This isn’t an “us and them” issue, as much as we would love to put that space between ourselves and the parents of the kids who have done these terrible things. We have to stop blindly blaming them. Honestly, we really need them. We need their knowledge, their insight, their shock, and their regrets. We need to know what they saw, what they experienced before their children became the kids who killed their classmates.
Their stories might be the key to predicting and preventing the next horrible act of student violence.
Are these kids abused when they’re little? Are they bullied by other students, or treated unfairly by teachers? Are they mentally ill? Strung out on drugs? Are they desensitized from years of violent video games, movies, and television shows? Do they just snap under the sheer weight of their lives?
Maybe I’m naïve, but I just cannot accept the idea that any child is born with this kind of malice and hatred in their precious little heart. I have to believe they learn it. Maybe it comes from bad guys who inflict pain directly upon them. Or, maybe they absorb it from the rampant disregard for humanity that seems to dominate our bullsh*t culture. Maybe there’s something even darker at work here that I can’t fathom.
I don’t know how it happens. I just know we have to figure it out. We have to fix this now—and no amount of thoughts and prayers is going to cut it. Enough with that. We don’t need anymore thoughts and prayers. We need action, and real, dirty, horrible conversations about the process that converts an innocent little child into a cold-blooded killer.
How do these kids become the kids who murder their peers? And how can we reach them before they become school assassins?
That’s the conversation I hope our school district will have tomorrow. Are there warning signs? Can they tell which students might have violent tendencies? Is there any way to predict an event like this?
How do the kids get the guns in the first place, and how do they get them into the school building?
Do we need TSA-style security checkpoints in all entrances of our public high schools?
What will it take to end this madness and keep our kids safe?
This is the discussion we need to have—all of us. School officials, law enforcement, parents, and maybe most importantly, the students. How can we all work together to make sure our schools never end up on the evening news?
My son will graduate in a few short months. He should be focused on his grades and getting ready for college in the fall. He should be thinking about prom, graduation, his birthday celebration, and plans for the weekend. Instead, he is planning how to strategically take down an assassin in the halls of the very place he should go every day to feel safe and concentrate on his future.
Hearing my son talk about his affluent high school like a war zone made me realize how much trouble our kids are in. I’m proud of our school district for taking time to make sure they’re doing all they can to keep our kids safe. I just hope they’re going beyond rules and procedures, and getting to the heart of the human element of this kind of violence.
The schools can’t do it alone, and they don’t need our thoughts and prayers. They need our support and our candid conversation. They need us to be active and engaged in our kids’ lives, and the lives of their friends—to be present enough to know if they are struggling with something.
They need us to show up and talk to our kids about the hard things that none of us want to think about.