There is a refrain that has been running through my head: If I choose not to use a car seat, and my son severs his spine in a car crash, I cannot be surprised. If I choose to allow my daughter to ride a bike without a helmet, and she cracks her head on the pavement, I cannot be surprised. If I choose to send my children to school in America, and a school shooting takes place—if my son is shot, or his friend is shot, or his teacher is shot as she shields him and his friend with her body—I cannot be surprised. I don’t know what to do when I reach the end of this refrain.
Since my son was born three and a half years ago, and my daughter two years after that, I have developed a complicated but effective matrix for identifying dangers, and for allowing my fear to lead me toward reasonable defenses. Car seats and helmets, baby gates and life jackets: these are my reasonable responses to the dangers in the world that might harm my children. My fear is healthy, and I don’t allow it to overpower me or my children. All of this is evolution at work, I am sure.
At the same time there are fears I dismiss, fears like shadows, lurking always in my periphery. Leukemia. A texting teenager behind the wheel of a car. If I allowed these thoughts to enter my mind I would be paralyzed by my inability to protect my children. There is nothing I can do to prevent these tragedies, and so I force myself not to think about them; they are not the same as the dangers I fear, and which I guard against as a result.
School shootings, we are told, are tragedies that befall our children. In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012, President Obama said, “We have endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years.” Most recently, a shooting on June 10 at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon left one victim and the shooter dead. Troutdale Police Chief Scott Anderson expressed his condolences for “everyone who will be affected by this tragic incident.”
Since 1996 there have been 129 incidents of a gun being fired on school grounds (either a shooting, or a suicide, for example). Of those, 85 have occurred in K-12 schools, 46—more than half—in just the past three and a half years. We know this, already though. We hear the numbers every time there’s another shooting: how many so far this year, how many since Newtown, since Columbine. Counting these events doesn’t seem to change anything.