Fresh young voices must be heard

 

SANTA ROSA — Every now and then, big national news turns into significant small-town news.

You can see it on the pages of many hometown newspapers.

Since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., there have been plenty of reports of threats making the news—all over New Mexico. Estancia, Roswell and others have closed schools for a day or more as a result of threats. Kids have been arrested and charged. School boards and law enforcement officials have called for drastic measures, including armed security details at schools in small communities like Fort Sumner, pop. 1,031, where they’re planning to sink nearly $2 million into beefed-up security measures in reaction to the wave of school shootings that have gripped the nation.

Even where direct threats have not surfaced (or at least been made public), authorities are calling for action. Here in Santa Rosa, the superintendent expressed his concerns after the Parkland massacre and active-shooter training exercises followed.

Of course, all this didn’t come about simply because of the Parkland shooting, which left 17 dead at the hands of a former student at the school. Fort Sumner, for example, decided to invest in school safety long before Parkland. But the issue may have hit “critical mass” lately as the young people themselves are standing up for their right to, well, live.

There have already been a dozen shootings at schools around the nation so far this year, including four since the Parkland massacre. It’s not going away.

Here in New Mexico, schools in Aztec and Roswell have each experienced shootings in recent times. A shooter killed two students and himself just last year at Aztec High School, and in 2014, two kids were injured when a 12-year-old boy brought a shotgun to Berrendo Middle School and shot and injured two other kids. And if you go back several years, to around when this epidemic of tragedy was getting its foothold on American life and death, one kid injured another with a gun in Deming after he brought a gun to school.

Thankfully, New Mexico hasn’t made the list of “mass shootings” (four or more dead in a single rampage), but all the mass shootings elsewhere are hitting too close to home anyway. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. And now Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The list of the worst of the worst continues to grow.

I remember being stunned as a young reporter in Arkansas when, in 1998, two students, ages 11 and 13, took up a position on a hill and then took potshots at students and teachers exiting the school after the shooters had set off a fire alarm. They killed a teacher and four students, and wounded 10 others, with a veritable arsenal of guns they’d stolen from family members. I remember how the debate over the root cause of such a tragedy followed, inside and outside our newsroom, with some people blaming violent video games while others blamed it on their access to guns.

Now, it seems, the debate is over a single issue—guns—and, unless you count a smattering of new laws regarding background checks and other gun-purchasing matters, our lawmakers have done little to nothing to stem the violence.

But now there’s a new generation taking on the issue. They’re rising up all across the nation, including New Mexico. With the birth of the March For Our Lives movement, young people, often the victims of the violence, along with their families, are rising up to say, Enough! Their protests have grown from the mourning streets of Parkland to “isolated” places like Silver City and Las Vegas, N.M., where students are stepping out and calling for action. They’re hostile toward lawmakers who refuse to act and they say they’re not going to take it anymore.

More power to ‘em. It’s a pox upon the older generations that we haven’t been able to stop this violence and ensure the safety of our children and grandchildren. The idea of arming teachers is little more than a Hail Mary pass, brought on by our desperate inability to effectively address the issue.

Let’s listen to the young people. They have a right to be heard, and they feel an obligation to take action. More than anyone else, they’re the victims of our national inaction. Something’s got to be done, and they’re the ones to do it.

Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owns The Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com.