When active shooter scares come too close to home

Originally Appeared in : 9825-12/6/18

How does it feel to learn that a beloved family member is being threatened by an active shooter? My daughter and I found out last week. My grandson is in kindergarten and attends a public school within walking distance of his home. 


As it happened, I was with my daughter and her two younger children. We’d spent a beautiful autumn morning at the park. We sat down to lunch at my home when my daughter noticed she had missed a call from her son’s school. She then received a call from her husband. She stepped out of the room while I stayed with the toddlers. 


Minutes later, I went to check on my daughter and saw that she was in tears as she spoke to her husband. Concerned, I asked what was wrong, and she whispered words I will never forgot: “There’s an active shooter reported at our elementary school.” The school was on lockdown. Police were searching all the buildings. Parents were told not to visit or call the school in order to not impede the operation in any way. 


As we waited shocked and terrified, my daughter received an email from my grandson’s teacher. She reported to the parents that they were all safe and huddled in their classroom. That email was a great relief, but we had yet to receive official notice that everything on campus was all right. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a kindergarten teacher charged with such responsibility. Perhaps fearful herself, yet needing to appear calm for the children’s (and their parents’) sakes. Her generous gesture of reaching out to the parents was deeply comforting. 


Then my daughter called her friend, a high school teacher from the same district, whose daughter attends the same elementary school. The conversation they had was reassuring. This teacher friend had heard that the call was unsubstantiated, probably a hoax perpetrated by a student in the school. 


Thirty minutes of uncertainty and utter terror passed before we learned that, indeed, this was the case. A fifth-grade student had phoned in an active shooter threat while at school. (That student has since been identified, and last I heard, police were determining whether or not to file charges.) 


Students were to be dismissed to their parents within the hour. As my son-in-law departed to pick up my grandson, my daughter and her toddlers went home to await his arrival. We were profoundly relieved. But the horror of what could have been loomed large. It still does. 


On a video call with my grandson later that day, I was struck by how calm he was. He seemed to have endured the lockdown with no apparent ill effect. We adults, however, were still reeling. And who knows what fears now occupy his innocent mind.


My daughter wrote this post on her Facebook page, and with her permission, I share it with you. 


“When Sandy Hook happened, my son was just a few months old. I remember nursing him in the middle of the night and crying for those parents who’d lost children. My infant son was precious and fragile, but I could still hold him in my arms to protect him.


“Today, his elementary school had an active shooter scare. There were terrifying minutes of uncertainty between the initial call and the ‘all children are safe and accounted for’ message. My son said, ‘We had to be still a long time while they checked every nook and cranny for the bad guy.’ His class got stickers for being so quiet.


“While I am relieved this was a false alarm, I am also sickened that he had been in school for just three months and already had to experience a lockdown. I am sickened by the greedy politicians who take gun-lobby money by the millions, and choose it over our lives. I am sickened by citizens who think their right to easy acquisition of military grade weapons overshadows our right to send our children to school without worry, without having to take a call like the one I had today. We must demand more. We need gun sense in this country.” 


My grandson came home safely from school that day, but the terror my family experienced was real. How can we live in a society that accepts this terror as part of daily life? It is unacceptable. We can do better. We must be better. 


To claim that the problem is a result of mental illness or bad people conveniently overlooks the facts that we are not the only country in the world with mental illness, or people who commit evil. But we are the only developed country that fosters our own form of domestic terror. And make no mistake, this is terrorism.


My daughter and I want “gun sense.” We don’t ask for repeal of the Second Amendment. We are asking that those who see guns as central to their Constitutional rights understand that gun culture has eroded the well-being of the majority. It requires that an entire generation of innocent children be put through the terror of active shooter drills. Unfettered gun culture has intruded on their sense of safety. In effect, it negates their unalienable Constitutional right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. 


The stale argument is that bad people will still get guns, no matter how much we try to prevent them. Those who parrot that argument seem unwilling to apply it to other laws and restrictions. Bad people steal and commit murder, even with the laws we have against them. Should we abandon those laws? Of course not. 


I have always advocated for gun safety and sensible restrictions. Guns are deadly and cars are deadly. I firmly believe guns should be treated no differently than cars. Gun ownership should come with the same legal responsibilities: to require training and testing, for weapons to be licensed, and owners required to carry liability insurance. If these requirements seem to infringe too much on a gun owner’s rights, then tell me how maintaining unfettered rights are in keeping with Christian values? How are they consistent with our belief in a right to life?


If we are to find peace in our society, we must be willing to acknowledge that the rights of a few should not prevail over public safety. 


How does one follow the Prince of Peace while maintaining an arsenal? As we enter the season of Advent, may we all prayerfully consider what Jesus would have us do. 


Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at


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