The beginning of the school year is always such an exciting time. New teachers, new classes … it’s a fresh start. And like most parents out there, I’m relieved that my kids are back in the classroom and back into a routine.
But after the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, I am once again reminded that this kind of terror can happen anywhere, even right here in our communities, in our children’s schools.
I was teaching in a classroom at Northern Illinois University on Feb. 14, 2008, when a former student opened fire in a lecture hall not far from my building. Five students, and the shooter, were killed in that incident. I’ll never forget the fear on my students’ faces when they heard there was a shooter on campus. And the terror I felt knowing that my sons, who were then 2 and 3 years old, were in the campus day care, just two buildings away from the massacre.
Every time a mass shooting like this happens, I’m always taken back to that day 11 1/2 years ago. And while I was lucky enough that my children and I were not hurt, I knew that there were many parents whose lives had just been shattered. Just like the families of the victims of El Paso, Dayton and so many other cities.
My son, who just began his freshman year, said he’s excited for high school, but constantly worries about getting shot at school. In fact, there already has been a threat, just days into the school year. My 8-year-old daughter already has anxiety about the upcoming intruder drill that now, sadly, schools across the country have to practice every year. When I was their age, the only drills we had to worry about were fire and tornado, both of which seem a lot less scary than the drills today’s students have to go through.
So as we send our children off to school, what can we do to ease their minds, to make them feel safer? I’m afraid my words of reassurance that “it won’t happen here” ring hollow. Even I don’t believe it, knowing that it could. Knowing that it already did happen to me.
It was hopeful to see so many folks gather at the Main Street Bridge in St. Charles earlier this month at a vigil for the most recent shooting victims. Many of them, myself included, are demanding that our elected officials do more to try to save lives. Maybe stronger firearm regulations and new laws won’t prevent everything, but it’s a start.
We cannot sit by idly and throw our collective hands in the air. We can send all the “thoughts and prayers” we want, but until our lawmakers take tangible steps to curb the epidemic of violence, nothing will change. Angry, hate-filled individuals will continue to get their hands on military-style assault weapons to commit these heinous acts.
I am calling on our leaders – local, state and federal – to do something now: adopt “red flag” laws, increase background checks, close gun show loopholes and ban high-capacity magazines and military-style weapons that no civilian would ever need. Not one more parent should ever have to go through the terror of what so many already have. Let’s work together to end this madness. Demand action. Demand that our elected officials do more to keep our schools, and our communities, safer from the senseless violence that continues to plague our country.
Aimee Barrows is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle