Pencils Don't Kill
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be purchasing school supplies for my two children as they begin 2nd grade and kindergarten. All the usual things - pencils, notebooks, folders - a blank canvas representing all the possibilities a new school year might bring.
I'm excited for them. I fondly remember those days leading up to the first day in a new classroom.
What might that classroom bring?
But there is also concern.
A muted whisper, shoved to the back of my mind. The nightmare that's become a reality for far too many parents: The possibility that my child's classroom might be the site of the next school shooting. Oh, I know it's highly unlikely... but it's possible. In fact, statistics say it's more likely today than it was back in 1987 when I entered 2nd grade.
I shudder at the thought...however remote the chances might be.
Of course, I'll try to rationalize and put that fear to rest. But it's tough not to think about that possibility - however slim - as we hear about two more mass shootings in America over the past weekend.
It's tough not to think about that possibility when you are reminded that some of the most recent mass shootings happened in schools.
What might that classroom bring?
The debate over the 2nd amendment is sure to reach a fever pitch this week - yet again. And I, for one, don't want to take guns away from hunters and citizens who have gone through the proper channels. But like all (most?) parents, I want to make sure my kids are safe.
I respect the right to bear arms, the words written by the framers of the constitution.
But I also understand the context of the time and place it was written - when a well-trained soldier might only get 2 shots off in a minute with a musket.
It's a different time... and context matters. And it's time to discuss this issue with some nuance - not political talking points.
There are arguments to be made that guns aren't the problem. That mental health is the problem, or that "guns don't kill people, people kill people".
Each argument has its own merit. And each - to some extent - are true.
But consider, for a moment, the following news headline:
"A bullied teen with a troubled past attacks fellow students with a pencil"
Is mental health a factor? Absolutely.
Is the teen - not the pencil - responsible for the injuries he or she may have caused with the pencil? 100%.
Maybe the kid was introduced to too much violence online.
Maybe the teen had abusive parents.
All might play *some* role - however large or small - but it's silly and small-minded to peg any *one* reason for the attack.
But no matter the underlying causes: a pencil can't be used to kill 20 people in the matter of seconds.
A gun? Well, we saw too clearly the damage that can be inflicted in such a short time over the weekend. The weapon is the differentiator. Point to all the underlying causes you want... but this kind of carnage only happens with firearms.
Too many of our legislators - including my own state senator in district 39 - pass the buck on this incredibly important issue. They place the blame on mental health - yet vote down measures to increase funding for mental health care. They say laws are already in place and we just need to enforce them - but won't support straight forward universal background checks to ensure an added line of defense.
I understand quite well that bad things will happen in life no matter how many precautions you take, but that doesn't mean you throw up your hands and say "oh well"... or "thoughts and prayers" and expect anything to change.
We need to take action. I believe in universal background checks AND more funding for mental health. I believe in gun ownership AND ensuring our children are safe in schools without it feeling like they are entering a prison.
Will there still be school shootings? Unfortunately, yes. But if these measures prevent even one school shooting, it is all the more imperative to act now.
Imagine we were talking about pencils that could kill dozens in seconds? I don't think the #2 Pencil lobby has the same powerful grasp on our discourse as the NRA. It's high time we have some authentic, honest dialogue - that understands the nuance with this issue.
I firmly believe we can find common ground if we truly engage in a dialogue on this issue without the partisan vitriol and lobbyist that have owned this debate.
So, what might that classroom bring?
When my kids enter that classroom in a few weeks, I hope it brings intellectual curiosity, creative exploration, and, hopefully, the kind of thinking that finds even better solutions for this epidemic of mass shootings that the adults can't seem to figure out.
P.S. If you show me a pencil that can kill 20 people in the matter of seconds, I'll be asking for universal background checks in the Target Back-to-School section as well.
Sean Ryan is a candidate for Minnesota State Senate in District 39. His opponent has come out against universal background checks and has an "A" rating from the NRA.