While walking to work on Friday morning, I was startled by the screams of dozens of high school kids running down the street while police officers tried to get control of the situation. After a brief moment of panic, I was relieved that the only cause for this uproar was the appearance on the street of the band One Direction, fresh off a performance on The Today Show.
Yet I quickly recalled the sounds of other screaming children, like last week in Atlanta. And last year in Sandy Hook and in a long procession of "lasts" that seem to get closer and include names seared into our collective consciousness like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora.
Several years ago, I was honored to have a young man named Richard Castaldo contribute an essay to my book Actions Speak Loudest: Keeping A Promise for a Better World. Richard was the second person shot at Columbine, his friend Rachel sitting beside him being the first. Her bullet ended her life. His left him paralyzed. In his essay Richard wrote:
My name is Richard Castaldo and almost ten years ago I was shot in the infamous Columbine event. I've spent a lot of that time, pondering why something like that happened and listening to theories that others have about how violence like Columbine can happen in a country like America... I was shot with a Tek Nine. I guess it was supposed to be semi-automatic but it felt like fully automatic to me. It's frustrating when I see sensible attempts to keep these kinds of weapons out of the hands of people who are unstable or crazy rejected as an infringement on our rights. How someone can argue with simple background checks or common-sense restrictions is beyond me. I heard that some of the guns that Eric and Dylan used were bought at a gun show purchased by some older friends of theirs. It just shouldn't have been so easy.
Here we stand 20 years later and a new generation of children this month will enter elementary school or go off to college. As parents we used to assume safety in these places, now we pray for it.
The old adage "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me."
Well, it certainly is shame on us.
Caring is not a feeling it is an action. If we care about school safety, we need to move beyond hoping for it when we drop off our kids and towards acting upon it every day after we do.
This week, many parents will be dropping their children off at college. On their drive back, their minds will be racing with thoughts of how quickly the years have gone by -- hoping that they've taught them well, that they'll do well in school and stay out of trouble.
Next week, a different group of parents will be standing at bus stops ready to see their children off perhaps for the first time. And I will be one of them. I will kiss my little girl goodbye marking this milestone with the mixed feelings of pride that she's growing up so fast and sadness for the separation that inevitably follows.
The last thing any parent should have to think about during these moments is a potential random act of violence shattering young lives and devastating entire communities. And when these thoughts do drift in, we, as parents, defensively feel compelled to dismiss them -- for they are too horrific to contemplate. We shake off the awful chill down our spines with reassurances about how rare these attacks still are and a firm belief that it couldn't possibly happen in our school.
And while the vast majority of us will be right and our children will return to us every day safely. A small minority will be wrong. Who is in that minority is entirely unpredictable.
As parents, this realization should compel us all to act.
So immediately after you drop your child off at college or see them get on the bus, please pull out your phone and speak out for sensible gun reform by either visiting www.voicesagainstviolence.com where you can literally add your voice to a new form of petition and connect with your member of congress or visit www.sandyhookpromise.org to find more ways to get involved.
When 90 percent of Americans support background checks in a poll, it's sadly just a number.
But when 90 percent of Americans take even the smallest of actions to end them, it is becomes a powerful scream forcing us to move, as a nation, in one direction towards sanity and safety.
Bob McKinnon is Executive Director of the GALEWiLL Center for Opportunity & Progress.