Last night my family sat around the dining room table and talked about guns.
Me: [to kids] I’d like to know your thoughts on this. From your perspective as public-school students and graduates, what is at the root of so many campus shootings? Is it access to guns?
Son #3: I come out of English class every day and the hallway is packed with students. I often think about how many people a person could kill in just a few minutes. What would we do? Where could we go? We’d all be sitting ducks.
Me: [trying hard to stay calm] What could be done to make sure your English hallway was safe? What would you do if you were in charge?
Son #3: I’m not sure, mom. All I know is that the students at my school would not be surprised – at all – if something like that were to happen to us very soon. It’s just too easy.
Me: [failing badly at staying calm] What do you think would compel someone to enter a school and shoot down his teachers and classmates? How would he get access?
Son #3: There are many ways to get into our school, it wouldn’t be hard. And obviously, something wrong has happened to that person to make him so angry at the world.
Sidenote: All four of my kids currently attend, or recently graduated from a public school(s) in Texas. There have been ups and downs with this choice, certainly, but as for the teachers in our community, they are the Real Deal. With only a few exceptions, our public school teachers have proven to be first-class educators and top-notch humans.
I mention this because, increasingly, good teachers are being asked to count the cost in a new way. When might they be called to be a different kind of hero? When will they be asked to sacrifice everything? Is the emotional toll worth it? Is a new profession in order?
Son #1: I agree. It’s not only about access to guns – it’s not that easy or simplistic. I think there are a thousand layers to this problem.
Me: So what layer would you fix first? What would you tackle, right off the bat, so students and teachers wouldn’t encounter harm in this specific way?
Son #1: [long pause] Step One would be honesty. A problem on every campus today is that that there are a handful of troubled kids who clearly don’t want to be there. They feel caged; forced; condemned to an institution they hate, and their antagonism towards authority and their peers is hard to ignore. But it’s not ok to admit out loud that these students might pose a real threat.
I know there are plenty of reasons why a teenager might feel isolated and angry, but that doesn’t change the reality that everyone around him must walk on eggshells so as not to set him off. It doesn’t make sense for everybody on campus to suffer that daily strain.
Me: So what would you do? What would be your solution?
Son #1: I’d give those students who are in a dark place what they think they want. I’d give them their freedom. I’d let them leave school – drop out – until they were ready to engage in their own education. This is only fair to all those who really do want to teach and learn unhindered.
Son #2: Another problem is that many boys leave school to go live in a fantasy world of violent video gaming. All day and night they view people through a scope – as objects to be ambushed, attacked and destroyed for sport. And if a troubled or angry boy loves the way he feels in this world; if he is shaped, thrilled, and rewarded by it, then are we really surprised when he decides to live out his fantasy?
Me: So what would you do? What would be your solution if you were the principal, or the governor, or the president? No more video games?
Son #2: I think the really violent videos are a bigger problem for some young people than anyone really wants to admit. If we determine it’s the right thing to outlaw certain types of guns, then we should also, at the same time, make certain types of videos illegal. That just makes sense to me.
Me: [to daughter] What do you think about all this love?
Daughter: I think we need to pray. We need to pray for help. We need God to help us because we can’t figure this all out on our own.
And so we did.
Our Father, please help us, we pray. Light our path and guard our steps as we seek your will and wisdom in difficult things. Thank you for giving us a brave Good Shepherd who doesn’t shrink back from suffering and evil. Help us to follow him closely.
In you alone, O God, we put our hope and our trust. Into your loving hands, we commit our minds, our bodies, and our souls. Help us, we pray. Amen.
Peace to you and yours,