Oltmans: Do we want to?

Like most people, my Tuesday was a regular day – until it wasn’t.

My afternoon was spent planning this week’s Roundup and calling various chambers of commerce in Utah and Colorado to drop off our annual Travelers Journal in attempts of convincing travelers to visit. After the second call I found a notification on my phone of an elementary school shooting. Each and every call after brought a rising death toll. Beloved children gunned down in their classrooms.

I was still somewhat young when the planned Columbine massacre happened. But, realistically, mass shootings in America have happened my entire life. When I worked in Casper, a few coworkers and I covered extensive bullying within the school district. With heavy hearts of fear, we’d discuss how to cover the worst-case scenario.

While Wyoming seemingly exists in a vacuum, it’s not immune to potential catastrophe. I remember when a 15-year-old middle-school student in Gillette was caught with two handguns and a list of classmate and teachers’ names. That potential shooting was foiled when a classmate tipped off administrators, who found two weapons and 43 rounds of ammunition in the boy’s locker. That was four years ago. And it could have ended with weeping families.

This is the point where I need to clarify, at the risk of triggering insecurities. I grew up with guns, propping up targets in one of our fields for practice. Shooting guns is fun. I believe people have the right to defend themselves. I believe everyone who wants to hunt should be able to grab a license and a rifle with their big hopes of a clean kill.

But you know what else I’ve done? Completed a hunter’s safety course. My parents kept guns and ammunition (aside from BB guns or a .22) locked in the gun safe. We talked about how there were deadly weapons in the home and how owning them brought certain responsibilities.

Statistically, I’m not alone in my thoughts. Personally, I believe there should be expanded background checks to ensure those unfit to own firearms are not able to attain one. I don’t believe mass shootings solely happen because of the assailant’s mental health, but I do believe we should prioritize mental health services to protect the countless lives lost to guns every year – especially in a state that routinely holds the country’s highest suicide rate.

With every school shooting that’s occurred between Columbine and now – of which there are many – I’ve asked myself how it’s gotten to this point. What may have started as a slow trickle of tragedies is now common occurrence. With the shooting in Ulvade, Texas, there have now been 27 school shootings with injuries or deaths this year. Statistics show more children died by gunfire than car crashes last year.

I’ve talked with reporters who have covered mass shootings. Each one said there’s a detail about each event that doesn’t get put into print because it’s too horrific. And those moments stick with reporters long after the event. This time, parents gathered at the community center in Ulvade were asked to give DNA swabs to match to murdered victims – children. Now, pause for a second and think of the reason why they’d need that for identification purposes. I’ll wait.

This has happened my whole life. Nothing has been done to ensure tragedies like this don’t happen again in the only country where it regularly happens.

So, I ask, do we want to stop this? Really. Genuinely, do we care that our children are being slaughtered in their classrooms or do we simply not care enough to do anything about it?