By: Shannon Ralph
Today began like any other day. This morning, my alarm went off at 6:30 AM, and I rolled out of bed. Bleary-eyed and cursing Mondays, I woke my three children one by one. Milk was poured. Pop-Tarts were consumed. Teeth were brushed. Hair was combed. Shoes were tied and back-packs were zipped. Foreheads were kissed and necks were hugged. “I love you, mom.” “I love you, too.” Three kids shuffled out the door and, somewhat unwillingly, headed to school. As the front swung shut behind my children, I closed my eyes and whispered, “Please don’t let anyone shoot them today.”
Pretty extreme, right? You might assume from my reaction to the beginning of a normal Monday that I live in Afghanistan. Or Iraq. Or Syria. But I do not. I live In Minnesota. Right here in the good old U.S. of A. So I shouldn’t be worried when I send my children off to school. Not here. Not in America.
Last week, Chris Harper-Mercer killed 9 people and wounded 9 more at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. In 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 elementary school children, six school employees, his mother, and himself in Newtown, CT. Also in 2012, One Goh killed 7 people and injured 3 more at a small, Christian college in Oakland, CA. In 2007, Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech. In 2005, Jeff Weise killed 5 high school students, a security guard, a teacher, his grandfather, and himself in Red Lake, MN. In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylam Klebold killed 13 people at their high school, then killed themselves.
These are only the most catastrophic school shootings in recent years. In actuality, there have been 45 mass shootings in U.S. schools in 2015 alone, according to Shooting Tracker, a website that compiles statistics on firearm deaths. 45 mass shootings in American schools this year alone. Go ahead and let that sink in. That comes out to an average of more than one mass shooting a week in our schools. Once a week, someone walks into a random American school and shoots. It could be my kid’s school next week. Your kid’s school the week after that.
Once a week, parents send their kids off to school—just like I did mine this morning—to die. And we, as a nation, are perfectly okay with this.
Every time one of these shootings happens, my heart goes out to the kids (yes, college students are “kids”, too) whose lives are cut short way too soon by gun violence. But even more so than the kids, I find myself haunted by the parents. Parents just like me who hugged their kid and sent him off to school, assuming he would be safe. Assuming he would come home again that afternoon. I think of these parents and my heart absolutely breaks in two. The grief. The loss. The guilt. How does a parent possibly recover from the knowledge that she sent her child off to school to die?
There is no convincing a Sandy Hook parent that our schools are safe. There is no convincing an Umpqua Community College parent that our schools are safe. And there is no convincing me that our schools are safe.
But what can we, as parents, do about it?
The day after the shooting in Oregon last week, I posted a blurb on Facebook about why I thought it was ridiculous that the killer had 13 legally-purchased guns in his possession. My aunt in Kentucky, a woman whom I absolutely adore, responded with arguments I have heard numerous times before. The problem is mental illness, not guns. Why shouldn’t a person have 13 guns when you have multiple pairs of shoes, earrings, necklaces? Then my aunt reminded me that I was raised in a house with guns.
Her points have an element of truth to them. Untreated or undertreated mental illness is an issue—though not the primary issue—in violent crimes, I do have way too many shoes (it’s kind of a problem I have), and my dad did own guns.
My dad died when I was 11 years old. Prior to that, however, we did have guns in the house. It is not at all uncommon in Kentucky to own guns. To grow up around guns. Hunting is a big deal—a normal part of the social landscape. My dad kept his guns in a locked case in our hallway. We didn’t talk about them, but I saw them every single day. They took on a weird, almost mythical proportion in my mind. Something I could see, but not touch. Something taboo, but that occupied a prime spot right in the middle of our home.
My father was the kindest, gentlest man I ever met in my life. He would never have willingly harmed another person, but he owned guns. To vilify guns and the people who own them is to oversimplify the situation. People who own guns are not inherently bad people. Overwhelmingly, they are good, kind, honest people.
But to say that guns don’t kill people—that people kill people—is also oversimplifying the issue. Guns kill people. There is no denying that last week’s victims—and all of the victims of mass shootings before them—were killed by a gun. Yes, they were attacked by a person, but they were ultimately killed because that person was holding a gun. In the absence of a gun, they would be alive today. The gun did the deed.
It is what guns do, after all. What they were made to do. Guns were created to take lives. Whether a firearm is used by a sport hunter legally hunting deer or a police officer diligently protecting the public or a mass murderer randomly shooting people on a school campus—the purpose of a gun is to take a life. The intentions of the shooter do not make a difference.
