That was my school

I woke up early Tuesday morning, January 23rd. I did what I do every morning, I rolled over and opened Facebook on my phone. Only this morning I found “Shooting at Marshall County High School” at the top of my feed. I guess maybe it was shock, but for whatever reason it didn’t really register because I scrolled and there it was again, and again. Eventually I tapped the story and it became real. One confirmed fatality, Governor Bevin tweeted. Later a second student died and it was revealed that 17 others were injured, 14 with gunshot wounds. This was my high school, class of 2009. My little sister graduated class of 2017, just last year.

My sister talked to some of her friends who still attend MCHS. When I called her she could describe details with terrifying visual clarity. Her words are still fresh, and when I close my eyes I can see the chaos she described.

I’ve moved away from Marshall County, but it’s still home and processing that Tuesday is taking time. I spent most of the morning watching the local news via a Facebook stream. Seeing aerial footage of my school while they narrate the event is indescribable. I’ve seen that school. I know that school. But I’ve never seen it like this, from the air, on the national news. This view was completely new and different. I saw it from the distance everyone else sees when these tragedies happen. But this time it wasn’t so distant, it was personal, because that’s my school.

These tragic images aren’t uncommon, we see them all the time. But those are other people’s schools, not ours. When we see these images on TV we don’t usually recognize the bus pickup area, or the tech center. We see the football stadiums, but we don’t see our school’s mascot, “Marshals”. We don’t normally see the parking lots and know exactly where every road goes. But this wasn’t normal, because this wasn’t someone else’s school. This was mine. I grew up there. I saw the road where I first drove a car. My dad taught me to drive a stick shift in that parking lot. I even got yelled at by the vice principal for driving through the bus pickup area once.

Then they flash an image of the empty Commons area, the place where the shooting happened. I was standing there just six months ago, when my sister picked up her diploma. Fighting back tears I pointed at the screen and told my best friend “I used to sit right there waiting for the first bell to ring”. A place of joy, where I would laugh with other students and faculty suddenly became a place of tragedy. I’m heartbroken for those who actually experienced it, for those who try to sleep but relive it in their mind. No person, especially a kid, should have to live through such a senseless tragic act. No parent should worry when they drop off their kid at school.

Wednesday afternoon I asked a colleague,

“Did you see the school shooting yesterday?”
“The one in Kentucky?”
“yeah”, I said, “that was my high school.”

There was a look of shock on his face and eventually he said, “I’m a little ashamed to admit, but I didn’t read the article. I just said, ‘there’s another one.’ and sighed”.

Two 15 year old kids lost their lives while they were at school, but it barely registers as news. Is this normalcy for us? The unfortunate truth is, yes. Yes this is normal. This is the only place in the world where it happens, but for us it is normal.

Governor Bevin addressed the situation professionally asking people not to speculate while there were still unknowns. While James Comer, the congressional representative for Marshall County’s district (KY-1), said in a phone call to the local news station:

“At the end of the day you cannot legislate against evil. […] Criminals, people who are just plain and simple evil are just going to do what they want to do and they’re not going to abide by the law. So I don’t think there was a way in the world that this could have been prevented legislatively.”[3]

He didn’t wait for the police commissioner to release his statement with the number of victims, who the shooter was, or what possible motives the shooter had. Instead, in the most cynical abdication of his role as a legislator, he said “there’s no way this could have been prevented”. The congressman wouldn’t even wait to get all the facts before just dismissing a 15 year old boy as “evil”.

I won’t begin to claim every terrible mass shooting is preventable. And I really wish I could say we’ve got a lot more work to do before we can get there, but the reality is that work hasn’t even started. Because when these tragedies happen too many people throw their hands in the air and claim defeat. They use platitudes — “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” — while dismissing policies proven to reduce gun deaths.

This topic is complicated because there’s not just one problem. The conversation is hard and it’s uncomfortable, but with children being murdered it deserves an honest effort without the platitudes. The first steps make so much sense that it’s actually one of the few places where Americans agree!

Start with some pretty simple proposals: 90% of Americans support requiring a background check for all gun purchases. Seventy five percent of Americans support enacting a 30-day waiting period for all gun sales[1]. Again, I agree these measures alone are not going end all these tragedies. But most Americans believe new gun control laws will reduce the number of mass shootings[1]. And they’re right because easier access to guns leads to higher rates of gun crime. In 2007 Missouri repealed their permit-to-purchase law and by 2010 the consequence was a 23% increase in gun homicides[5].

Seventy percent support requiring all guns to be registered with the police[1]. Seventy seven percent support legislation requiring gun owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit[2]. I grew up in a house with guns, but the guns and ammunition were always stored safely, locked up. Any responsible gun owner already does this.

I can’t describe the feeling of helplessness when I saw my high school that day. How many more communities are going to live through events like this? How many more families are going to lose people they love? Why is it that even when the issue has so much support gun laws are being repealed or allowed to expire? Why are we allowing our representatives to abdicate their responsibilities? Why do we let this happen? This doesn’t have to happen. For me the problem felt pretty distant, but last Tuesday that changed, because that was my school.

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/1645/guns.aspx
[2] https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/11/gun-control-vegas-polls-243647
[3] https://www.facebook.com/WPSDLocal6/videos/10157229250074569/ 1:11:00 (from the end)
[4] https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/recips.php?id=d000000082
[5]https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/_pdfs/effects-of-missouris-repeal-of-its-handgun-purchaser-licensing-law-on-homicides.pdf
[6] http://www.businessinsider.com/american-attitudes-on-key-issues-2017-6