I grew up in a country that has accepted mass shootings since I was eight years old.
I grew up in Colorado, U.S.A. One day, when I was in third grade, many of my classmates' parents came to pick them up early from school. Teachers wouldn't tell us anything, but kids are perceptive. There was a current of fear in the air.
Columbine High School was over an hour away from my town, but parents were afraid to send their children to school after that horrible day. The town implemented new security measures. Along with tornado drills, we practiced hiding if a shooter came into the building. We held a moment of silence on April 20th, and later, on September 11th.
When I moved up to middle school, there was a beautiful windowed courtyard where we went to test science projects and do messy art. We learned that in the event of a shooter, if you hid against the door you'd be out of view from the hallway, but in full sight of the courtyard. We were to hide against the sidewall, in partial view of both. We were told that this was not ideal, but it was our best option. Our teacher assured us that he would protect us or die trying.
In my freshman year of high school, parents and students received news that a bomb threat had been received. Attendance that day was optional. Terrified, most students stayed home, myself included. Better to be safe than...
I can remember thinking about what I'd do if I were in the room with a shooter. What I'd do if he and I came face to face. If I had a chance, what would I say? In my imagination, he'd have his gun pointed at someone else, we'd lock eyes and somehow I'd know how to get through to him. I hoped that if I were the person who could make the difference, I'd know what to say.
I wondered what I'd say if he asked me if I believed in God. I usually decided that I'd say yes, because it's true. But I also knew that a statement of my faith might encourage him to test it. I knew the risk of saying the wrong thing, knew that no amount of rehearsal could prepare you for that moment.
During sophomore year, two unidentified students in ski masks were spotted in the kitchen before school hours. For the next three hours, I watched on TV as a SWAT team scoured the building, armed with rifles. No one was found. Nevertheless, school the following Monday was tense. Some students stayed home, just in case.
Bomb threats became almost common, and by my senior year, I mostly believed them to be the tactics of students trying to get out of a test. One morning, I remember waving to the Fox News cameras as I walked into school on a day of a threat, wondering if my grandma would see me. I was defiant. I was a little pissed off.
But any one of those days could have turned into the events at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1st. I write today because, 16 years of similar shootings after Columbine, no one has stepped up. Previous generations of lawmakers and leaders have not been compelled by the lives lost, the families shattered, the futures ripped away. The common references have changed from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Aurora to Sandy Hook to Oregon. There seems to be a belief that these events affect the victims alone. We feel sad, we whisper a prayer, and we keep on living.
Mathew Downing should not be considered "the lucky one," because he survived the shooting in Oregon. We're all here because we've been lucky, but we're taking it for granted. This kind of thing cannot happen again. Children should not feel the need to practice having a conversation with someone who wants to kill them. Teachers should not be asked to die for their students. Students should not need to weigh the risks of attending class each day.
What is freedom worth, if not to protect our lives and our future?