Last week we, as a country, were witnesses once again to another school shooting, this time in Nashville, Tennessee. I must admit to you that while I was concerned for the victims and their families, my mind came home to Muscatine. It was only two weeks ago that a false threat of gun violence targeted Muscatine High School. I know some of you lived this experience that day as a student, staff member, or of course a parent. What must have been going through the minds and hearts of the students and staff during that traumatic time when they thought that someone was coming for them? It wasn’t only the high school that went on lockdown. Saints Mary and Mathias School and Mulberry Elementary School also went on lockdown as a precaution. Young children and the staff at those schools too know the fear of wondering if they will be safe. I hope to high heaven our children do not have to hear the words, “this is not a drill,” ever again.
We thought it was going to be us on the evening news on March 21. What happened in Nashville could have happened to us. Some may even say it is a matter of time before it happens to us.
One thing we did learn is that our law enforcement and staff at the schools are prepared for this kind of event. I applaud their timely response to this recent threat and am in awe of their selflessness. At the same time, I wonder what it says about our lives that we have to be ready for a threat against our children as they go to school? What’s more, are we resigned to living life this way?
The statistics about children and gun violence are staggering. While we are keenly aware of school shootings, this isn’t only about school shootings. Guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control. Yes, you read that right–guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens. It’s not just school shootings that are a danger to children. It is guns that aren’t stored safely. It is not a bad guy with a gun, it is a child who finds a gun and thinks it’s a toy. 4.6 million children live in a home where a gun is loaded and unlocked. This of course can lead to horrific accidents such as a child getting a hold of a gun and killing a family member or a friend. In addition, more than 80% of child or youth deaths by suicide involve a gun that belonged to a family member. We know this happens to us; it happens in our community.
Yet here we are offering only thoughts and prayers, which are not enough. We have a responsibility to do something, to act. Organizations that seek to educate and eradicate gun violence have been vital in fighting for common sense gun regulation and gun safety. However, persistently weak gun laws make me wonder if our elected officials hear us.
What if we understood thoughts and prayers as not only private laments and petitions but as something more? Frederick Douglass, that great African American abolitionist once said, “I prayed for freedom for 20 years, but received no answer, until I prayed with my legs.” What if we prayed with our legs? If you have any ideas about how we might make our community even safer for our children and youth, or if you have a story you would like to share about how gun violence has affected you, I would really like to hear it. You can reach out to me at [email protected]. Through promoting gun safety at home and advocating for prudent gun regulation at the state and national level, we can help make our wonderful community of Muscatine a safe haven for our children and youth, and indeed us all.