My youngest son was not the first in his pack of friends to get his driver’s license.
We were in no hurry to move any of our sons behind the wheel. (That came from not trusting their family bloodline. I had three wrecks before age 19. My brother had one.)
So one night freshman year, he came home gleeful about hanging out at the mall – solemn grounds for high-schoolers. The only problem was he had left the house hours earlier to go play games at a buddy’s house.
He was not ready for the impromptu trial he was about to endure.
I rattled off the list of things that could happen to him because it definitely happens to other teens. I was rather Jack Nicholson-like during his “A Few Good Men” trial. My wife chimed in with backup every few examples.
It was explained that it was less about his judgment and actions but more about the people around him and those in the places he will be. How much trust in your health are you willing to put into other people’s hands, and who are those people?
Needless to say, his leash was significantly shortened. That was his last trip to the mall without us knowing, his last trip in a car with buddies that year, and the last time he switched locations on us without a text of some sort.
At least, we think it was his last. We think that’s what he did. You can never absolutely know.
Hope was such the feeling when he walked out the door for class the morning after Florida’s school massacre.
These days, you can’t know if it’s the last walk out the door.
As short a leash as you want to put on your child, the leash is simply not strong enough.
Reality is that leaders – like parents – are powerless to control everything that can go wrong.
But the tragedy is that, where leaders have the power, they too often fail to act.
Wednesday was the fifth significant American school shooting this year. The others resulted in three deaths and several injuries. Wednesday’s toll and significance will elevate the event to those that lead the debate on American gun violence.
Meanwhile, over the past six weeks, Russia has had a run on school attacks in similar fashion to ours.
Young men – challenged or angered in some way – have lashed out violently in their schools. Russia has avoided body counts like what the U.S. attacks incur because the attackers have no easy access to guns. Their attacks were carried out with knives and even an axe, and then end in quicker fashion; life scars, but no fatalities.
I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m just me; plain ol’ Todd; party of one.
Guns are ultimately not the problem.
Mental health issues are consistent with most of the perpetrators. That internal instability is influenced or ignited by a plethora of life challenges we all face, such as bullying, under-employment, rejections and more.
But while holding onto the belief that people kill people, not guns, I can’t deny that we have a gun problem, too.
From a report on the Florida event:
Regardless of warning signs, Nikolas Cruz bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack about a year ago, according to Peter Forcelli, special agent in charge of the Miami office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“Under the gun laws that we have in this country, including in Florida, a teenager can be prohibited from purchasing an alcoholic beverage, but yet that same teenager can purchase a military-style weapon,” said Jimmy Gurule, a Notre Dame law professor who was a federal prosecutor and former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. “That’s an insane system.”
The gun problem is a leadership problem: We have a collapse in leadership to adjust gun availability to the extent that peer countries – as liberal and free as we – have adjusted.
It’s the same collapse in leadership witnessed recently in USA gymnastics and in Flint, Mich., water and in many other places: Empowered leaders staying powerless for the protection of their own skin.
That ultimately is our biggest societal woe of the moment; worse than guns.
When I put a leash on my son’s access to friends’ cars, and the mall and location jumping – his freedom wasn’t curtailed. He was not locked up or punished. His actions were structured and made more deliberate at a more vulnerable time in his life. (We’re always vulnerable to something, but certain ages are more vulnerable.)
Will this be the gun attack that leads to societal change?
I’m guessing not. Well, maybe not, because of one recent event.
The workplace and the sexual-predator environment that engulfed many spaces is forever changed, with names such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Charlie Rose among many who will live on as benchmarks of boorish, uncivil and illicit actions.
It started with a few brave citizens, then #MeToo was off to correct decades of wrong. Those wrongs were certainly not to be cured from the ranks of our leadership. Most importantly, #MeToo did not need guns to make a change.
In Florida last week, the tortured screams of the mom who lost her daughter were heard around the country.
Perhaps they were heard by enough people to make a sustaining movement for many issues related to this latest massacre, including guns.
Because like gymnastics, like Flint, like #MeToo – do not expect change to start from the people in power.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.