Spot on the Wall

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For the entire 20th century, from 1900 to 1999, there were 270 school shootings, 254 people were killed, 406 were injured. Of those 270 shootings, 82 took place from 1987 when I started Kindergarten, until 2000 when I graduated High School, most of the deaths and injuries occurring during the 1980s and 1990s.

There have currently been 207 school shootings since I graduated High School, 227 killed, 278 injured, at last count. That count is only through the end of 2017.

One of those school shootings, in 1993, took place in my high school, just a few years before I started there. Asked about the “spot on the wall” outside his classroom, with a cold detachment, our teacher told us the story of what happened. One shot was fired into a wall to prove a gun was loaded. A student, with a sawed-off shotgun and a pistol, took hostages in a classroom. No one dead, no one injured. Just a painted over spot on a cinderblock wall.

I passed that spot every day for months while taking his class. A divet out of a wall. “Why don’t they at least try to cover it up? Maybe a bulletin board or a picture.” And eventually, I forgot about it. New semester, new classes, different hallways. Another semester, different parts of the building. And on April 20, 1999, as a Junior in High School, we watched the events of Columbine unfold. And I remembered the spot. Such a stupid thing to think about, 13 dead and 21 injured, and I was thinking about a spot on a wall. I put it out of my mind.

The next school shooting, I thought about the spot. The next mass shooting, I thought about the spot. Each time, “why am I thinking about a spot on a wall? That’s such a stupid random thing to think about.” Over and over, event after event, one report after another, “spot on the wall.”

School Shooting, thoughts and prayers, “spot on the wall.” Aurora Shooting, thoughts and prayers, “spot on the wall.” Sandy Hook, thoughts and prayers, “spot on the wall.” Pulse Masacre, thoughts and prayers, “spot on the wall.” I don’t know if it’s because we keep hearing those words, “thoughts and prayers,” after every event that I eventually associated them with “spot on the wall,” but that seems to be the next logical thing that comes to mind.

Clean up the mess, paint over and repair the damage. Have a memorial, put up a plaque. Or a picture, or a bulletin board…. We move on. Security guards, fences, bulletproof glass, metal detectors, cameras, bag checks, IDs, access controls, new policies, new protocols, active shooter drills, automated calls and text message alerts, teaching students how to use their backpack and books as a shield…. But still, “spot on the wall.”

We live in a world riddled with bullet holes, spots on the walls that have been painted over, memorialized, trivialized, and brushed aside. Memories of screams and gunfire in classrooms and hallways, workplaces and places of worship, nightclubs and theaters. Anywhere people are, they can easily be passing by the spots on the wall of “yet another senseless tragedy.” Thoughts and prayers, paint and sheetrock, brass and mahogany, candles and donations, these aren’t solutions to the problem. They are ways to cover up the past and move on, from one event to the next.

It’s not about the second amendment, it’s not about taking away the right to own any guns. It’s about making choices, it’s about making laws, it’s about making a practical difference for the next time. We need completed background checks, we need background checks for private sales and gun shows, we need mental health care, we need to buy back and destroy weapons that can kill large groups of people in a matter of minutes. We need a ban on the manufacture and sale of guns that can or can be easily modified to fire multiple rounds.

Will that stop it? Will that keep this from ever happening again?
Will that keep everyone safe? No, but it can help to reduce the death toll. It can give people a chance to be one of the injured instead of one of the dead. It can give people a chance to flee. It can give people a chance to get help instead of thoughts and prayers. We can have fewer spots on the walls.