Students and supporters march along the west side of the state capitol Saturday during the March for Our Lives.

I’d hoped to see a friend amid the snow Saturday at the March for Our Lives outside the state capitol. She’s a Knoxville High School senior who cares about keeping her school safe from mass shootings.

But she didn’t couldn’t make it. She had a music contest and a scholarship interview. She’s a busy young person, like I once was.

A few months before graduating high school, I didn’t give much thought to gun control. That was until 37 years ago tomorrow, when a mentally unstable man tried to kill President Reagan. It made me wonder if anyone was safe.

Two days later, I wrote my first opinion piece on guns. This is my second.

A lot has changed in the years between. Back then, the biggest concern was handguns. As a 15-year-old, I was threatened by a drunk with a handgun while I watered the lawn at the funeral home where I worked. The solution, then or now, is not to arm 15-year-olds. My bosses grabbed a camera and chased the guy. It’s probably best not to arm undertakers, either.

Nobody was shooting up schools with assault rifles then, but that’s drawn the passion of students across the nation, including thousands who rallied Saturday across Iowa.

It shouldn’t be scary to go to school. I was chilled Saturday by a Des Moines teacher who told the throng that he made his class stay put when a fire alarm went off recently. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting suspect allegedly pulled an alarm to  draw more people into the line of fire. The local teacher didn’t trust what he’d heard until it was announced that, indeed, there was a small fire.

My daughter is in a high school every day as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and my younger son is studying to be a high school teacher. I’d rather not hear someday that they had to shield their students. Neither of them think it’s smart to arm teachers, nor do two school board members I recently interviewed, both of them gun owners and former teachers.

Everyone has opinions on what to do. Doing nothing is not an option. Five years ago, when 20 young children and six adults died at Sandy Hook Elementary, I quickly wrote a prayer and posted it on a global website I managed back then. Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

What more can we do to prevent mass shootings? The crowd in Des Moines wants to take assault weapons off the market and the streets. A Vietnam War vet who spoke Saturday said we must ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. I did the math in my snow-numbed brain. Could such a ban have saved seven lives at MSD High or 16 at Sandy Hook? Is the goal less carnage or none? What sacrifices must we make before more children are sacrificed?

One thing that’s stable over time is the instability of the shooters. We need more money for mental health services and to research gun violence as a public health issue. We also must address mental health concerns earlier. For the second time this month, the school board heard Monday about violent outbursts in our elementary classrooms. That story drew stronger social media response than any I’ve posted, which leads me to believe that parents are willing to put time and tax money toward solutions. As one school board member said Monday, angry second graders grow up.

Someday they’ll walk into KHS, as I will next Thursday to speak to the journalism class. I hope they’ll want to discuss the First Amendment and the Second, too. A lot has changed since my high school days, including the power and range of young voices.

They’ve launched a conversation too long in coming. May we all find the courage to join in.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at

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