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  • Writer's picturePaula Reed

School Safety

For me, it’s personal, obviously.

Or maybe not. Many folks reading this know I worked at Columbine High School for 30 years—yes, including April 20, 1999—but maybe not everyone reading it. I was the speech and debate teacher that year, and Dan Mauser and Rachel Scott were on my team. Isaiah Shoels, a senior on the verge of graduating in a few weeks, had been in my ACE class the year before. I had taught Lauren Townsend, about to graduate valedictorian, as a freshman. Dave Sanders was my colleague for decades.

I taught Dylan Klebold as a sophomore. I know better than to include his name in the same paragraph as the others, but I cannot leave him out. I will not leave him out.

So yeah, for me, it’s personal.

According to Michigan Medicine from the University of Michigan, in 74 percent of school shootings, the shooter obtained the gun from their home or that of a friend or relative. A recent article in the Colorado Sun tells us that 1 in 4 Colorado teens can obtain a loaded gun within 24 hours. It also reports “a 2021 study found that 70% of parents who own firearms said their children could not get their hands on the guns kept at home. But 41% of kids from those same families said they could get to those guns within two hours.”

There are certainly steps I would like to see our lawmakers take regarding gun safety, but it’s a politically fraught battle, and I get that. I know a lot of school shooting survivors (we can talk about how tragic that is another day, I guess), and we actually don’t all agree. Many passionately agree with me on what kinds of weapons should and shouldn’t be legal and under what circumstances a person should or shouldn't be allowed to obtain the ones that are, but many disagree. I genuinely understand the fear and sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy they experienced that led them to their positions.

But our children are dying while we adults just can’t seem to get our ducks in a row. They don’t have time for us to figure it all out. We have to find some things we can agree on.

The reason I cited the statistics above is because I think we can all agree that, if there are guns in a home, they should be safely stored. Every sheriff’s department and city police department in Colorado will provide families with guns free gun locks upon request.

I know a gun lock reduces the capacity of that weapon to be used quickly in self defense, but really, that unlocked, loaded gun in a house with your child is more likely to kill your child or another family member than to protect you.

I get that we look at our own kids and we want to say, “My kid would never…”

In late April of 1999, I looked at my 9-year-old-son. How different from Dylan was he from when Dylan was 9? I didn’t know Dylan then, so I couldn’t say. I knew him when he was 15 or 16. He was shy and gentle, and of all the kids I taught that I might have thought could be violent, he wouldn’t have been a blip on the radar. If you had asked me his sophomore year whether he could ever do what he did as a senior, I would have openly scoffed. So in April of 1999, I couldn’t help but wonder, could my own son be Dylan in a few years?

He’s in his 30s now, a father, himself. I wish I could take full credit for how well he navigated his youth, and I think his dad and I did a pretty good job, but there’s a certain element of “there but for the grace of God” that will always tinge my thinking.

I don’t use the names of other shooters. The young man who committed all the murders at Sandy Hook had a mom who was a “responsible gun owner.” She didn’t lock her guns, but she taught her son how to handle them and to “respect them.” I’m sure she thought her child would never… I’m sure she never once thought he would use those very guns to end her life, the lives of 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, 6 adults, and himself.

If there are unsecured guns in your home, by this time tomorrow, you can make your child and everyone else’s safer with a lock. If you need one, make a quick stop by your local police or sheriff’s department. Please.

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