Sound Thinking Needed To Face Shootings
Twenty years ago, on March 24, 1998, the fire alarm sounded at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro.
The students and staff exited the building, assuming it was a routine drill, but it wasn’t. They were walking into a fatal trap.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, the alarm was set off by 11-year-old Andrew Golden, who then ran to meet 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson outside.
The two then fired upon defenseless students and teachers from a field adjacent to school property.
They used various weapons — handguns, semi-automatic rifles, and bolt-action rifles — to fire more than 30 rounds of ammunition at the crowd.
In the end, five were dead and 10 were injured.
It was a tragedy that — to me in particular — hit way too close to home.
About 65-70 miles north of the school shooting I was working with junior high students myself, as a social studies and journalism teacher in the small town of Neelyville, Mo.
We didn’t have to turn on CNN or Fox News to get our information about the incident. We were close enough to hear all of the gruesome details via reports from local radio and television stations.
It could have happened in our own school, and the victims could have been any one of us.
And today, as you know, we are still dealing with the anguish that comes from seeing school children gunned down.
I can speak on this topic as a citizen, as an educator, as a church-goer, as a gun-owner, as a parent, or as a middle-aged person who has witnessed a culture in decline.
I have come to wish for sound thinking from our elected officials, but we rarely get it.
Every time tragedy strikes within one of our schools, we hear from psychiatrists, journalists, commentators, and politicians as they cast blame and point fingers. And none of that helps. When innocent children are murdered, I want to pray that families and communities can experience grace and comfort from heaven.
But in the public arena, that’s not what is done. Instead, we hear from psychiatrists about why it happened, and we hear from politicians about how we need to support more laws.
And a few months later, someone else goes on a shooting rampage and the debate cycle repeats itself.
Psychiatry and government can’t stop the gun violence because it isn’t a question of psychology or legality.
It is, quite simply, a question of morality.
We’ve always had guns. We’ve always had schools. We’ve always had bullies. And we’ve always had some students —sadly enough — who have been the victim of some of those bullies.
But we’ve never had a decline in morality, a dissolving of our families, and a loss of respect for life any more than today.
It matters not whether you think we should have more laws against guns or whether you think we should have more guns. Neither one of those mind sets will repair the moral condition of a person’s heart.
Call me old-fashioned if you want. I have lived long enough to remember a time in which the prevailing morality in the country was good and honest and decent.
If we can return to those days, we’ll see less and less gun violence. In fact, we’ll see a decline in all kinds of crimes.
But it won’t happen by debating gun laws. And it won’t happen by saying we have an epidemic of mental illness.
And it won’t even happen if we pray for a return to those days. But it just might happen when prayer itself is once again a part of our daily routine and a part of the national fabric.
Without a doubt, the country had problems 50 years ago. But nothing like today.
When prayer was an important part of everyday life, it fostered a culture that was — for the most part — stable, safe, and wholesome. Crimes were committed back then to be sure, but shooting up schools wasn’t one of them.