I listen to the radio in the car on the way to work, and there are tears streaming down my face. I call my husband and he is also crying. I see my kids and I hug them until they ask me to stop. I lie in bed and I close my eyes and I try not to think of what it must have been like in one of those classrooms. My imagination keeps wandering there and I can’t sleep. I want to climb into my children’s beds and curl my body around them.
I do not know the answer to any of this, obviously, and anyone who says they do is lying. It is a complex problem, and the answer is therefore complex. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it and stumble towards some kind of understanding.
Yes, I happen to think part of the solution might be to more strictly regulate guns. But as a person who has taught hundreds of adults from all sorts of backgrounds for the past seven years, I can tell you this. There are a lot of people in this world who are on the verge, who are traumatized and battered and, yes, sometimes mentally ill, who do not have access to the resources they need. I know, because many of them are my students.
Three years ago, a student I was mentoring through a college program sent me a video of a realistic animation of David decapitating Goliath. He told me that he was David, that I was Goliath. He taped a broken heart to my office door. He sent me long, complicated rants about how I didn’t give him enough attention, about how he knows my mother loved me, about my children, about my husband. He was eventually removed from the campus, but what, really, is stopping him from returning? Nothing.
This student was clearly mentally ill. He shook when he talked to me. He couldn’t make eye contact. He had tried to get help, but his parents were not supportive, and he was constantly put on waiting lists, told to come back later, given phone numbers, referred and referred and referred away.
At the college where my husband teaches, a student made a threat and, fortunately, they arrested him at his home with a bag full of guns before he could act on it. Every semester, I have a student who I could see snapping. How many other instructors or health care professionals or other people who work closely with a variety of people can say the same? I’ll bet nearly all of them. Sometimes, they come to me and ask me for help, and I do the only thing I know to do: refer them to a place that I know doesn’t have enough resources. I look over my shoulder when I walk to my car.
Even in the most ideal situation, you can’t force a person to get help. And no matter how much we regulate guns, a really intent person can likely get his or her hands on one. There’s a percentage of this we can’t, no matter what, control. But given that we are the industrialized nation with the highest rate of gun violence (coupled with the highest rate of mental health problems), given the fact that we have a disturbing history of mass shootings, I think we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves.
Bringing God into classrooms isn’t going to actually help or stop anyone who is on the verge, Mike Huckabee, though it does allow you to conveniently avoid actually addressing the problem in any effective way. Condemning the man as an Autistic Loner and deeming him “other” isn’t going to stop this, either.
The odds that this would happen in our community are still extraordinarily low, but, if we are honest, we will admit that the problem is all around us, that it is complex, that we need to search for understanding, and, yes, address it. Or we can just, you know, keep watching Honey Boo Boo just as soon as regularly scheduled programming resumes.