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Parenting in a Trigger-Happy Country

We have not created a safe environment. As parents and citizens, that's our job. And we have failed. When you fail, you are supposed to change and adapt. You are supposed to act, not cower with helplessness. You are supposed to do something beyond hoping and crossing your fingers or knocking on wood.
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Woman's hand on shoulder of girl with backpack
Woman's hand on shoulder of girl with backpack

Sometimes, when my phone rings or I get a text during the school day, my heart stops for a minute.

***

At my first high school football game, four people were shot. My parents were horrified and scared. They tried to find a way for me to switch schools. I didn't want to. I loved my school and I was proud of it, in spite of it's tarnished reputation. My senior year, a former student was shot and killed at the entrance to our school.

My parents put our house up for sale soon after that.

You see, my school was in a rough neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood that saw violence and crime on a daily basis. As soon as they could afford it, my parents moved so my younger brother could go to a school without the threat of gunfire. They found a smaller town with less crime and a safe place to live.

That was in 1991.

Now, no one's safe.

No neighborhood or town is immune to stray bullets or bullets aiming to kill.

Guns are in angry, itchy hands. Guns are stockpiled and guns are wielded over the slightest offense. And sometimes guns are in the hands of well-meaning people who make mistakes.

Now, school shootings are commonplace.

As a parent, I'm not sure how to process that. Sometimes I'm scared to send my kids to school. I have fleeting thoughts as I'm saying goodbye to them in the morning. This is a day just like any other day. I bet that's what the parents at Sandy Hook thought. What are the odds that it would happen here, in our town? I bet that's what the parents thought when their kids went to class at Umpqua Community College.

I received a text last week. I was mindlessly doing something else and didn't rush to check the message. But then I had a thought... What if it's my daughter crouched in a hiding spot, texting me to tell me about a shooter?

These thoughts pop into my head every now and then. How could they not? Since 2013 there have been more than 149 school shootings in America. My kids come home and tell me about Active Shooter Drills. My daughter tells me about trying to find the best hiding spot because it's the one she's supposed to use in the case of a real threat.

We are teaching our kids how to hide from an armed intruder in school. We refuse to take action, to have the hard conversations. We go about our days, sipping our lattes and shopping at Target. But we are ok with our kids practicing scenarios of death and carnage. We don't demand that lawmakers finally do something, meanwhile a sick version of doomsday prepping has become a mainstay in our schools.

The method by which we safeguard ourselves and our children against the inevitable when guns are considered a right instead of a privilege? It's no more than crossing our fingers, wishing on a star and pinky promises.

We are hoping that people will be responsible with their guns.

We are hoping they won't pull out a gun in a fit of road rage.

We are hoping that they won't fire on a shoplifter in a crowded parking lot.

We are hoping that they will not leave them loaded and within arms reach of young children. Or anyone.

We are hoping that guns won't end up in the hands of people with violent pasts and violent tendencies. We are living on a wing and a prayer that the people with guns actually know how to use them and when to use them.

We are basically using voodoo, hocus pocus to keep our kids safe. To keep our country safe.

And it's not working so well.

When I get the robo-call that my son's school is on lockdown because a hunter wandered onto school grounds, I don't feel safe. I feel terrified. Even after the police determine it was an honest mistake and not a threat, I'm still scared. What about the next hunter? Will he be careful? Will he make sure that when he aims his gun it's not pointed in the direction of the school? I cross my fingers and hope.

When the people that own the land behind me target practice or hunt or walk right by our property line with big guns strapped to their back, I'm scared. Are they sane? Are they responsible? Are they making sure they aren't aiming in the direction of my back yard? Is anyone who lives in their home suffering from delusions or severe anger? Are their guns kept under lock and key or fingerprint scanner? I have no way of knowing. When I hear gunshots ring out in rapid fire, I call my kids inside. And I say a little prayer.

When a neighbor gets held up at gun point down the street? My heart seizes up. My son and his friends had been on that very street within minutes of the robbery. They had been walking home to play video games. Should I not allow my high school age son to walk the streets of my neighborhood? Should I keep all my kids home out of fear and not let them ride their bikes or play in the woods behind my house? Should I try to wish away the problem?

No, it doesn't have to be that way.

Common sense laws. Initiatives like those of Every Town For Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. Safety courses, universal background checks, closing loopholes. These are some of the things that will help. Why is this so hard to swallow? Our kids hiding under a desk in fear is easier to consider? Kids being killed accidentally by siblings or in road rage incidents is preferable to legislation and enforcement?

We are not safe in our trigger-happy country.

We have not created a safe environment. As parents and citizens, that's our job. And we have failed. When you fail, you are supposed to change and adapt. You are supposed to act, not cower with helplessness. You are supposed to do something beyond hoping and crossing your fingers or knocking on wood.

Our kids shouldn't have to practice hiding from gunfire.

We shouldn't be nervous when we send them to school. Or send them down the street. Or to a movie theatre or mall or anywhere.

We shouldn't be complacent or repeat tired phrases and mantras that have been fed to us by wealthy men with big agendas that include making them money and have nothing to do with our best interests.

We shouldn't be ok with the fact that death by gunfire has become commonplace.

When I send my kids off to school, or anywhere, I shouldn't have to be afraid they'll be next.

This post originally appeared on Gretchen Kelly's blog Drifting Through.