When the pandemic hit, we were asked to take many preventive measures to stop the spread. When you combine the layers of masking, proper hand washing, social distancing, staying away from others when sick, and vaccines, the chances of spreading COVID and other diseases are very, very low. 

Masking became a political issue for two reasons, the first of which being that masking alone does not completely prevent the spread of COVID. Because our political mindset in this country is very “all or nothing,” we expect the solutions to our problems to be that way as well. But our societal problems are much more complicated than that, and expecting an easy solution to a difficult problem is highly unrealistic.

The second reason that masking became controversial is that Americans, especially Southerners, and most especially Alabamians, really do not like it when the government tells us what to do. This is not always a bad thing, as our government frequently makes really bad choices. The Alabama state motto is Audemus jura nostra defendere, Latin for “We dare defend our rights.” Our rights to what? A loaded question, depending on which time period you apply it to. Alabamians have a history of thumbing our noses at the government, but there’s a difference between thumbing your nose and cutting it off to spite your face.

In March of 2022, Alabama passed a law allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In June of 2022, a gun dealer went to a church potluck in Vestavia Hills and shot and killed three senior citizens.

The law went into effect on January 1, 2023, a mere 45 minutes after gun violence resulted in one dead and nine injured near the New Year’s Eve MoonPie Drop in Mobile.

We dare defend our rights. What about our right to worship, to fellowship, to celebrate, to learn?

I’ve been watching The Last of Us, a little late to the game as is my custom. (Mild spoilers follow if you’re also perpetually a little behind on pop culture.) The show makes valid arguments against government overreach in the wake of a pandemic and for individual gun ownership in the case of such government overreach. That being said, the driving force in the plot of the show is the development of a vaccine. Guns are not the only defense against the Infected. When the apocalypse comes, having a good security system and growing a victory garden is as much of a defense against an overreaching government, raiding criminals, and mushroom zombies as a personal arsenal.

Thoughts and prayers will not prevent all mass shootings. Common sense gun reform will not prevent all mass shootings. Increasing access to quality mental health care will not prevent all mass shootings. Examining our country’s complicated history of violence will not prevent all mass shootings. Improving security, including both personnel and facilities, will not prevent all mass shootings. But each of these precautions can provide a layer of safety to prevent loss of life. We have had 130 mass shootings this year, and firearms are the leading cause of death among children in this country. Shouldn’t we be throwing everything we have at this problem? 

What did we learn from the pandemic? How many people have needlessly lost their lives due to a lack of willingness to work together for the greater good? How many of us are willing to stop screaming at each other and start working to protect each other?

As a teacher and a mom with friends and family in Nashville, the Covenant shooting hit me hard. But they all do. Those of us who work in the trenches (this metaphor has never been more apt) have to think about these events on a personal level. How am I going to protect my students and myself so that I can make it to pick my daughter up from school at the end of the day? How protected is my daughter from harm while she’s away from me?

Layers upon layers.

Are we adding layers of protection, or are we peeling them away?