Last week, it was my neighborhood’s turn to play host to a deadly shooting - America’s new favorite pastime that no one wants to even pretend to try to fix. Two died, two survived. One will have to live with bullets inside his body and the other is nearly blind. His family is praying that their 23-year-old son will be able to see at least shadows and colors one day.
A shooter scenario infects everyone who surrounds it – the victims themselves, the neighbors who are instructed to stay upstairs with their children to avoid possible gunfire while police storm their streets with rifles in hand, the nearby homes who shut their doors and windows in a panic in case the shooter flees towards their home, and the community at large who is awoken to the fact that their local, family-oriented area is not immune to such horrors. They all feel the reverberating injustice of one person’s impulsive choice to pick up a handy gun and end some lives that day for whatever reason.
Of all the disturbing moments I experienced as a mother alone with her crying kids who didn’t understand why their dad couldn’t come into his home-on-lockdown for six hours – just nine houses down from the unfolding murder – the most frightening of all of them happened afterwards.
The day after the shooting, despite my emotional exhaustion that landed me in bed with a Snickers bar for comfort, I had the sudden need to feed the weary people in my traumatized neighborhood a warm, friendly meal. We all experienced these events separately, holed up in our homes, and I felt a longing to create a supportive space where whomever wanted to could share and process together out on the street, with pasta served out of a crockpot.
To my surprise, people showed up. Many I didn’t yet know. As our eyes met, our fractured smiles delivered the unspoken message, “I’m glad you’re here.” The bigger “here.” As in, not dead, like the couple down the street. And people did what I imagined they would – they shared their timeline of events, along with some unexpected tears and hugs. We were all infected with the same disease, just different severities of it.
There was a visibly shaken woman who lived right next door to the home turned crime scene. She told us how she felt weirdly okay as it was all unraveling next to her. She was even baking and cleaning while police peeked through her windows. But she told us that the next day, after the bodies had been removed, when she saw the investigators scrubbing the blood off the pavement, she completely lost it and had been crying ever since. We all listened, and nodded in support. Then she said, “I felt a lot of things, but I didn’t feel scared for my life because I had my rifle with me.” A dad standing in our circle chimed in, in agreement.
“We have guns too.” And then he said the thing that I can’t shake. “I don’t want my kids to grow up scared of guns. They should know how to use them.”
WHY DON’T WE WANT OUR KIDS TO BE SCARED OF GUNS? (Yes, I’m yelling.) I sure as hell wish Adam Lanza (the Sandy Hook shooter) was scared of guns instead of being brought up going to shooting ranges. Maybe twenty children would be alive today if he weren’t so comfortable with guns. And the 26-year-old who allegedly shot his dad and girlfriend less than a block from where my kids ride their scooters? I wish that guy had grown up with a healthy fear of guns, along with the rest of our great nation’s vile shooters.
I will never understand this fantasy scenario in which your child is in danger, and there is a magically placed gun next to them, and they somehow have no idea what to do with it (despite having Nerf guns, cap guns, sticks as guns, fingers as guns and watching movies and video games with guns in a society with endless imagery about guns), and if only you had taught them firsthand how to use an actual gun, they would come out alive. Parents who are betting on this scenario rather than the one in which your child uses your own guns against you, someone else, or themselves: you have it all wrong. And stats back me up on that, as does common sense and seeing just how quickly kids (and angry adults) can get into things they shouldn’t.
The disgusting irony of not just my local tragedy, but many others, is this: my neighbor, the father of the alleged shooter, had a stash of guns, as told to us by one of the victims who hobbled over on crutches to our block party for some comaraderie, fresh out of the hospital. He told us that this father died by one of his own beloved guns, at the hands of his own son. A son he may have taught not be scared of guns. And we will never ever get to hear what this deceased man learned from all this. We’ll never get to hear his answer to the million-dollar question, “Would you have traded in your guns if it meant you got to live?” What might Nancy Lanza, who lost her life at the hands of her son, have to say about things if she were still here? Would she still want for her son to be raised not scared of guns?
We will never know the first-hand wisdom these victims brutally obtained because they die. But you know what we will hear? We’ll hear the person talk about how “safe” they felt in the face of this event because they had a gun with them. And this will then reaffirm our false belief that guns make us safe, even when a man just died by his own gun. It’s like a virus. It keeps being dangerously perpetuated until it eventually wipes us all out. We keep buying guns to feels safe from the guns that keep killing people because hypnotized people keep buying guns to feel safe. We’re stuck in a revolving door that is based on a feeling that is a lie. The truth is that individuals in possession of a gun are 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession. People with guns are statistically less safe than those without.
Have you ever stopped and wondered just how silly we must look to the rest of the world? We’re a nation who made these killing tools cheap and easy to get (easier than buying Sudafed) – and we believe this lie that these things actually make us safer – and now we’re scratching our heads as to why shootings are so common while we also still refuse to take any action to reverse the damage we’ve caused ourselves, and instead we buy more guns. It would be the greatest joke of all time if it weren’t actually happening right before our very eyes.
If you think having a gun in your home makes you safer and that your kid should grow up knowing how to use one, you are dead wrong and your belief is adding to our body count. Again and again, the data proves that people with guns in the home are at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home. (Did we really need data to tell us that?!) When a shooting occurs, there are two main problems in the mix: a person and a gun. I cannot make sense of anyone who is still like, “Yeah, but guns aren’t the problem.” THEY ARE ONE OF THE ONLY TWO PROBLEMS (yes, yelling, again). Ideally, as a society actually interested in saving the lives of its people, we’d try to tackle both things immediately. But if the people part is too complicated and unpredictable, and mental illness in many is not apparent until it’s too late, and we can’t regulate general stupidity, impulses and accidental deaths, then why are we not tending to the other thing – the guns? In literally every case of a death by a gun, had a gun not been involved, that death wouldn’t have happened. It’s really easier than a second grade common core math problem.
I’m not going to leave this soapbox without offering some suggestions. First is, ban all guns. But something tells me that isn’t going to happen here, ever. So at the very least, let’s make an effort to do some.thing. Even if we know it won’t fix the whole problem, let’s take action that shows we care about this lethal problem, such as making gun purchases a huge ordeal. Isn’t it time that we shifted some of this burden to the gun owners for a bit? It’s maddening that their rights have been treated with more concern than that of victims – past and future. In Japan, where only six people died in 2014 due to guns (yes, sixxxx), this is what is required to purchase shotgun or rifle (handguns are banned outright): You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a score of 95% or higher. There are also required mental health and drug tests. Your criminal record is scrutinized and police look for connections to extremist groups. Then they check in with people who know you – your family and even your work colleagues. Oh and they limit the amount of gun shops.
If we can’t learn from our dead, then let’s learn from countries who aren’t in the terrible predicament we are. How did they get there? What do they want their kids to feel comfortable with instead of guns? How many deaths might have been prevented here if we’d had any of Japan’s safeguards in place? And, what the fuck are we waiting for?
In an eerie pre-death Facebook post by one of my slain neighbors, a nice woman barely in her fifties, she wrote, “Best quote ever ‘you can’t regulate evil.’” I wonder, would she still give that comment a “like?” Or would she beg us to better regulate at least one of the things that ended her life?
And you’re welcome to disagree with me, data and reality on this, and continue to do absolutely nothing. And together we’ll just watch your kids get more comfortable with guns, until one of them goes on a killing spree. I hope you’re spared, but it doesn’t look that good for you, statistically speaking. Maybe then, when you no longer have a voice, or a heartbeat, you’ll finally choose actual safety over your precious guns that lied to you. But sadly, we won’t be able to hear you anymore.