Every time there is a school shooting — regrettably, that is quite frequently in the United States of America — millions of people in this country are plunged into trauma. Most of them are families, friends and communities of the past-and-present victims, the majority of whom were not yet old enough to vote against a system that continually declares that “this is not the time” to address their murders.
Many of the traumatized are school teachers who know that they could be called upon, on any of the 180 days of any school year, to lock down their classrooms or throw themselves in front of military-grade assault weapons to protect the lives of their students. Many are first responders who are called upon to clean up the carnage, transport the shattered bodies, catalogue the spent cartridges that spell horror — or emergency room personnel who try to repair super-human damage to merely-human bodies — or therapists, who wade into the oceans of grief, shock, rage, despair with teaspoons.
I am one of those therapists. On April 20, 1999, my private practice was four miles up the road from Columbine High School. I had Columbine parents and teachers as clients. We were not yet inured to the horror; it was not yet such a common occurrence that only a school shooting with four or more victims (the minimum for a “mass” shooting) got more than a scroll or chyron at the bottom of the television screen. On April 20, 1999, a school shooting of teenagers by teenagers with 15 dead was still enough to shock the country for more than a handful of days.
At 5:30 on that long, awful day, as the first harrowing reports were still coming in, I had my last appointment. My clients were East Berliners who grew up with the Wall and were on the front lines with hammers when it came down. The couple was here on the husband’s work visa; they lived a few blocks from the school. They came with their 15-year-old twins in tow, not wanting to leave them out of their sight. Their disagreements and conflicts that had brought them to my office were far, far in background. Instead, they wanted to talk about violence in America. Why guns were fetishized in this culture. Why legislators allowed this to happen. What I planned to do about it. Where they could move so that their children, mere months from attending Columbine High School, could be safer. Whether they should move back to Germany. (They did, within 30 days.)
Every therapist I know in Denver expressed the fear that settled on all of us like a thick sticky fog: A bright line has been crossed that we will never be able to walk back.
Nineteen years later, here we are. Miles and, tragically, hundreds of dead bodies beyond that bright line.
Score: School shooters: 208 students and teachers dead and an estimated 150,000* child, teen, young adult survivors. Congress: Zero.
In memorium: A partial list of only the mass shootings, where four or more died (not counting those shot who did not die, although many are permanently disabled), starting with Columbine. Sadly, this list is not exhaustive, nor does it represent anything but school shootings.**
Columbine, CO, 1999 – 15 dead
Red Lake, MN, 2005 – 10 dead
West Nickel Mines, PA, 2007 – 6 dead
Virginia Tech, VA, 2007 – 32 dead
Northern Illinois University, IL , 2008 – 6 dead
Orkos University, CA, 2012 – 7 dead
Sandy Hook Elementary, CT, 2012 – 27 dead
Santa Monica College, CA, 2013 – 6 dead
UCal Santa Barbara, CA, 2014 – 7 dead
Marysville Pilhuk, WA, 2014 – 5 dead
Umpqua Community College WA, 2015- 10 dead
Stoneman Douglas, FL, 2018 – 17 dead
Congressional leaders insist “this is not the time” to talk about this. Pray tell, exactly when is the time? And what will we say? ore to the point, what will we do?
*The Washington Post, February 15, 2018, byline John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich: “An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire.”
** Westword, a Denver arts-and-culture community newspaper, Oct 2, 2017, byline Michael Roberts: “At this writing, at least fifty people are reportedly dead and hundreds more were wounded after a mass shooting attack by Stephen Paddock during a Jason Aldean appearance outside the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1. These numbers make it the deadliest event of its kind in U.S. history, but hardly an isolated one. In the five-plus years since July 20, 2012, when twelve people were killed and seventy were injured during James Holmes’s attack at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, (CO), 1,864 incidents like it have taken place, according to online estimates.” (emphasis added).