There’s an episode of Family Guy where Brian discovers he has a son and goes on to annoy Peter and his friends because he begins over-reacting to potential scenarios that would harm his son.
“Ohhh, no no no,” he tells a sympathetic Quagmire while talking about plane crashes. “Until you have a child. Until you have a child. You do not understand. OK?”
Sigh. I just quoted Family Guy.
But damn it, if I don’t feel the same way right now.
Had it happened five years ago, I would have shared in our nation’s pain and suffering over the news of 20 first-grade students and six adults gunned down in a Connecticut elementary school last Friday. Like the Batman movie theater shooting earlier this year or the Arizona congresswoman assassination attempt and mass shooting last year, I would have reacted to the news much like everyone else – with great sadness but eventually (and too quickly) an attitude that these things tend to happen and we’re all just trying to make it through life beating the rare chance we’d ever be a victim in these random acts of violence.
It sounds harsh and selfish, but if you weren’t directly affected by the theater shootings, think about how long you “mourned.” Aside from a few links you may have posted or a few comments on guns, it was all likely forgotten within days.
Life goes on.
You know, as it should.
But then I had kids. A beautiful, smart little girl who loves pink and purple and Santa Claus and dancing and singing and Disney movies. An equally beautiful little boy who waves at trucks, loves dogs and rarely doesn’t have a huge smile on his face.
They are 3 and 1. To my wife and me, they are our life. The moment they were born, our goals in life changed to simply raising these children to be happy and loving of others.
And to be safe. Most importantly, to be safe. To not live in fear.
The odds that our children will be gunned down in a horrific act of violence are so rare, you would think it’s something that should never cross my mind.
But it did this morning.
Moments after seeing the pictures of children who on Friday were shot numerous times while huddled in a corner feeling unimaginative fear that no child should ever experience, I said good-bye to my two children as my wife drove them to their preschool/children’s center.
I thought about the fact that you need a password to enter that facility … that as far as those types of places go, it’s secure as it needs to be.
From what I understand, though, so was Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.
It’s not a very comforting thought.
In fact, it all makes you feel completely helpless.
I know that feeling will go away with time. As will our sadness … at least those of us who, again, aren’t directly connected to this tragedy.
Eventually … far too quickly, perhaps … life will return to normal until the next massacre.
Rinse and repeat.
But I’m not going to just jump back into normalcy without, in some small way, trying to make a difference. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a writer, so it’s my hope I can make a difference with my words.
Maybe it’s because children were involved in this one. And maybe or maybe not that should make a difference in our reaction to this.
But what’s different about me now and me before now is I’m a parent. And, I guess like Brian would say, “Until you have a child. You do not understand.”
So hear me out. This is my only wish in this life – I want my children and your children to be safe. I want to be able to drop my daughter off at kindergarten in a few years and feel like she’s going to be fine. I want to take them to a Disney movie without jumping in my seat when someone pops their head in through an exit door in the middle of a dark theater.
Above everything. Everything. The goal for our country should be the well-being and safety of our children.
And as a country, we do a pretty good job of trying pretty damn hard in many areas of child safety. We track sex offenders mercilessly. We hand down multiple life sentences to football coaches found guilty of being nothing less than a monster. We require car seats. We don’t allow people to smoke in public buildings.
We even monitor the toys in their Happy Meals so they don’t choke.
Yet, when it comes to guns.
We’re on our own, there.
I grew up in Texas.
And not just Texas. East Texas.
Rural East Texas.
Kids came to school wearing camouflage in the winter often because they’d spent the hours from sunrise to first bell in their deer stands. In the early 90s in high school, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see rifles on gun racks in cars parked in the parking lot.
My stepdad had a bunch of guns … pistols, hunting rifles, etc.
And they scared the shit out of me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid someone would use them to harm me. I was more afraid of the accidents often associated with guns in the home. A pistol in a young man’s hand is surprisingly heavy and surprisingly powerful. And if that young man is me – someone with no gun training whatsoever – there’s absolutely nothing good that can come from holding one.
So that day I snooped and held it … I set it down (barrel away) seconds later and decided at that moment I wasn’t a “gun person.”
But being from Texas, I know a lot of gun people.
Hunters. Enthusiasts. Police officers. A few people, also, who according to the stuff they post online, probably shouldn’t have guns.
Many of these gun people are the first to respond to a national tragedy with one of those half-compassionate, half-“don’t you dare talk about taking away my guns” posts.
You know the ones ….
