On March 24, 1998, I listened to an answering machine message from my sister that simply said, “Mom is OK. Turn on CNN.” I ran to the television and immediately knew my mom was fine because it was her voice coming out of the speaker. There had been a school shooting in Arkansas. In my hometown. And my mom was on television because she was the administrative assistant who answered the main telephone line at Westside School District.
Over the next day, I would learn what happened from the news and from constant phone calls to my dad and sister. Our family friend Shannon Wright died after being shot while protecting her students. She was a young teacher and mother and was as kind and good as they come. Four little girls, Natalie Brooks, Paige Ann Herring, Stephanie Johnson and Brittany Varner, were killed as they walked outside with their friends and classmates after one of the shooters pulled the fire alarm. Others, including my beloved social studies teacher, had been shot and were recovering in the hospital. I went home from Fayetteville to Bono to attend Shannon’s funeral. I will never forget the looks of shock and of unimaginable grief.
The effects of that shooting still radiate out from Westside Middle School. Those are not my stories to tell, but what I can tell you is that for many years, my mom, who still works at the school district, received calls from the media every time another school shooting happened. I don’t know if those calls still continue. I try not to ask her because, even as a 40-year-old woman, it is hard for me to see my mother, my protector, cry. Selfishly, I try to avoid the topic, as it is almost too hard to bear the thought of what happened that day to those four little girls and their brave teacher.
This March we will mark 20 years since the Westside shooting. Twenty years later, we live in a country consumed by a love of guns. Assault rifles and handguns are given places of
Despite what the NRA wants you to believe, most of us who are calling for more gun control, the repeal of the Dickey Amendment or even a national dialogue about gun control are not anti-gun. My family owns guns. I’m not against guns. What I am against is refusing to acknowledge we have a problem. A problem of elevating guns above all else that prevents us from even having a discussion about how to keep our children from being massacred at school. While Congress refuses to act or even have the debate, elementary school students perform mass shooter drills. Politicians run for office beholden not to the American people, but to the NRA. We have a candidate for governor who wears a gun brooch on her lapel. Tell me we don’t have a problem. Tell me more about those thoughts and prayers.
Earlier this month, I registered my daughter for kindergarten. A good friend of mine suggested I buy an L.L. Bean or Lands’ End backpack for her because they are so durable. Instead, I’m wondering if I should buy one of the bulletproof backpacks I have seen advertised, so my little girl will have something to hide behind if the shooting starts. I do not want her becoming used to metal detectors and fences and searches. Schools should be full of books and art and learning, not police and guns and fear.
The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed in a school shooting last week, have joined the chorus of those who have had enough. Enough of politicians and the NRA who have a vested interest in fear and discord. Enough of the same hands folded in prayer that are otherwise outstretched to collect campaign contributions from the NRA and gun lobby. It’s time for us as a country to figure out how to balance our Second Amendment freedoms with the safety of our children and family. It’s time to repeal the Dickey Amendment and end its chilling effect on gun violence research. It’s time to put our children’s right to life and liberty over that of owning a gun that can mow down hundreds in less than a minute. It’s time to do something so that no community has to bear the unimaginable grief for their lost children and their lost innocence. It’s time.