Illinois Representative Danny Davis tragically lost his 15-year-old grandson to gun violence in Chicago recently. Javon Wilson was killed because of a senseless dispute over a pair of basketball shoes. Under the headline of the article I read, there was a subheading with a quote from Davis: “It becomes a part of the culture of an environment that has got to change.”
When I first started reading this article, along with feeling heartbroken for the grandfather and family who lost this child, I thought that this was a politician, a Democrat even, who was looking further into this problem than just the gun issue. However, later in the article, Davis went on to state: “The question becomes where does a 15-year-old obtain a gun? Who let the 15-year-old have a gun and under what circumstances?” He added, “There’s no answer for that except that the availability of guns is so prevalent in America to the point where you almost can’t tell who has a gun.”
And then I knew that he too was missing the real issue here by placing the blame on guns and those who make guns available. Although guns are relevant, they are not the core of the problem.
As a teacher, I have to participate in active shooter drills every year. We get an announcement over the intercom that we are in a “lock-down situation”, and then we have to take action quickly, locking our doors, getting all the students on the floor and out of view from any windows, keeping them silent until we get the “all clear” signal. Even though we’ve only had drills at my school to this point, my heart always skips a beat when my classroom door handle jiggles suddenly. I know it’s just the school police making sure my door is locked, as protocol dictates, not a teenager wanting to kill us, but it’s still nerve-wracking, and I wonder how we got to this point. How did we get to where doing a drill in which we practice hiding from a hypothetical person trying to kill us has become commonplace? The kids go through the motions without a second thought, just as if we were evacuating the building for a fire drill. It’s nothing to them, because they have done these drills in school for almost a decade now. Many people in our society blame the lack of what they see as sufficient gun laws, but doing so misses the target.
My father-in-law grew up in Texas, and he used to have a rifle on a rack in the window of the truck he drove to school. It was there every day. It was accessible every day. And the school knew he had it every day. Yet, it wasn’t fired a single time on school grounds or at another person. Many other kids had rifles in their trucks too, and the same applied to them. Even with typical teen fights and disputes, the students never once thought to grab their guns and shoot anyone. And even with those guns so easily accessible, they never had a lock down drill. This wasn’t because gun laws kept it from happening; it was because people, especially teens, didn’t fathom killing because of anger, hate, revenge, or even discontent.
I remember April 20, 1999 vividly. It was toward the end of my second full year of teaching, and news of what happened at Columbine High School shook this nation. We were shocked as we stayed glued to our TVs, waiting to see the details that unfolded and to learn more about Eric Harris and Dylan Kebold, the two teens that killed 13 people and injured 21 more in their Colorado school.
I felt sick. I was saddened and horrified for the families of the victims, but I felt deeply, deeply sick. How could these two boys – kids the same age as those in my own classes –devise and put into action such an elaborate plan to kill like that? Fortunately, their homemade explosives didn’t all detonate; otherwise, even more people would have been killed. Although there had been other incidents of kids shooting other kids, this was the first one that revealed such a disturbing desire to kill, and to kill so indiscriminately.
Immediately after this incident, we needed someone or something to blame. The blame was scattered around – guns, violent music, violent videogames, violent movies. We all needed something solid and substantive to blame, because we didn’t want to accept that these two boys could have so much darkness and emotional disconnect in their souls to do such a thing.
But that darkness was there, and, based on the countless horrifying incidents since that fateful day, it is spreading. We shake our heads and feel heartbroken and emotionally crushed for the victims and the victims’ families when we hear about another incident, but the shock that reverberated through our nation is gone, so much so that we do have active-shooter lock-down drills as a part of our school routines, just like fire drills or natural disaster drills.
Where some blame insufficient gun laws, others blame the removal of God from schools and society. For me, I see the problem as being a combination of a lot of factors, but it boils down to one main thing – a lack of meaningful communication. We get so busy and wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to connect with people. Sure, we post messages to our 200 Facebook friends. We tweet out our thoughts on certain subjects. We text each other and share Youtube videos. We have constant communication going on, but such little is significant, especially among families. How often do you see a family in a restaurant not talking, each member instead looking at a smart phone or iPad or electronic game?
So many of my students’ parents know what their kids’ grades are, because they check our online grade book every day, but they don’t know what their kids are actually doing in their classrooms. They don’t know what their students think of what they’re learning, because too many parents fail to have meaningful conversations with their children.
Our kids need to learn how to express their real feelings. They need to learn how to disagree with someone. They need to learn how to argue and how to resolve conflicts and compromise, because we don’t always get our way. We live in a world of instant gratification, and kids today struggle with the acceptance of not getting what they want. Look at the college students rioting and protesting the results of an election that didn’t go their way, and look at one teenager willing to kill another to get what he wanted – basketball shoes – because they weren’t given to him instantly. When the solution to a lack of instant gratification is violence, then we need to examine the psyche of our youth.
Now, the school shooting incidents are different than the incident involving Rep. Davis’ grandson. However, the basis is still the same: believing that killing a person is any kind of a solution and then actually doing it. In both situations, there is neither value for life nor remorse or empathy, which is basically inhuman. The ridiculously high murder rate in Chicago is not due to a culture of everyone having guns. It is due to a culture that lacks humanity.
I’m not a huge gun proponent. My wife and I own a .38 that stays locked in a safe, away from our kids, but I’m not a member of the NRA, and I don’t have the desire to accumulate other guns. Many argue that there are certain types of guns that should not be accessible to the public, and I don’t have a strong argument against banning those, except that it’s a slippery slope once you get started with the prohibitions. I have faith in the wisdom of our founding fathers, and I believe that, when in doubt, we should defer to their judgment.
But even if those types of weapons, which the 2nd Amendment currently permits, are available to the public, they remain harmless until a finger pulls the trigger – a finger that is attached to a hand that is attached to an arm that is attached to a body that envelops the darkness of inhumanity that is spreading through young souls in our nation and in our world.
We can take steps to help the disconnected become connected. We can start communicating meaningfully. We can start to help one child at a time understand that taking human life is not a solution to their problems. We can make an attempt to end or at least limit that creeping darkness.
Or we can simply ban guns, deluding ourselves that we are even coming close to solving the problem – like just putting a bandage on a cancerous sore.
There you go, Sweetie. All better.