This Has to Stop

I was in fifth grade in April 1999, when the Columbine shooting happened. I didn’t watch the news much, and the infinite information faucet of 24-hour news cycles and social media didn’t exist yet. I don’t remember much about the coverage and won’t try to invent details 24 years later. But what I do remember is my English teacher’s small meltdown during class the next day.

Dr. Pruit was beside himself that something like this could have happened. I remember a mix of confusion, anger, indignation, and him having to cut himself off mid-sentence and turn away to regain his composure. He was a lifelong educator, and it was evident that he was taking the news of a mass shooting in a school very hard and very personally. How could this happen in a place meant for learning, for education, for growth? How could innocent teenagers go from taking a few deep breaths before a math test to dead on the floor in the blink of an eye? And how could other teenagers have decided to take out their anger or dissatisfaction with life on kids just trying to make it through the day?

I was a college freshman in April 2007, when the Virginia Tech shooting happened. I had a 9 a.m. math class, and the professor—Dr. Starbird—had an almost identical reaction. He took a few moments to address his fury to the class with a quaver in his voice and tears in his eyes; he, also, was taking the news personally and struggling to align it with his lifetime of experience and philosophy of the purpose of educational institutions. There were moments of anger, moments of sadness, moments of bewildered silence. It was like it was something that had happened here, to us.

Now, it’s March 2023, and I’ve been the senior editor for Campus Security & Life Safety magazine for a tick over two years. As such, it’s been my unfortunate duty to delve into the recent rash of active shooting incidents in schools. Sometimes it feels like not a week goes by without a breaking news alert in my inbox or on my phone about shots fired at an elementary school or middle school or high school or university. Last May, my now-fiancée and I cut our fifth-anniversary dinner short so that I could sprint home and write about nineteen dead elementary schoolers in Uvalde, Texas.

The local university radio station plays almost exclusively jazz, and it’s become our evening background music. We like it because there are no commercials, just an hourly break for news updates. We’ll be reading on the couch to the ambiance of smooth jazz, and then all of a sudden: “Three people are dead and two are wounded…” the DJ will announce, and I’ll tense up. “…after a shooting in Sioux Falls, South Dakota…”, he’ll continue, and my fiancée will make eye contact. “…at a local gas station,” he’ll finish, and I’ll breathe a visible sigh of relief. At least this one wasn’t at a school, I’ll think. Not this one, anyway.

I’m almost 36 years old, and this has been happening my entire life. When is it going to stop?

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning and Campus Security and Life Safety. He can be reached at MJones@1105media.com

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