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The nightmare started as I'd guess many parents' do: a faceless gunman was stalking the halls of my son's school, hovering outside the locked doors of classrooms. He got to the Max's and started spraying bullets through the glass window. Max, in a corner with his classmates, screamed. He did not understand what was going on. Then I woke up.
Max's school, like most any in America these days, has safety procedures in place should a mass murderer show up at the door. But unlike other high schools, the students in Max's school are more defenseless than their peers. Max, for one, would not be able to crouch down and hide in a space because of his balance challenges. During the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a girl told a friend to hold a book in front of her face. When I heard that I thought, Max would not be able to do that because of his challenges with holding stuff.
My nightmare was parents' real-life one in this country last week. In the end, teens of all abilities at the Parkland, Florida high school were defenseless in the face of a man bearing an AR-15 rifle—similar to the military-like kind used at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. As people sent prayers, students at the Parkland high school and their families have spoken out to say prayers and good thoughts are not enough, and have made widespread pleas for gun control. "I do care that our Congress and our President outlaw these technologically sophisticated tools of murder just like every other civilized country on this planet," wrote Abbie Guttenberg Youkilis, whose 14-year-old niece, Jaime, died in Parkland, in a Facebook message to the country. "Failure to act will make our politicians complicit in Jaime's murder."
Posing restrictions on the most deadly types of weapons is one preventative tactic. Another is establishing a national gun registry, much like our country regulates automobiles (Chris Ladd, the former GOP Committeeman, makes an excellent point about this here). I've despaired about the lack of progress, and hope that this time, real change happens. For perspective, I reached out to my friend Noelle Howey, director of cultural engagement at Everytown for Gun Safety. "All of our voices matter," she responded. "We may be at a tipping point right now, led by the brave kids at the Parkland high school and other kid survivors of gun violence around the country, and we need to heed their call to action." Seven things any one of us can do:
Join a group.
I joined Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America last week after a friend posted a link on Facebook. Started in response to Sandy Hook, it demands action from state and federal legislators, companies and institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms. It supports the 2nd Amendment, but also practical solutions. Through the group, which has chapters in all 50 states, you can connect with other parents in the community, find local events and get involved on national and local levels.
Join a rally.
On March 24, families will be marching in the streets of Washington, DC, and in their own communities to demand an end to gun violence, through March For Our Lives—an effort spearheaded by teens from the Parkland high school.
Call your reps.
Share your thoughts on gun control, along with your hopes, with your Congressional representatives. "Whether they're for or against gun safety, your call matters," says Noelle. (Find your rep's contact info here.)
Know the facts.
There's been a lot of talk that mental illness is a key underlying problem with mass shooters. Obviously, you can't walk into a school toting a highly deadly weapon, kill people and be in a sane state of mind. Mass murderers may be paranoid, narcissistic or resentful and hell bent on avenging a wrong. Still, the majority have no defined prior history of mental illness. "It is important to remember that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness," American Psychological Association president Jessica Henderson Daniel said in a statement. "Framing the conversation about gun violence in the context of mental illness does a disservice both to the victims of violence and unfairly stigmatizes the many others with mental illness."
Don't say their names.
Mass killers may hope to gain attention from their crimes. In fact, research has shown that school shootings and mass killings involving firearms are often triggered by similar recent events. After the Aurora, Colorado shooting, parents Tom and Caren Teves started No Notoriety, a nonprofit that challenges the media to limit the name and likeness of individuals already in police custody, among other measures of responsible coverage. As individuals, we can also refrain from naming these shooters in social media.
Tell children to speak up.
"If you see something, say something"—the national campaign started by Homeland Security—applies to students too. In the course of discussing school safety with our children, we can remind them that if they hear students making threats about gun violence or see troublesome photos on social media posted by a peer, they should tell us or another responsible adult.
Teach children to be kind to all kids.
Four years ago, Glennon Doyle at Momastery wrote about one of her son's teachers, who every week asked the students in her class to write down the names of four kids with whom they'd like to sit with the following week. After the kids had left, this teacher would study the slips of paper to see which kids were getting left out. She was identifying, Glennon wrote, "the littlest ones who are falling through the cracks of the class's social life." When had this teacher started doing that? After Columbine. This shouldn't solely be teachers' responsibility—they have enough on their shoulders. Encouraging our children to make connections with peers who are left out or on the fringes—to speak to them at the playground or in the cafeteria, invite them to the birthday party, ask them to join the club—could make a difference in ways we can't even imagine.