About two weeks ago, my husband and I were casually chatting with our daughter. Out of the blue, she said, “Mom, you know how sometimes I hug you for an extra-long time in the morning and kind of seem like I don’t want to go to school? That’s because I’m wondering if today’s the day there will be a shooter in my classroom.”
She told me she and her best friend even have a bucket list, just in case they get shot at school.
About a week later, on Friday, October 1, 2015, a gunman killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College, about 70 miles from where we live.
On Monday, a bomb and shooting threat was received at Rogue Community College, in our town. The campus was shut down and schools in our county were either locked-in or had extra police officers.
Last night, a note containing unspecified threats was found at Southern Oregon University, about 40 miles from us, prompting officials to close the campus.
I just don’t know what to say. Over the last few days, in person and on Facebook, I’ve had conversations with those who (like me) favor gun control and with those who don’t.
Those who would like to see more regulations are frustrated. We keep having the same conversations: why not? Why not put commonsense gun laws in place?
Those who oppose gun regulations are also frustrated. Our conversations go something like this:
I say there are too many guns. They parrot Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and say the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. (Ignoring that the police can’t possibly tell the difference between the two when entering an active shooter situation.)
I say we need better gun laws. They say that won’t work because criminals don’t obey laws. (Ignoring the obvious slippery slope—if the lawless won’t obey laws, why do we have laws about theft, or murder, or drunk driving?)
They say we don’t need gun control, we need mental health. I nod and say, okay, let’s have better mental health.
I say over 90% of Americans agree we need better background checks for gun purchases. They say that it’s a slippery slope to abolishing the second amendment.
The same conversation. Each time.
And now I feel like a massive raw nerve, shaking with anger and confusion and fear.
I want to kick and scream and yell into the universe, “WHY? WHY NOT AT LEAST START SOMEWHERE?”
Why can’t we start having better background checks? Start improving mental health access? Embrace logic and reason and empathy when we’re discussing guns and gun control? At least start and see if it works. See if we end up with fewer dead kids.
The sad, disillusioned core of me knows the answer. We can’t do these things because of the NRA.
The NRA has carefully crafted an environment of paranoia that makes people think having armed teachers in the classroom is a viable solution to gun deaths.
The NRA has purchased enough elected representatives that Congress recently extended a ban on research to even find out what forms of gun control work best.
The NRA has created a dystopian society in which it can produce a cartoon for kids, warning them to stay away from all of the guns lying around. You know, because it’s the grown-ups’ constitutional right to leave guns lying around.
And gun manufacturers just keep churning out more guns, more profits, more death.
I want to yell and scream and shout and holler, but I’m scared nobody will listen. Because I’m just a mom. Everybody expects parents to get all hysterical about their babies being in danger. It’s not like I’m a politician or a lobbyist or somebody important.
To be honest, writing this scares me. I’m afraid of voicing my opinions. I’m afraid of the scorn and ridicule of even my own friends and family, those people I love but disagree with.
But we’re a nation of cowards. America has been afraid of the NRA and gun manufacturers for too long. We need to demand accountability from our politicians. We need common-sense gun control, and we need research and respectful debate about how to balance constitutional rights with the rights of our children to grow and thrive in safety.
What kind of world do we live in that we can even think about debating whether a teacher should have a gun in the classroom? In which Congress would actually BAN research on reducing gun deaths? In which 5-year-olds regularly have “dangerous intruder” drills? This is complete fucking insanity.
I just don’t know what to do or say to my kids. We’ve left them such a mess.
Another Update, 5/18/18:
This time it was in Santa Fe, Texas. 10 dead.
Another Update 2/14/2018:
This afternoon, a shooter (again, I won’t say his name) killed 17 people and wounded numerous others in Parkland, Florida. I’m so afraid. Not just of shooters and bullets and seeing the bodies of my dead children, but afraid that as a society we’re growing numb, that we have no problem thinking about the unthinkable.
My friend Jennifer J. has an idea. What if we keep our kids home from school until SOMETHING is done? I propose that “something” be doing away with the Dickey Amendment, which threatens to defund the CDC if it funds research on gun violence (even Jay Dickey, eponymous sponsor of the amendment, changed his mind about it, saying “We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics”).
This could be a walk-out. Or a one-week strike. Or longer. Perhaps we could wait until the bell rings and then pull them out one minute for every student who lost their lives today? (Thanks to Ann S. for that idea that preserves school funding.)
Can we change things? Can we live with ourselves if we don’t try?
(And please, if you don’t like this idea, call your representatives, join an effective advocacy group, or write a letter to the editor.)
Update (September 14,2016)
Early this morning, in a nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, a shooter (I won’t say his name) killed 50 people and wounded 53. The shooter’s father said the shooter became enraged when he saw two men kissing on the street.
This is the worst mass shooting (in terms of numbers of dead) in US history. The shooter used an AR-15, a type of assault rifle also used in Newtown and Aurora. We do not know how to keep this type of weapon out of the wrong hands, however, as Congress has rejected an amendment that would have repealed a ban on conducting research into the causes of the gun violence epidemic.
We need to act. We need to hold our elected officials accountable. We need policy, not just prayers.
Here is a link from the Huffington Post on contacting your representatives: “An Easy Guide to Contacting Your Elected Representative About Gun Control.”