Something strange happened to me the other day. I was feeling profoundly impacted by yet another school shooting and I decided to make it a teachable moment for my Introduction to Sociology class since we were already discussing crime and deviance. As I stood at my podium, having recounted for all 46 of them how I had experienced the shooting at Columbine and began to go into the astounding mass murder/gun violence/school shooting stats, a handful of them dropped off. They put their heads down. They picked up their phones. They dozed off. They stared mindlessly off into the distance: they disengaged. You know what I did? I broke down. It was completely unexpected- I am not a crier and I definitely don’t cry in front of my students or anyone in public really but I cried. I may have even ugly cried. The students responded immediately- heads shot up, guilty looks surfaced on their faces, phones went back below the desk. A few students who were already paying attention started to tear up with me.
As I struggled to get my act together and finish our topic, I was racking my brain trying to decide why I was so overcome with emotion. Was it just raging female hormones? Was it the anxiety sneaking up on me from Columbine? Or was it simply that I felt so connected to a teacher and his students who were gunned down at precisely the exact moment that I was teaching my community college students? As the students left class that day, they kept asking “are you ok?” and giving me that crazy look. I recounted the experience for a teacher friend shortly after and she pointed out that this is a common experience in our discipline- realizing that no one cares about these things that have such a tremendous impact on our daily lives. Soul crushing is how she described it I believe. And it is. But that’s not it either.
Over the last week, I have come to realize that it is desperation. That’s what drove me to break down in front of my class. That is why I cried. What is it going to take for us as a country to do anything about gun violence? Cleary massacres of any scale are not motivating enough. I cried because I don’t want to be a victim of gun violence while I teach what I love, but more than anything I have realized that I cried because I’m a mom. This is not the world I want my children growing up in. This is not an experience that I want them to have. I don’t want them to have to endure active shooter drills just as they do earthquake drills. I don’t want them to fear for their lives or be scared to go to school. I don’t want them to disengage because it is something that happens with such frequency that it just seems normal. This is not normal and it is not okay.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that our current approach and all of the political bickering is not it. I support gun control efforts, and frankly I would be happy to live in a country where owning a gun is not something people feel entitled to or a need for. Logic AND research dictate that the presence of guns equals more violence. You are more likely to accidentally shoot someone you care about or lose someone you love to suicide than you are to use that gun to protect yourself against the criminal you anticipate will be breaking down your door.
Something’s gotta give people. For now, it’s our children and our loved ones giving their lives instead of anyone giving up their guns. Our priorities are broken. That is why my students disengaged. That is why I cried. And that is why I’ll continue to risk ugly crying in front of a group of students in hopes that just a few of them will think more critically about this issue. It’s not just news. It’s not just tragedy. It’s an epidemic and it affects us all- and I’m sick of it.