Opinion

Frozen by fear, fed up with lack of action on gun safety

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The first text from my daughter arrived at 10:40 Tuesday morning.

“I’m in lockdown.”

“It’s not a drill.”

The third text was chilling: “Probs won’t die, but just in case (heart symbol) (heart symbol).”

The texts continued for a few minutes.

“They may be evacuating not really sure, but we hear lots of movement in the halls.”

“We’re still in here. Cops are outside.”

Finally, the all-clear text came. They were out. Everyone was OK. It was a false alarm.

According to a press release from the Portland Police Department, Portland High School, where my daughter is a student, was placed into lockdown at 10:20 a.m. when the Portland Regional Communication Center received a 911 call reporting there was a subject in the school with a gun.

By 11:12 a.m., the scare was over. It lasted just under an hour.

My daughter went to lunch.

“It appears this call was a hoax and there was no credible threat at the school. We are currently working to identify the caller,” the police said in the press release. “The faculty, staff and students did a remarkable job during this incident helping to secure their classrooms and keeping calm. Calls like this are taken seriously until police can be sure the threat is not credible and the students are safe.”

My daughter is smart and tough. She handled the scare a lot better than I did. She was calm (at least she seemed that way). She knew what she was supposed to do and she was doing it.

She’s also angry that our country’s — our state’s — love affair with weapons of mass murder has turned our schools into forts, where kids learn the techniques that might — maybe — save them if someone walks in and starts shooting.

Her anger didn’t start Tuesday. It’s been brewing for a while.

During the Democratic presidential debate last Tuesday night, Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg had a heated exchange about gun safety. O’Rourke advocated for confiscating assault weapons while Buttigieg argued that a more measured approach could achieve results quicker and with less division.

My daughter was having none of it. While I might argue that Buttigieg’s policy proposal is safer and makes more practical sense, she wants action and she wants it now.

And she’s fed up with a political class that’s willing to trade lives — lives like hers — to protect essentially unfettered access to firearms.

She can’t vote yet. But she — and a lot more of the kids who were locked down this week in Portland and other kids who have been locked down all over the country — will turn into voters very soon.

And I don’t think they’re going to forgive or forget.

According to a groundbreaking analysis by The Washington Post in 2018, during that school year more than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown.

“The number of students affected eclipsed the populations of Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Vermont combined. But the total figure is likely much higher because many school districts — including in Detroit and Chicago — do not track them and hundreds never make the news, particularly when they happen at urban schools attended primarily by children of color,” the Post reported.

We are creating a generation of kids traumatized by the very real fear of gun violence. They’ve learned to check for the exits, to watch their backs, to barricade doors, to send a text message just in case. And they’re listening and watching what the rest of us are doing about it.

When I got those first texts on Tuesday, I was stunned into inaction. I really didn’t know what to do. Watching the endless, circular, going-nowhere gun debates, the political flaying and minced words, it seems inaction is all anyone is able to do.

But these kids know what to do, and they’re coming to change the world. No more excuses. I stand with them. What about you?

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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