Guns kill. Period.
That is not a judgment of any sort about the person pulling the trigger. There are situations where guns are appropriate. In the hands of the right person, there are times when guns are even beneficial. There are times when they protect the public. But we can’t argue that guns do not kill because…That. Is. Simply. Untrue.
So if we can find it within us as a people to be honest and admit that the obvious purpose of a gun is to take a life, doesn’t it make sense then to regulate the purchase and use of such a device?
I drive a car. I like cars. They are convenient. They get me where I want to go. They allow me to avoid the physical exertion of walking—avoiding exercise is one of my favorite hobbies, after all. I even own more than one of car. In two different colors. But cars can be dangerous. They are large. They can hurt people. With the wrong person behind the wheel, a car can easily take a life. We know this to be true, so we regulate the purchase and use of cars. I had to study and take a test to prove that I was capable of driving a car. I have a driver’s license that has to be renewed every four years. I have an identifying license number, as does my car. My car is registered with the DMV. The sole purpose of a car is not to take a life, but we realize, as a society, that it is possible for a car to take a life, so we heavily regulate the purchase and ownership of cars. By doing so, we are not aiming to take anyone’s car away. We do not have an anti-car agenda. We are simply being prudent and safe. As a responsible driver and car owner, I want to share the road with other responsible drivers and car owners, so I fully support the testing and licensing and regulating of driving and car ownership. I mean…it only makes sense. Right?
So why does proposing similar safety precautions for the purchase and use of guns result in outcries of “They’re trying to take away our guns!” There is absolutely no logic in that response.
If proper precautions are in place, my dad would have still been able to own his guns because he was a responsible gun owner. All law-abiding, safe citizens would be able to own guns. But we could prevent people like Chris Harper-Mercer from amassing an arsenal of 13 guns with the intention of hurting other people.
I know there have been many more articulate and intelligent articles than this one written about the need for gun reform in this country. I don’t purport to have the answers. I am just a mother who is outraged that we are doing nothing as children die. I believe that something can be done. I believe that something must be done.
Perhaps it would be easier to put into words what I do NOT believe.
I do not believe that people who own guns are inherently dangerous people. However, I also do not believe that having a gun in my house would make my family safer. And I do not believe that having a gun in your house makes your family safer. I do not believe that the answer to gun violence is more guns. I do not believe that the NRA has the safety of our children as its top priority. Or even in its top 20 priorities. I do not believe that everyone has a right to a gun. I do not believe that the spirit of the 2nd Amendment included people carrying concealed firearms in Wal-mart. Or in church. Or on the neighborhood playground where my kids play. I do not derstand the need for semi-automatic weapons outside of the military. I do not believe that someone should be able to amass an arsenal of 13 guns—many semi-automatic—without coming under scrutiny of the law.
And again, I do not believe my children are safe in school.
Barring all of the numerous logical reasons to regulate gun ownership, isn’t that one, singular point enough to necessitate change? American children are dying from gun violence at a rate far exceeding any other developed country in the world. How are we not ashamed of this statistic? How are we not rioting in the streets, demanding that laws be enacted to protect our children? How are we sleeping at night with the knowledge that there will be another mass shooting in an American school this week? Three more this month? And we are doing nothing.
Lucas Eibel was 18 years old when he was killed last week. He was a quadruplet and had, along with his two brothers and sister, just graduated from high school this year. Charlotte Bacon was just six years old when she died at Sandy Hook in the brand new pink dress and boots her parents had bought her for the holidays. Six-year-old Jesse Lewis had hot chocolate with his parents at their favorite deli before they dropped him off for what would be his last day of school at Sandy Hook. Thurlene Stillday was only 15 years old when she was gunned down in Red Lake, MN. She is buried in her family’s burial ground on the reservation.
Typing the words “15-years-old” and “burial ground” in the same sentence is surreal. It feels wrong on every level. Thurlene’s parents will never hug her and send her off to school again. Lucas’ two brothers and sister will always feel the absence of the fourth member of their “quad.” And Charlotte and Jesse and all of the other children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School? As a parent, I can’t even fathom the grief their families feel.
But even worse, I can’t fathom doing nothing—saying nothing—to keep this from happening again.
It is within our power to change.
It is our responsibility as a people to change.
But we have to want it.
Please, as a parent, I beg you.
Want it. Do it. Change it.
Photo Credit: Alosh Bennett