When my dad was a boy, he and his friends would leave their shotguns and rifles on the school bus in the mornings so that the bus driver could drop students off to go hunting in the woods after school.
When I was a kid, student parking lots were full of pickup trucks with rifle racks in the back windows.
These weren't semi-automatic weapons, of course; but they were weapons capable of killing human beings.
The world felt different back then.
Yeah, there were isolated incidents. Two years after I was born, an honors student shot eleven people and killed three in a school in New York. When I was four, a student shot four in Missouri. Twelve were injured in '84. Seventy-four were injured in Wyoming in '86. Between, before, and after these incidents, there were dark stories long and complicated--horrors which unraveled in time pre-web, years when Florida felt far away.
But now we have an Internet that allows us to see it all real time, making the worst of human nature a "thing." The celebrity of mass murder has become a potential high to the social outlier. It's an identity. It's an opportunity to become legendary.
Last night my daughter kept saying, "Students want to kill students now, Mom. It's not just about weaponry; there's something really wrong with people. There's something wrong down in their hearts."
And she's right. Though a thousand oversimplified flame wars rage across Facebook, driven by fallacies and recalibrated semi-facts--though a thousand micro-attacks diffuse the adrenaline and cortisol we rightly feel in a world gone all wrong, linear answers like "Arm the teachers!" and "Destroy the guns!" are two sides of the same coin, really--two variants on the core lament of all our hearts, which is "MAKE. THIS. STOP."
I want some magic wand, some spell to whisper, some "Bibbity-Bobbety-Boo" to make this nightmare end. But I live in a culture where people want to kill people, and when people want to kill, they will find a way to do it.
Teenagers especially. Teenagers always find a way to do what they want to do.
Teenagers find a way to have sex when they are grounded.
They find a way to drink when they are underage.
They find a way to sneak out of their rooms and into strip clubs.
They find a way to smoke pot when it's illegal.
They drive too fast.
They make fake ID's.
They hack into databases, and grade banks, and government websites.
The defiant teenage spirit cannot be bridled; it is liquid, and hot, and amphibious.
This means that teenagers who want to kill a lot of people will find a way to kill a lot of people.
Teenagers who want to kill people will make crockpot bombs. They will poison cafeteria food. They will stick other kids with syringes. They will plow cars through crowds in school parking lots.
A gun may be the easiest (and most glamorous) way to kill people for now; but teenagers who morph from skinny, low-rise jeans to baggy, high-waisted jeans in a matter of weeks--teenagers who live adapting constantly--teenagers who want the glory of being mass murderers will find a way to become mass murderers.
When the gun door shuts, they will crawl through a window.
Our present situation isn't equivalent to Australia's Port Arthur massacre. No, we are in deeper trouble than this. We live in a nation in which "teenage killer" has become an identity.
This means the threat is far more dire than most of us realize. For no matter what we do about guns and schools (and something does need to be done about guns and schools)--we will still have a fundamental problem after the best of all possible legislative decisions has been made.
We will still have children who want to kill children.
Like the second wave of danger in a horror movie, like the killer who resurrects after we all know for sure that he's dead, like the scream after the scream, even the noblest and wisest legislative efforts will ultimately prove insufficient here.
This is why America's youth need us.
No matter what you believe about guns, America's youth need us.
I'm not going to talk about my theories on this blood-thirsty zeitgeist--theories about what happens to the deep psychology of a country when the sanctity of life is diminished en masse, corralled into political camps and leveraged so that human hearts break only selectively over the desperation of immigrants or unborn children.
This isn't the time to dig into those theories. Not yet. But it is time to talk about how we must invest in the children of our local communities.
Like lazy parents handing a kid an iPad and disengaging, we cannot expect a law to do what only human contact can accomplish.
Where there is young pain, we must engage.
Where there is young loneliness, we must engage.
Where there are children consumed by horror and abuse, we must seek out those deep cancers and help the vulnerable fight emotional disease before it becomes lethal.
We have to find the seed of, "I want to kill," and realize that it means, "I want to die," because it was once, "I am not seen," or "I am alone," or "I have no hope."
Work for guns. Work against guns. Do good, hard research and fight for those laws you believe will do the most good.
But however you work with legislation, make it a bigger priority still to work with real, live kids. Because all around us, young people are trying to grow up in a world going to hell. Those kids need us desperately, and they need us even more than they need our arguments.