One of the endearing images of childhood is Linus sucking his thumb and holding his baby blanket, so if you’re looking for a novel baby gift, here’s an idea: how about “The Bodyguard”? Heads up: it doesn’t come in the traditional pink and blue, but rather, neon orange. When your child isn’t holding it, it can be strapped onto his back, like a backpack. Did we mention that it can protect him from falling debris? Not surprising since the manufacturer is based in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain, often in the form of killer tornadoes. Here’s the kicker: it costs $1,000. That’s because the manufacturer claims that it’s made from the same material in protective gear used by law enforcement and the military and it can protect your child from a 9 mm bullet.
Doesn’t it make you wonder that we survived childhood at all, bouncing around in the back seat of a car with no seat belts on, or sleeping in cribs with slats wide enough for our heads to become stuck? However, this new product takes the concept of protecting our children to a whole new level, and sadly, it’s a sign of our times, with school shootings becoming, in the words of President Obama, the norm in this nation.
I would take it one step further and say that the frequency of on-campus violence has produced not only frustration, but almost a feeling of resignation for some, the sense that oh well, at least this time there are only two people dead, instead of an entire classroom full of six-year-olds. “Only two” is not acceptable on any level, but especially to families whose loss cannot be measured. One life lost to violence in school is one life too many. As our president declared this week, in the wake of the latest school shooting in Oregon, we as a nation are duty-bound to do some soul searching on this.
I don’t trust our government to accomplish anything in this arena in any timely fashion. The gun lobby is too strongly entrenched in Washington, political leaders cower at the might of the NRA, and the gun culture in our country is simply too strong. Think John Wayne and the square-jawed icons of our wild, Wild West, and Hollywood’s embellishment of the hero culture of war. Moreover, the right to bear arms is protected by our Constitution, the second of the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. Short of a tsunami that turns Washington, D.C. upside down, I don’t see enough political will to change the way this nation manages personal firepower. Too many more lives will be lost if we wait for our leaders to effect any meaningful change.
The common denominator in many of these school shootings is someone feeling marginalized, depressed, or out for revenge because of bullying. Despite anti-bullying programs, counseling, and other educational programs, the reality is that kids are still kids, and they can be mean, thoughtless, and at times, stupid. There will always be children who feel left out and others who may suffer from mental illness that is undiagnosed or untreated. The pressures of social media can fuel a sense of inadequacy and can provide a public forum for provocative and nasty behavior perpetrated by young people whose brains are still not yet fully developed.
We cannot stand by, throw up our hands, and accept weekly school shootings as the new norm. Mothers (and fathers) have the will to change the world. We need more and better treatment programs to recognize and treat depression, more and better educational programs to combat bullying, and most of all, instruction and support at home, combined with a constant check-in process to make sure that your kids are not being bullied or being bullies themselves. They should feel that they are accepted and have a meaningful direction in life, a purpose, a goal. They should also know that they have people who love them and will stand up for them.
But it has to go even further. In addition to parents and teachers forming a tighter safety net, law enforcement needs better training. Elliott Rodger, the now infamous “Virgin Killer,” who posted a number of writings and videos online before going on his murderous rampage in southern California, had parents and a therapist who knew of his brewing rage. But the police officers who were dispatched to check on him were fooled by his calm outward demeanor and went away without searching his apartment for the cache of weapons that he would eventually use in his killing spree. The “what-ifs” in that case are heartbreaking.
According to law enforcement, the school shooter in Oregon this week had an AR-15 rifle and a brown paper bag filled with more than 20 fully loaded magazines. He also had knives. Where is he getting this stuff? How is it even allowed? Truly frightening, and yet all too believable.
As with all things, there has to be a tipping point that spurs earth-moving change. Shouldn’t that have been Sandy Hook, when 20 beautiful first-graders and six adults were gunned down? Or Columbine, where two students murdered 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves? That happened in April, 1999, when Will was only three months old. In the short span of his lifetime so far, too many more students have died in school, in what should be one of the safest places of all for our kids.
We cannot continue this way as a country. As parents, we cannot stand by and send our children to school every day wondering if they will come home safely. The change has to come from parents, children, and educators in a grassroots movement that starts in every home and classroom and swells across the country. The change will come slowly but way faster than anything politicians can accomplish.