Earlier this week, a 15-year-old boy brought an assault rifle, a semi-automatic handgun, and several hundred rounds of ammo to Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon. He shot and killed a 14-year-old classmate, Emilio Hoffman, in the boys’ locker room before being cornered by police and taking his own life. The shooter got everything he needed to carry out a mass murder from his parents, “responsible gun owners” who kept the military-style weapons and ammunition in the family home.
Seth Needler, a teacher at Reynolds who was hunkered down in a classroom with 40 students during the shooting and ensuing lockdown, wrote up a chilling account of the ordeal and a call to action to fix our nation’s epidemic of gun violence. He posted it on Facebook, and it has been shared nearly 3,000 times so far. Read his powerful words in their entirety below, and keep sharing it — and demanding action — until our leaders finally take note. Not one more.
Today I endured the nightmare I had feared for the past fourteen years, since I started teaching public school – a school shooting. I guess in some ways I’m lucky, or dodged a bullet, since I was never near the shooter, got home safely and didn’t even know the student who was shot and killed.
It was absolutely terrifying to sit in my classroom, on the floor, in the dark, with a group of 40 or so students crammed into the corner against the wall, silently reflecting that all four walls of the room are made of some kind of flexible bulletin-board material (great for hanging posters, but I’m sure any bullet that exists could go through easily), and thinking of my wife and child at home. The lockdown lasted for close to an hour, before we were evacuated by police in riot gear. All of us had to walk out with our hands up and get patted down, twice. All backpacks and bags were confiscated. I spent the rest of the day feeling alternately sad, worried, scared and confused, wanting to know what was really happening.
But, now that I’ve had time to process my thoughts and feelings, I want to be clear about what my reaction to today is going to be.
I don’t blame this on a mentally unhinged youth, although that might be what it was, or on lax security, or even on society’s general decline. This was a case, like all the other recent school shootings, of gun violence due to lax gun regulation, and the proliferation of military assault weapons in the hands of everyday citizens.
I’m sick and tired of hearing gun enthusiasts claim that any kind of gun regulation is an attack on the second amendment, or that the solution to gun violence is more guns. I completely fail to understand how one organization, which is the lobbying arm of one industry, can control every politician in Congress to the extent of preventing any action at all on gun control, even after polls show that 90% of Americans are in favor of it.
But every time another shooting happens, and undoubtedly this will be no exception, people (including me and my family and friends) sigh, groan, bemoan the incident, talk about how awful it is, criticize the NRA and its lopsided influence, and then do…nothing. The only constituency that responds with any energy to incidents of gun violence is gun enthusiasts, who declare that it just provides more proof of their hypothesis that schools need to be staffed with U.S. Marshalls and teachers need to be armed and carry loaded weapons. Rather than stricter gun regulation, we get weakening of the existing regulation, and states literally pushing each other out of the way to be the most liberal when it comes to who can carry weapons into how many different venues, including churches, schools and even bars. Everybody laughs about it on late night TV, and then goes back to their business.
In Australia there was one school shooting, in 2002. Immediately afterward, the conservative government enacted strict gun control. There hasn’t been another one since. In Israel, people outside the army who want to own a gun have to take a training, and if they pass, are allowed to buy a once-only, lifetime supply of 50 bullets. I don’t have other statistics to reel off, but I do know that nowhere else in the world, let alone a wealthy country, are there shootings committed with the frequency of the U.S.
Why can’t the U.S. have more gun control? Apparently we have some now, but it obviously isn’t enough when any individual who wants one and can get the cash together can buy any gun that exists.
Here’s my proposed gun regulation:
To buy a gun, you need 3 letters of recommendation: One from a family member, one from a friend, and one from a co-worker. If your family doesn’t trust you, you have no friends, and your co-workers don’t know you well enough to trust you, then you shouldn’t be able to own a gun.
I also think prospective gun owners should have to undergo a rigorous gun-safety training, submit to a background check, and meet an age limit, but I’m not an idealist. I think the above is something that every common sense person should be able to agree with. I’m not a lawyer or politician, so I’m sure my idea will be mocked for its naiveté, criticized for its lack of practicality when not even much weaker rules can get a hearing in Congress, and ignored in any case, since no one takes gun control seriously in America.
However, I intend tomorrow to begin contacting my representatives in government. I’m going to ask them to sign on to a pledge called the “No Gun Pledge.” Like the no tax pledge that all the conservatives sign on to, this pledge would say: “I will never vote for any legislation that relaxes or weakens gun regulations, or increases access to guns, or makes it easier to bring military assault-style weapons to market.”
Politicians who are already on record in favor of gun control would have nothing to lose by signing on to such a pledge. Although it might sound silly, it could be a rallying tool and perhaps inspire a little political courage.
I can’t sit around anymore and do nothing. I encourage anyone reading this to take action also. Politicians say all the time that they get far more calls from their pro-gun constituents than the other 90% of us. Nothing will change without a massive, concerted uprising from us, the people.
Not too many years ago, big tobacco was a political third rail, like the NRA is today. But they were brought down by a nationwide effort, endless lawsuits and ultimately the intervention of Congress, spurred by relentless public pressure. People can still smoke cigarettes. They are expensive, everybody knows they’re bad for you, and you can’t smoke wherever you want. Smokers have to stand outside when it’s cold and endure the glares of others when they stand too close to a public doorway or litter their butts on the ground. But no Constitutional rights have been infringed, and the tobacco companies still make huge profits.
Isn’t it time to put the NRA in its place? If not now, when?