Sound Think­ing Needed To Face Shoot­ings

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - David Wil­son

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.

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