Dropping my daughter off at kindergarten enrichment last week, I did what I do every day. I kissed her and hugged her, then kissed her again, and another little hug for luck and then watched as she turned and ran into her classroom. And then, like I do every day, I turned and walked down the hall and I said a little prayer that this wouldn’t be the day the crazy person walked into her school and started shooting.
Then I pulled out my phone and checked my emails and I found that my fear for my daughter’s school was coming true across town. One of the elementary schools was on lockdown. A child had seen a man walking toward the building with something suspicious in his hand and alerted a teacher, who then alerted the principal. The school was locked down and for good measure, so was the middle school, located just down the street. In the end, the man was a parent and the suspicious item was a cell phone. Crisis averted. This time.
Moments later, I got pinged by my older kids’ school a few towns over. They had successfully completed a “Shelter in Place” drill that day. So now my kids will be prepared if a gunman armed with machine guns and ammunition and heaven even knows what else enters their school.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had a friend whose family lived in Beirut. And I remember thinking about him going home on break (which was, in itself amazing, since I was pretty much a shallow, self-involved little shit back then) to a place of such instability and uncertainty. A place where machine gun fire was a regular occurrence and the likelihood of a family member leaving the house in the morning and never returning was a real, calculable risk and not a freak or unimaginable accident. But that was Beirut. In the 90s. This is the United States. And yet today, my friend’s reality is one that we can, albeit on a smaller scale, share.
I can’t be the only person who reads the People magazine articles after each one of these school massacres and tries to imagine what would be said about herself, her friends, her children if they were ever caught in the hail of gunfire from an angry, disenfranchised, lonely person. “She was a writer who could often be found sitting in her minivan waiting for one or the other of her kids.” “He was a smart, kind kid. A talented actor and singer who loved playing golf and had a mean ping-pong serve.” “She was a promising dancer with a beautiful smile. She was friendly and funny and loyal.” “She was born on Christmas Day. The best gift her family could have asked for. She would have been six.”
I know I’m not the only person who thinks it is downright crazy that a child in elementary school in the United States is so aware of the danger of school shootings that when he sees an unfamiliar man with something in his hand, his first thought is of a firearm and not, say, a bag of Blow Pops. I know I am not alone because my friend, Stacey Loscalzo, wrote a brilliant post about the helplessness and the futility we’re all feeling just after our local incident was resolved. (As an aside, her daughter was one of the kids on lockdown during that day.)
Am I the only one who says a little prayer at the mall, the movie theater, parades, soccer tournaments, concerts, or pretty much anywhere a crowd congregates? Anyone else eye the security guards at sports venues and theme parks and hope that the pencil they use to push aside the packet of gum and the cell phone in the back pack is slightly more effective than it looks?
And now, a little over a week after another gunman ambushed another group of people and another ten lives were lost, The Huffington Post tells me that based on the number of Google searches being done, we are all losing interest in the issue of guns and gun control.
I get it and I am the worst offender. There are dinners to be cooked, budgets to be balanced, clients to be feted, Halloween costumes to be purchased, patients to be healed. We all have a job to do, most of us more than one, so who has time to worry about gun control or the fact that the people we elected to worry about it aren’t?
I know a lot of gun owners and aficionados. They are responsible, upstanding citizens. They keep their guns locked away and safe and they deserve to own firearms and not be stereotyped or criminalized for their choices. I don’t support repealing amendments or messing around with the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
But here’s the thing I keep thinking. Last week, as their kids were jammed in a dark bathroom or sitting quiet and still in a classroom for the better part of an hour while our police department determined that a gun was really a cell phone, not one of my gun owner friends was any more able to help their kids than those among us who don’t own firearms. No matter the number or type of gun they had, they too had to sit at home and bite their fingernails and pray. No one could take away the terror, or the uncertainty or the loss of innocence. To be clear, if the cell phone had been a gun, not one of my responsible gun owner friends and neighbors could have saved their kids.
So, until we agree that guns don’t kill people and people without weapons don’t kill people, but people with guns seem to be pretty regularly killing people I guess my prayer method is the best any of us can do. Until those who make the rules we all must follow are willing to admit that it’s not an “either” or an “or” but rather it’s an “and”, we’ll all just have to hope it happens to someone else somewhere else the next time. And until the discussion becomes serious and purposeful and about better ways to control, monitor and document the sales of arms in this country AND the need to determine how to identify risk factors, monitor behavior and provide care for the mentally ill, until we free ourselves from this paralysis by analysis we are in, I guess none of us can be faulted for just phoning it in.