It’s been hard to write school news stories this week. I’ve been sitting on a few interviews that I need to write up, but talking about remodeled schools and new learning environments just seems so meaningless in the face of such soul-crushing tragedy that has come out of Texas this week.
This week’s events hit especially close to home for me. In my role here at EPLN, I’ve been inside more schools in the last couple of months than I have in years. My oldest daughter is 9, the same age as so many of the victims. And just last week, in my other job as a firefighter, I attended a training on Hennepin County’s response plan for a mass shooting.
This has made it all too easy in my mind to either put myself in the shoes of responders or to put my daughter in the shoes of the kids huddled in that classroom. I’m sure that many parents are feeling the same this week. I have no doubt that hugs have been tighter and that watching them walk into school has been a little harder.
Maybe if it felt like the murder of these children would result in anything resembling meaningful change, we could find a tiny silver lining in this tragedy. That if this were the last senseless slaughter of grade-schoolers we would have to witness in our lifetime, maybe, just maybe, that would make picturing a room full of broken bodies a little easier to cope with.
But it’s not. It will happen again next year. It will probably happen again this year. There have already been 27 school shootings in 2022. If nothing changes, I’m sure the next decade will see another one that rivals Uvalde or Sandy Hook.
“If nothing changes” is the key phrase, isn’t it? Because through all the grief and sadness, there’s the crushing exhaustion of knowing nothing is going to be done. Of knowing that in the face of a room coated with the blood of tiny corpses, there are pundits and politicians who refuse to question their calcified beliefs and would rather peddle the same cancerous rhetoric while offering up their sanctimonious thoughts and prayers.
It doesn’t take any extraordinary soothsaying powers to know how the next few months will go. Some politicians will advocate for a slate of new gun control measures. Many of these policies, such as universal background checks and red-flag laws, enjoy broad, sometimes overwhelming popular support. Despite this, other politicians will point to how these laws wouldn’t have stopped the Uvalde shooter and use that as an excuse to not support them. Nothing will change, and after a few years of only single-digit shootings, we will have another elementary school stormed and another batch of innocent bodies to pile on the pyre.
One thing is probably true — many of the gun control policies that are often proposed probably wouldn’t have stopped the Uvalde shooter. He probably could have caused just as much carnage with a few handguns as he did with a rifle. He had no history of mental illness, so he most likely would not have been stopped by a red flag law.
Some will take these facts and use them as an excuse to fight any and all new restrictions on gun ownership. As if somehow their lack of applicability to this situation renders them irrelevant to all future scenarios. The opponents to these pieces of legislation only define themselves by their opposition, never by offering up any alternatives. They focus on the mental health of the perpetrator and decry him as “evil” while stalwartly refusing to invest in mental health programs.
The word “evil,” with all the moralistic and religious baggage that term conjures, is an unbelievably unhelpful concept when it comes to helping solve the issue of school shootings. The Uvalde shooter wasn’t born “evil.” He was a troubled youth who was relentlessly bullied through school. Early childhood friends describe him as a very sweet person who eventually became more and more violent. Dismissing him as evil ignores the many opportunities society had to change the trajectory of his life. And, in turn, the lives of all the little people he gunned down in that classroom.
What if schools had the funding for counseling staff to try and help him? What if there were more community programs to connect him with mentors who could provide a positive role model in his life? Or, in the event that he remained a threat to himself and others, maybe then a professional school counselor could have flagged his account, and his subsequent purchase of firearms would have been delayed. Who knows what was going through his head that day. Maybe a simple delay would have been enough to break him out of his dark place and avoid this tragedy.
We’ll never know. The only thing we can know is that if we do nothing, this will happen again. And again. And again. The current situation that we are accepting is this: The price of unrestricted gun ownership and virtually non-existent help for mental health is the occasional butchering of children. If you’re OK with that, then I suppose you can go on living your life and sadly tell yourself that there’s just nothing to be done. But if you would rather live in a world where you don’t have to feel a slight tinge of fear when you drop your kids off in the morning, and when your hug when at pick-up isn’t just a little too tight, maybe the time has come to throw every last option at the problem. No idea too big, no idea too small, no amount of money too much to
Editor’s note: Isaac Kerry is the education reporter for Eden Prairie Local News. He is a father to two daughters in the EP school district.