Thoughts and prayers’ no defense against school shootings

The voices in Florida in recent days cut through the platitudes in the way politicians never could. The speakers? High school students traumatized by a slaughter who are deciding they aren’t going to accept condolences and be sent back to class.

They are right. As a country, we have become seemingly immune to mass shootings. The pace is predictable. We are all horrified as the news unfolds, whether it’s a crowd mowed down at a night club, employees at a training, or students just working their way through another school day. Anger wells up. Then the debates start – gun control or no? More mental health funding or tighter controls of the mentally ill? And then a new scandal of the day comes along, the blood is washed away, and the latest mass shooting just becomes another entry on the growing list. Most of us move on. Nothing changes.

But those voices coming from students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida aren’t easily ignored. Seventeen people – students, school staff and others – died in a six-minute fusillade. The students aren’t content to grieve. They are outraged at what they are hearing from adults.

No one has gotten more attention than Emma Gonzalez, 18, a senior at the school who was part of a rally in Florida Saturday.

“If all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change we need to be,” she said.

Thoughts and prayers. Indeed.

That Florida high school may seem a world away to those in Malheur County. Sure, it’s on the other side of the country. It is, to be more precise, about 2,849 miles from Ontario High School.

But we’re left wondering how students at Ontario High School are supposed to process this latest mutilation of dreams. We’re left wondering what are the risks for the 5,013 students who go every day to an elementary, middle or high school in Malheur County.

How many high school students lay in bed on a recent night, asking themselves: What would I do? How many thought of someone they know who doesn’t seem quite right. High school is a place for quirky personalities as teens find their adulthood. But any thinking student likely wonders where quirkiness ends and danger takes over.

How many younger students are left to question the safety of school?

Law enforcement officials in Oregon have grappled with that question, and just recently rolled out one answer: SafeOregon. This is a system designed to build in instant alerts from a tip line. Anyone can call anytime to report concerns that someone may be a risk at a school. Admirably, several Malheur County schools embraced the program, including every school in Ontario and Nyssa school districts. Others, according to SafeOregon’s website, have yet to join. That should be remedied – tomorrow.

The most important step any adult in Malheur County can take is to pay attention. Don’t shrug this off. Don’t be guiled by “well, it can’t happen here.” Don’t think Malheur County couldn’t be home to the types of lone wolves who can become mass killers. Don’t believe any level of risk is acceptable for our children. We should never, not for a moment, think the only action we would ever be able to take is to place a rose on one more coffin. – LZ