Ending School Shootings: Why We Should be Inspired by the Tennessee Three

Six days ago, I wrote a post in response to the heartbreaking Covenant School mass shooting in Nashville, TN, where six innocent people died: three nine-year-old children and three adults. Unique to the United States, our all-to-frequent school shootings have become a national embarrassment and should horrify every one of us. For some reason, the post just sat in my Family Field Guide file.


Then yesterday happened, and I was once again horrified as I watched the egregious and historic misuse of power by the Republican-majority of the Tennessee State Legislature. Visible to entire world in real time, this elected body chose to ignore the pleas of thousands of fed-up constituents at their front door, besieging them with chants and signs to do everything in their power to stop the bloodshed. Instead, the legislature decided to silence their voices. How? By carrying out inane, legalistic rituals to expel the only three House members willing to step up and speak out on the behalf of the protesters; three who were moved to action by the immediate and dire need for gun-law reform. Three whose hearts informed their thinking.


By expelling Rep. Justin Jones, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and Rep. Justin Pearson for leading a recent protest at “the well” of the House floor, the Tennessee State Legislature thought they could ignore the angry citizens and continue with business as usual. But it didn’t work. Although the legislature failed to expel Johnson, a 60-year-old white woman, they did succeed in giving the ax to Jones and Pearson – two black freshman representatives whose cogent and heart-felt arguments, I thought, put them on a par with a young Barack Obama. The result, however was to let loose a dragon, bringing national attention to the impassioned protests of the people of Tennessee. It was difficult to watch these young men repeatedly demeaned by their Republican colleagues, but also inspiring. With any luck, these two rising stars, Jones and Pearson, will galvanize the hearts and minds of millions of the country in a fight that’s long overdue.


The following post of six days ago consolidates my thinking on why the Tennessee Legislature has been unable to bring itself to take action, and why the Tennessee Three represent inspiration for the future:


If we want to protect kids, we need to focus on the beautiful children whose lives were cut short by guns, and the children whose lives we need to save. Focusing on mental health is not a quick and easy answer; providing equitable and high-quality mental-health services is going to take a huge paradigm shift. It’s still many years down the road. And being realistic, trying to get politicians who lack emotional intelligence to recognize obvious solutions to school shootings is like trying to teach a cat to brush its teeth. They simply don’t have the skills.


What we can do with almost immediate effect is work to elect officials work who will ban assault weapons. No private citizen needs a gun designed for warfare, whose sole purpose is killing an enemy combatant and eviscerating their bodies. We can make sure we elect individuals who are in favor of red-flag laws and a higher age for gun purchases, and are sickened by the gun lobby’s influence. Conservative politicians (like those in power in Tennessee) who toss their hands in the air, saying they can’t do anything about school shootings, are dead wrong. But before they can have a change of heart, they need to be able to FEEL the emotions of terrified teachers and children hiding under desks and in closets. They need to stand with parents who’ve lost children, and comfort their traumatized classmates. If they can’t feel the emotions, they have no empathy, and if they have no empathy, they don’t deserve our votes.


As a former teacher, I’ve been in classrooms when the active shooter drill alarm sounded. What’s stunning is the silence afterward – the silence of terrified children who don’t know if it’s real or just a drill. I want elected officials to know that children cannot grow up being terrified in their schools. I didn’t grow up being terrified. And neither did most adults. Trauma is what happens in the body due to overwhelming experiences. It causes elevated stress hormones, impacts the immune system, and predisposes people to future mental-health problems and physical illness. Why should our children and grandchildren be made to deal with it? Arming teachers is a ludicrous response. I would just like to see a busy, distracted teacher pop up from a reading group to dig her loaded weapon out of a secure locker in time to confront a gunman wielding an AR-15. It’s out of the question, and it’s not what she signed up for.


We need to stop thinking of the children who died in school shootings as “victims.” They were living, breathing human beings who played tag and studied spelling words, struggled with algebra, looked forward to prom, caught colds and watched their favorite shows on tv.  Now that they are no longer alive, they will no longer be able to run up and hug their moms and dads – the parents who whose hearts now ache with sorrow. They will no longer open birthday presents or eat cake and ice cream. They will not be able to fulfill their God-given potential in life and contribute to society.


For politicians to piddle around with piecemeal, politically-safe solutions to mass shootings is to profess gross denial of the problem: primarily the massive proliferation of guns. And to call the pleas of parents whose children were shot and killed by guns “temper tantrums,” is to tell the world that emotions have no place in law-making. However, the legacy of hundreds of American children lying dead in their classrooms or anywhere else is one we cannot allow to be hidden or forgotten, unlike the history of black lynching. There’s no need to prolong the pain. We can, and we must, end it now.


Here’s what you can do:  Call or write your state representative, your U.S. representative, and your U.S. senator. Tell them there is no excuse for letting any more children die. Join with local parents and civic organizations fighting for gun-law reform. And if you own an AR-15, take it to the nearest police department and hand it over. Here are two of non-profit groups working to save children’s lives: and Remember, focus on the children. Not the politics. FFG




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