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
The shooter wouldn’t have killed anyone if the principal was armed.
And so on. And so on.
I’m not saying they lack compassion. Most of them are parents and likely, like me, shed a tear this weekend as the names and the pictures of the 6- and 7-year-old victims were released.
But many of them are equally passionate when the idea of gun control is brought up. They get angry and condemn those who “politicize” the shooting. They point to an insanely out-dated Second Amendment that, in their eyes, guarantees us the right to own guns that can fire off a dozen rounds a second.
Note: I’m only assuming those guns exist. I’m not a gun person.
To quote President Obama – a president I’ve not agreed with on many issues the past four years – Monday night from his speech in Newtown …
“Can say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days. If we’re honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change. We all know what he means.
And he’s right.
It’s time to make some changes.
Some of them even I won’t like.
When my daughter knocks my son over the head with a giant wooden spoon in our kitchen, the first thing I do is take that giant spoon away.
The wooden spoon is useful for many other things … stirring, uhm … I’m not much of a cook, so I imagine there are other good uses for it, too.
Point is, in her hands, with a 1-year-old around, it can be dangerous. As a parent, I should have known this before letting her hold it in the kitchen, but I didn’t see the harm in her using it to pretend to cook brownies for her grandparents who’ll be in town later this week.
But when she conks the boy on the noggin’ … she loses the right to play with the spoon.
I don’t sit there and wait for the 25th smack on the head before I realize something in this scenario needs to change.
It’s a simplistic comparison, but one I think fits.
How many mass shootings are we going to experience before we start enacting laws that take dangerous automatic or semi-automatic weapons off the streets?
The Bushmaster .223 rifle the shooter allegedly used in Newtown Friday is the same type of weapon used by the infamous D.C. sniper in 2002. The North Carolina company that produces the rifle also made rifles used in at least four other high-profile mass shootings since 1999, including a 2009 shooting spree in Alabama that killed 10 and a 2010 spree in Virginia that left eight dead.
According to an article this week in the USA Today, the weapon delivers bullets “designed in such a fashion (that) the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullets stay in.”
I believe in the idea of the Second Amendment. I believe we should be able to protect ourselves. I don’t like guns, but if it means protecting my family …
But to say our “right to bear arms” means we have a God-given right to automatic rifles that are lighter than air, easy to use and can gun down 15 “ducks” in mere seconds.
This is where we disagree. Big.
The guns allegedly used by the killer in Newtown were legally purchased by his mother.
The weapons used to mow down little children were purchased legally in this country.
Let that sit in for a second.
And I know the arguments that will come my way …
* Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. … My answer: People with legally or illegally obtained guns kill people.
* A bomb would have killed everybody in the school. … My answer: You’re right. I’m glad he only killed 26.
* A guy in China injured 20-plus this week with a knife. … My answer: Keyword is “injured” and second, are we really going to use this as an argument?
Some have suggested arming teachers or using the type of marshals we use on planes Post-9/11. Who is to say a teacher can’t snap? Is the answer really putting more guns in the school?
The answer to all these questions is there is no clear-cut answer. Yes, if you ban assault weapons, people will still murder people.
We’re a sick, sick world. I get this.
But we can’t use the excuse “it’s gonna happen no matter what” as the reason for decision or non-decision we make.
We have to start somewhere. We have to make laws that both sides can agree on.
These rifles have been legal for a long time, but like my daughter and the spoon, our society has shown we just don’t know how to handle them.
It’s time to take them away.
It’s a start.
And while we’re at it, it’s time to look at video games, television and movies. I’ve spent a lifetime defending the First Amendment with much the same passion many have defended the Second … but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think first-person shooter games and episodes of The Walking Dead (my favorite current TV show) don’t glorify this sort of violence in some way.
The answer there? I don’t know. But again … our society just can’t seem to handle it.
I will fully support any attempts to make this country safer. I’m sorry to all victims of mass violence that it took the lives of 20 beautiful children and six brave adults for me to speak my mind sooner.
If you agree with me, share this … or don’t. Share something else written by someone who doesn’t quote Family Guy or better yet, get off your ass and demand change.
I firmly believe those of us who want gun control aren’t asking for this because we’re evil and communists and we want to take away the rights given to us by God and bald eagles.
We want it because we want our children to grow up in a country where lightweight semi-automatic rifles aren’t available at your nearest historic-theater-converted-into-a-pawn-shop (my hometown has one of these, though I haven’t checked if it sells these weapons).