By Benin Lemus
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, in the 1980s. A relatively big city, many of the residents hailed from more rural parts of the state. Fishing, hiking, and camping were a way of life. So were guns. It was not unusual for people to own guns—my parents owned one. Some had them for sport or hunting, others for protection. In the 11 years that I lived there I cannot recall one school shooting.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and in that time there have been more mass shootings than I can recall. School shootings? I believed there couldn’t possibly be another one after Columbine. Or Sandy Hook. But every year students, faculty and staff have been terrorized and victimized by gun violence. Umpuqua Community College.
My students tell stories; stories of their own brushes with mortality. They’ve been robbed and threatened with guns. At least one has been shot. He lived. In my 15 years of teaching in two different communities, we’ve had at least a half dozen “lock downs” when there’s been police activity in the neighborhood or shots fired. I worked at a school where someone brought a gun to campus. Thank goodness a student “saw something and said something” and nothing happened, except for the resulting fear and confusion. Why would anyone do this? Maybe he was going through something and it got to be too much. My students asked questions and tried to find their own answers.
We need a deeper conversation: the violence that blankets our society speaks to the wounds we carry as a nation. I see it in the faces of my students and I read it in their writing. When we discuss school shootings — in the same way that we talk about war — the conversation circles back to the hurt and misunderstood emotions that people cannot express. So many of us feel wounded: from our past or our present conditioning. Some of us allow the future — with all of its uncertainty — to harm us. Politicians, T.V. pundits and aspiring politicians want us to own more guns. Teachers, security guards, civilians. All of us. Armed. They want us to believe that if we all have guns we are safe because as “responsible gun owners” we can “neutralize” the threat when it occurs. Guns will not cure what ails us.
When students walk into a school building, the adults in charge of much of what happens in those eight to ten hours on campus. We must protect them, inspire them and nourish them with ideas to change the world and their community. When they leave at the end of the day, we want them to believe that a better, safer society awaits and that yes, all wounds can be healed.
Our children can heal the nation. We must show them the way.