I remember where I was. It's not much of a stretch, since so much of the past twenty years have taken place for me at or near this place I call "school," but that's where I was. I was in the computer lab back in 1999. My son was at home with his mother. He wasn't in school. Not yet. On April 20, 1999 I was the one in our little family who went to school every day. Just like those kids at Columbine High School. I was still a baby teacher back then. I had lived through a couple of campaigns, but when the news came down that there had been a shooting at a Colorado school, I felt it in my bones. There was still so much Colorado left in me that alone was enough to put me on high alert. The elementary school I had attended in my youth was named for that state's flower. It wasn't uncommon, since there were appliance stores that shared this same convention, but I was drawn to this story like so much of the country.
This was back when September 11 was just another date on the calendar. The world would change more fully for everyone in two years, but there were teenagers being shot and killed in the hallways and library of a school in Colorado. And a teacher. This was all going down in a time zone an hour ahead of me, so it was all playing out on the creeping Internet speeds Al Gore had invented just a few years before. The news was not aided by the twenty-four hour saturation that would become the norm after 9/11. The idea that it could be terrorists didn't enter the picture, since we all understood that we were safe from such events here in the land of the brave and home of the free. When the identities of the killers was made public, it was a shoc, but it wasn't terror. It was a sad reality, but it wasn't terror. It was impossible to comprehend, but it wasn't terror.
It is now. That's why Douglas County, just down the road from Columbine High, has purchased semi-automatic rifles for its security guards. Though these officers had already been carrying handguns, they now have access to assault weapons. Seventeen years later, the lessons we have learned from that awful day in April is that we need to be able to shoot back.
At least that's how it's playing out in Douglas County. Here in Oakland, where I watched it all go down, I learned to listen to the kids who are angry or sad or depressed or combinations of the above that I can only begin to fathom. I work in an elementary school. This one isn't named for a flower or a tree. Since 1999, I have flinched each an every time the words "school" and "shooting" have come through my ever-increasing bandwidth. I take no great solace in the idea that security guards are now armed with assault weapons. It feels like a surrender to the things that made Columbine happen so long ago.
I have grown up, as an educator, in a world where school shootings are no longer an aberration. They are part of the fabric of our nation. We now have lockdown drills along with our earthquake and fire drills. We wonder when it could happen to us. We hope it doesn't. I wish it wasn't a question of shooting back.