If you’re a woman or a parent or really a human of any stripe in America, there’s a lot to rage about lately. Probably many of us have learned to modulate our anger, because being in a constant state of outrage is detrimental to our health.
Today my rage is crushing and all-consuming and feels like lava coursing through my veins. My 7-year-old brought home a pamphlet from school earlier this week titled “National Child Identification Program.”
She handed it to me with a bewildered look on her face and opened it to show me a page with slots for her fingerprints, one box for each finger. She said she supposed we needed to fill this out.
My mind reeled as I searched for the appropriate reply. I told her we’d look at it later, and she trotted off. And then I opened the pamphlet and saw two simple sketches of a naked, genderless child, labeled “FRONT” and “BACK.”
I choked up as I realized what I was meant to do. I was to label the figure with any birthmarks, moles, scars, or other distinguishing feature on my child, so that her body could be identified, if, for example, her face was blown off by an assault weapon. [Note: Officials say the program, which predates the Uvalde shooting, is primarily used to find missing children but the kits “can be used in the aftermath of a tragedy,” an official acknowledged to CNN.]
As a parent of three kids ― one each in elementary, middle and high school ― I rolled my eyes when our large, urban school district required students carry clear backpacks this school year. I live in Texas and the horror of the Uvalde school shooting was top of mind. I wondered if anyone really believed clear backpacks were making anyone safer. I breathed a sigh of relief that my youngest didn’t understand why the clear backpack edict was made.
There are a thousand ways for parents to meet this moment with young kids. I suppose we’re embracing willful ignorance for our 7-year-old. She didn’t comprehend this pamphlet or what it could possibly be used for any more than she comprehended the clear backpacks. She has a vague understanding of bad guys sometimes doing bad things in the world, even at schools. I can’t find the words to explain why the adults around her won’t do simple things to keep her safe at school. It’s disgraceful and I’m ashamed of our elected leaders, who refuse to put the lives of small children ahead of a well-financed gun lobby. I cannot summon a rational explanation, even on a second-grade level, for the current state of affairs.
My husband and I can’t shield our teenagers from headlines, and they fully grasp the reason for active shooter drills. The best we can muster in broaching this topic with them is that the grown-ups in our country have failed them. Despite decades of talk about commonsense gun reform, our country has only made modest policy changes around the margins. We tell them that it shouldn’t be this way ― and that it isn’t this way in other countries. Teenagers whose brains aren’t fully developed and can’t yet buy alcohol aren’t able to acquire a gun license in other countries. Guns, and specifically assault weapons, aren’t easily accessible in other countries, and gun deaths in other countries are a fraction of gun deaths in the U.S.
We all seem to maintain some emotional detachment from this topic. I remind them that, statistically, they’re unlikely to experience a shooting at their schools. We tell ourselves this so we can sleep at night.
So, here is my earnest, desperate plea to every person who has a child, or knows a child, or believes children have a right to exist to carry on the human race ― future payers into the Social Security system, if nothing more.
If you live in Texas like me, or any other state, for that matter, where far-right Republicans have made a mockery of your child’s safety, vote for the candidate with a reasonable stance on gun rights. No one’s coming for your hunting rifles. Vote for a return to some semblance of sanity on the topic of gun control (among others).
Because I refuse to believe or accept that clear backpacks and active shooter drills and law enforcement programs to help identify children’s disfigured or dismembered bodies are really the best we can do ― the best we can offer our kids.
My rage knows no bounds, and I’ll carry it with me to the ballot box.
Joanna McFarland Owusu is a writer and editor based in Dallas. Joanna was a federal government analyst in a former life, and is a longtime policy stan and news junkie. When she isn’t reading the news or writing, Joanna spends most of her time Uber-momming two teenage sons and an elementary-aged daughter around town.