We can’t get away from the guns. When our family moved from Chicago to Denver about five years ago, guns were a part of the reason. I had worked as the main spokesperson for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for many years, and we had to deal with guns far too often. It was usually in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, away from our schools, but many times it was our kids—CPS students—at both ends of the gun. It’s hard to get away from one shooting like that. And they just kept happening. It seemed like the guns and bullets were finding younger and younger kids and the shootings were hitting closer and closer to home—both emotionally and geographically. When CPS changed leadership at the start of 2009, with Arne Duncan going to D.C. to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education, it was time for me to leave CPS. And my wife and I—now with four kids—started to think about getting out of Chicago…and away from the guns. And we did pretty much get away from the handguns, which are far less prevalent in and around Denver. But we were soon to find out how much Colorado loves all sorts of other guns. In the wake of mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater, which together took the lives of 38 people—including 20 children—and wounded dozens of others, our state legislature reacted with some semblance of humanity and care and passed mild, common-sense gun laws in 2013. There was a strong and immediate backlash. Two Democratic lawmakers who cast key votes for gun control
lost their seats in an unprecedented recall election. And the shooting continued. Everybody knows about the Colorado horrors of Columbine and the Aurora movie theater. But as evidence of just how grotesquely commonplace these shootings have become in our country, you may not remember what happened at Arapahoe High School, which is about 5 miles from our house. On Friday, the 13th of December in 2013, a
troubled student armed with a pump-action shotgun burst into the cafeteria during open lunch and shot 17-year-old Claire Davis dead, before committing suicide. And then things hit even closer to home right before winter break this year, when we got a letter from our daughter’s high school notifying us that two female students had been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. About the same time we got the email with that letter from the school, we got a text from our daughter with a link to the tumblr page of a girl who had been in her friend group up until a few months before. It was filled with guns and gore and anger. The page was down the next day, and within a couple of weeks, a court hearing confirmed for us what we pretty much already knew—she was one of the two girls
charged as adults for plotting to shoot up our daughter’s school. We as a family can’t seem to get away from the guns. And we as a society make it way too likely for troubled kids—whether they’re Chicago kids joining a gang as a way to fit in or survive, or alienated kids looking for a way to unleash raging feelings of isolation and despair—to be drawn to guns. In a
recent report on the Arapahoe High School shooting, the parents of Claire Davis—in a remarkable display of empathy and understanding—shared this insight into the tragic chain of events that led to the murder of their daughter.
In many, if not most cases, helping troubled youths with unmet emotional needs costs nothing more than some time given by a caring administrator or teacher to lend a helping hand, share words of hope and encouragement, and open the door to other available resources.
These are children in turmoil. We owe them that helping hand—a warm embrace, a shoulder to lean on. What they too often find instead is cold steel, with a trigger to squeeze.
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...