The following essay is being reproduced here with the permission of the author. Jason Jenkins is a friend of our family and a co-worker of Shelley’s.
We mourn as a nation for the loss of so many lives in the recent tragedy, and I add my voice of deepest sorrow for this tragedy. I am a physician, the father of a young child in school, and have a relative in whom I can see shades of the murderer. This event has led me, as so many others, to re-examine the priorities in my life.
Some have pointed to the failures of our mental health and medical systems. Others wish to blame the guns used by the disturbed killer. He was reportedly in the process of being assigned conservatorship by the courts, which would have prohibited him from owning firearms. He violated the existing laws against carrying guns on school property. Finally, and most importantly, he violated the law and moral restrictions against murder. Against innocent children and his own mother, I submit that his victim selection embodies evil and abandons rational thought. We must look at an issue larger than a cumbersome mental health system or the fact that criminals, by definition, ignore laws banning guns and murder. Evil, insanity, and murder have existed throughout mankind’s history, regardless of our supposed medical sophistication or the tools used.
We can ask ourselves what drove him to do this, and legislate to ban guns for the sake of our children. What led Andrew Kehoe to kill his wife and massacre 38 school children with explosives in 1927? Perhaps there were warning signs, and there were doubtless cries to restrict access to the tools he used. Why did Julio Gonzalez kill 87 people in the Happy Land night club, using nothing more than a can of gasoline and two matches? Perhaps there were warning signs. Perhaps we should restrict access to gasoline and matches.
What we have not asked ourselves is to realize one horrifying truth, which is that we are a nation of “soft targets.” Our band-aid attempts to ban some of the over 300 million privately-owned guns in the United States, blame movies and video games for violence, and pretend to have “meaningful dialogue about mental illness” are little more than the societal equivalent of thumb-sucking. The terrorists who coordinated the massacre of schoolchildren at Beslan also knew that schools are soft targets. The terrorists who slaughtered so many innocent Americans on September 11, 2001, knew the soft targets of our airline travel. With box cutters and evil, terrible determination, they caused the death of almost 3000 innocents.
It could have been worse. The hijackers told the passengers that they were simply returning to the airports to have their demands met. The passengers of flight 93 heard the same message, but were on the last aircraft to be hijacked. They knew that their fates were sealed, and the terrible intent of the hijackers to use their aircraft as a weapon. These strangers stood together and fought for the lives of innocent people they had never met, even when hope for their own lives was lost.
Those heroic and selfless passengers showed the selfless courage described by President John F. Kennedy. “Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.”
The minute men on flight 93 became a hard target, giving their last moments to save the innocent. The young man who drew his legally-carried gun to thwart the shooter in Oregon became a hard target, and the attacker ended his own life instead of continuing the slaughter. We are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents, and all members of a nation. We must not, as a nation, be consumed with fear and cowardice. We cannot afford to make ourselves even softer targets by normalizing evildoers and removing the means to defend ourselves from them. To do so dishonors the memory of all those who have sacrificed themselves for the protection of us all – military, public service, and even those innocents who go to the aid of others.
Today, I will care for a young girl whose parents will never again be able to hold her because of a tragic accident. They will only carry memories and the heavy burden borne by all parents who must live longer than their children. In the face of their personal devastation just days before Christmas, they are yet thinking of others. They are consciously working and sacrificing for people they have never met, giving the gift of her perfect heart, lungs, and kidneys to help others live. They are a hard target against the depths of despair that they face, and heroically give hope of life to anonymous strangers facing the same.
If your child comes under my care after devastating injury, I have vowed to be a “hard target” against his or her death. It takes knowledge and tools, and sometimes I do not win, but that is not a victory given easily. It will be stained with my own tears, my own gray hairs, and my promise to you as that child’s parent that your children’s faces stay with me many years later. That is but a small price for me compared with your limitless loss.
If ever in that terrible position of facing an attack against my family or innocent children, I have vowed to be a hard target. Whenever and wherever possible, I will use whatever tools I can to gain an advantage. Even if a law keeps me from carrying a gun while a shooter ignores that same law, I will do what I can to evacuate those innocents to safety. I will render whatever medical care I can, though my ability to treat without supplies is limited just as my ability to engage a shooter without a gun. There may not be a winning solution, but I have determined that I will crawl through Hell itself to keep my family and children safe. If I must engage an attacker and do not survive, it is not in vain if it buys them an escape. If escape is not possible, then I shall endeavor to my last breath to shield them with my body. I do not say this from bravado or a misplaced sense of heroics. I say this as a father who loves his children and knows that other fathers love their children, too.
Every day, I try to remember to hug my children a little more than necessary because I know someone else has lost that forever. It could one day be me who has lost that forever. I try to remember that I’m not too busy to play with my son as his little Superman cape trails behind him, because he still lives in a world where there are super heroes. All too soon, he will learn that super heroes are not real. My job as a father is to teach him that there are still real heroes in the world, and that he can and must have the courage to find joy in life despite terror and tragedy.
If we really want to do something for our children and for the good of society, let us become hard targets against evil and despair. We cannot predict it, we cannot remove its tools, and we must not enable it by laying down our own ability and tools to protect our children. I ask you as a father and a fellow member of our society, to please be a hard target against death, evil, and sadness for my children when I can not be there to protect them. I will do the same for you. Please help us show our children that there are indeed heroes in the world.
– Jason Jenkins