Guns, Kids, Safety, And Confusion
On November 30th, 2021, approximately 30 miles from my home a High School student brought a gun to school and opened fire on his classmates in Oxford, MI. Not the first school shooting to break my heart and send tense waves of anxiety through my body, but the first so close to home. It is now my turn to feel the aftermath of such tragedy and find a way to parent my children through it with grace and love, finding ways to make them feel safe amidst immense confusion.
Shock and Questions
The initial shock and the million questions at the time of tragedy are what I think of first. As gun owners, who hunt and target shoot with our children, we immediately ask – how did that child have access to a gun? The answer, not everyone uses the same caution we do; not everyone acts responsibly when it comes to firearms. Why would a child act out in such a violent way? The why is what haunts me. How many people and systems failed this child that the only answer became to open fire on his classmates? We need to figure out the answer to these questions. The systems that serve our children need to change so that we address mental health issues, social issues, family issues before they are beyond our control.
In the event of such a traumatic event, the world initially becomes an incredibly scary place. I have a high school freshman. They spent December 1st in discussions of active shooter protocols. In every class, they discussed the minute details of what they would do if it were their school with a shooter storming through the halls. By December 2nd, social media in Oakland County was flooded with threats against local school districts. In an abundance of caution, the superintendent closed the school to allow local law enforcement to investigate the threats. My fifteen-year-old child was coping on Wednesday, but when the school closed Thursday, the fear and anxiety kicked up several notches. School closed on Friday, December 3rd, and we spent our impromptu four-day weekend resting and recuperating in the comfort of home.
Trying to Cope
Due to my own anxiety, I need to limit my immersion into the details of this tragedy. My ability to parent my children would be negatively impacted if I filled my waking hours with news articles and footage. My husband consumes the media and passes along the cliffs notes version. We discuss it together. There is a part of me that admits feeling inadequate shielding myself from the news. My priority is my children. If I fall apart, who holds them together? Parents, we all need to make the choices that work best for our family. It is possible to grieve for and with the community without total immersion into the details. Inform yourself without destroying yourself.
Going Back to School
Especially after school was closed for several days, Monday morning brought with it strange vibes. As we pulled up to the school, we were welcomed by three police cars and six officers. My heart dropped into my stomach, and my body tensed. I knew these officers were present to make the kids feel safe. But the image brought a feeling of foreboding. Looking at my high school freshman, I said, “There is no active threat. These officers want to show you that they are here to help. It is meant to make you feel safe.” She replied with understanding and exited the car to start her day. We are welcomed by officers every day now. I recognize the police chief, something I never expected. We are a small community, and the police department is partnering with the high school and middle school in every way they see fit. Their presence is welcome but also brings with it sadness and trepidation.
What Do We Do After a Shooting?
As my high schooler practices A.L.I.C.E. active shooter drills and my elementary kids run through lockdowns, what is my next move? How do I keep my kids safe? What do they need to know? My heart goes back to the why. I explained to my children that they need to be observant participants in their school community. You are not looking for a gun in a backpack. Instead, you are listening for the kids who are hurting. I impressed upon my children that adults need to know when students say things that sound unsafe. It does not matter if they say they are joking. It’s not a joke, and adults need to know. I spent the most time with my high schooler. Students today are connected on many platforms through the wonders of the internet. They hear and see things. We need our children to share what they know. Then we owe it to them to react to what they are telling us.
Is It About Guns?
The Oxford High School shooting was not the first of its kind. Sadly, it will not likely be the last. I respect the right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms purchased through proper channels. We are those citizens. A fifteen-year-old is not legally old enough to purchase a gun. How do we impress upon adults that they do not give children guns as gifts? It is, in fact, illegal to purchase a gun for someone who is not able to purchase it for themselves. People who do need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. All the regulations in the world do not help us solve a problem if they are not followed. If your child has free access to a firearm, it is your responsibility what happens with that gun. Maybe that will make people think twice about how and where they store their guns. If it takes the threat of prosecution to make a change, so be it.
Is It Our Systems?
Consequently, we need to ask what systems failed. I’ve seen people say – why doesn’t matter—but the why matters significantly. If we do not figure out the systemic issues that cause people to fall so deep into anger, depression, anxiety, and fear that they are willing to take another person’s life, we have failed. Why is it not an easy question? The problem is not simple or straightforward. The solution is not simple or straightforward. This journey will start with confusion and breed more confusion as we go. But as we wade through the confusion, I can only hope we find answers. Answers that move us to make a change. But first, we need to ask the question – WHY?
Tomorrow Let’s Do Better
My response to the Oxford shooting is to do better today than I did yesterday. I will talk to my kids. Encourage them to tell me their dreams, fears, stresses, and anxieties. I can not change the world, but I can be aware and supportive in my own house. My children will know they are loved and in a safe place with me. If they have trouble, I will find them help. If they tell me their friends are having troubles, we will do our best to help them as well. We will remember that life is precious, and our choices have consequences. Today we will do better than yesterday. Tomorrow we will do better than today. Step by step, we will be the change in hopes of making a safer future for us all.