By Cameron Vickrey
For the San Antonio Express-News, published here
I had babies when Sandy Hook happened. They were one and two-years-old. I remember rocking them both to sleep, sobbing over them. My only consolation was this would be the last straw. They’ll fix this before my babies are in school.
And then I moved on. I have chosen to be numb to every school shooting since then. Even now, when Sandy Hook Promise campaigns appear in Facebook and YouTube ads, and their parents make impassioned pleas for us not to look away, I do. I mute the TV. I click out of the ad. I can’t bear to witness their pain. I’d rather pretend that was an anomaly.
Well, it’s been 10 years since Sandy Hook. Since Parkland in 2018, there have been 119 school shootings. We have to come to terms with the inevitable. There is no “they” that will fix this. No one’s coming to our rescue, or to the rescue of our babies. Opponents of gun reform are counting on our preference for numbness. They need us to forget, to look away, to refuse to bear the pain of persistence.
Look at how Sen. Mitch McConnell talks about it: After the House passed a package of gun safety reforms earlier this month, he said that members of the bipartisan Senate group were “hoping to actually get an outcome that will make a difference in the areas of mental health, school safety and things that are related to the incidents that occurred in Texas and Buffalo.”
He couldn’t even say what the incidents were. He wouldn’t won’t even say what the “things related to the incidents” are. I’ll say it. The “things” are guns. The “incidents” are the mass murder and mutilation of the most innocent people — children.
McConnell was already coaching us into how to go numb. He wants us to keep our focus on mental health and school safety.
I’ve seen firsthand the ways that school districts prioritize the safety of their students. After Sandy Hook, my school district passed a bond that renovated schools to make sure that every person entering could only come in through a security vestibule.
They instituted clear backpack policies after a gun was found at school. They responded accordingly and appropriately during the pandemic to keep our schools safe. They evaluated how the presence of police officers affects the well-being of our students of color and balanced that with the constant and growing need for security.
Schools should not need to be more secure than they are. I would like us to make an effort to preserve not only our children’s lives, but their sense of a carefree childhood. I want schools to be a safe haven, where instead of fearing they might be gunned down, they can let their guard down. At school, children should be free from the stresses that burden so many at home.
Overall, schools are plenty safe. Overall, kids who struggle with mental health aren’t the problem. Maybe some schools need safety updates, and maybe some kids need an intervention. But the real danger is the unnamed “things” related to the unspeakable “incidents.”
When my first daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher told the class that the lockdown drills they were practicing were in case a wild animal was loose in the school.
That same year, my daughter was in our living room when the morning news was on. There was a report of a school shooting. She overheard an interview explaining how the school and the children were prepared because of their active shooter lockdown drills. She, at five years old, immediately made the connection. She realized then that the most threatening wild animal might not be a lost coyote, but one of her own species.
I am grateful for this potential bipartisan Senate agreement to encourage red flag laws and beef up background checks. It might save some lives. But let’s not pretend this progress checks the box for gun safety or solves the problem of mass shootings in this country. This is merely the first step. For there to be more after this, we cannot let ourselves do what we want to do and go numb. We have to stay angry and persist.
Cameron Vickrey is the director of communications and development for Fellowship Southwest, a faith-based organization that serves and advocates for people in the Southwest. She has three daughters in NEISD schools.