Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Our Children, Our Guns

It could’ve been your child.

You take his hand and go outside to the morning cold and wait in front of your house together for the bus. Or you take her down the street where other mothers and fathers are waiting for the bus with their children.

The bus rolls up and the door opens. You hug your child. “See you later,” you call. The bus drives off.

Your child never returns.

That didn’t happen. Not this time. But it did happen, in a town not that much bigger than Morris Plains. Newtown, Conn., has been described as “quaint” and a “typical New England town.”

It happened when a 20-year-old man in that town shot his mother, took her legally registered guns - including an assault rifle, the kind used in warfare - and went to an elementary school where he killed the principal, a school psychologist and then shot at close range children, 20 of whom died.

Why does someone need to have pistols, a rifle and an assault rifle in the house? Why does her son, described as having a “history of mental illness,” have access to that arsenal?

Imagine if this had happened in Morris Plains, at the Mountain Way school? Or at the Borough school? Or at Morristown high school? Colombine was a high school shooting, the Virginia Tech slaying a college campus.

What makes this killing horrific is it took place in a supposedly “safe” town,  involved very young children and the way the killer smashed his way into the school, walked into a classroom and start shooting.

It was deliberate, cold-blooded murder for a reason we can’t fathom.

We love our children, passionately. We are ready to lynch anyone accused of being a sex offender and sput their names on a list to protect our kids when they move to our towns. We fight to “choose life” and make sure there's “no child left behind.” We only want them to have the best, a better life than we had.

No matter how bad it gets, the sun rises each day, giving us new hope.

But there are times where we seem to love our guns more. We quote the second amendment of the Constitution in explaining why we have the “right” to have them. We don’t just need them for hunting. We need them for “protection.” We need them to look tough or to have the upper hand in a confrontation with “criminals.”

You watch enough violence on television or in movies or videogames and it makes stories of real murder seem almost routine. You watch the news and almost nightly hear about a young man or woman shot on a Newark street, or a child caught in the crossfire of a gang battle.

Then you hear about a young man walking into a school to blow away a room of first-graders after killing his mother in a “quaint” and “typical” New England town right out of Norman Rockwell.

That is when you realize this isn’t a gang problem or a Newark problem. It’s YOUR problem. It CAN happen here.

The dead mother was a “gun enthusiast” who felt she needed protection in this “quaint New England town” by having two handguns, a rifle and an assault weapon in the house. Did she consider she might someday need protection from her son?

When my husband and I were children in our respective schools we would settle arguments with fights or with an adult interceding and reasoning with us. Not guns. Now it seems we spend more face time with our computers than with each other, including our precious children (watch how many mothers push a baby carriage with one hand and talk on the other, or how many kids try to get their father’s attention while he’s on the phone).

When we get angry at strangers we rant online. When we get really angry with spouses, children or parents we use the gun in our house.

There should be limits on guns, but it’s unrealistic to just ban guns. These guns used in the massacre were legally bought, after all. Even President Obama, in his address to the nation last Saturday after the shooting, didn’t mention gun control. It’s a touchy subject.

But we also can’t put up metal detectors in front of every building. This is not Orwell‘s “1984.” Since 9/11 we have cameras everywhere and people making a living coming up with encrypted security and others paid to hack into emails and other supposedly private communications. We must now use “keycards” to go into the office, maybe even the bathroom.

And don’t get me started on airport security.

Do you want to go through a metal detector every time you go to the supermarket (remember Gabrielle Giffords?) or movie theater (remember Aurora, Colo.?) or a mall (remember Portland, Ore.?)?

Still, how many more shootings do we have to endure? How many more children have to die?

I don’t know the answers. Consider this post my frustrated screaming in the wilderness.

My older niece is a teacher in a private school in a “quaint” Connecticut town not far from Newtown, and she told MH that when she heard the details of the shootings in her car after school she drove home crying. She later called her mother, an art teacher of young children in New Hampshire, talking about “her kids” and how saying goodbye to them for the weekend seemed so inadequate. She wanted to hug them all extra hard.

Her kids. Our kids. We proclaim that life is precious, but every gun reminds us it is also very easy to cut short.

I am sure every parent in Morris Plains hugged their children of all ages in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting. Your children did come home. The school bus did arrive in the afternoon and your son or daughter hopped off and into your arms.

This time, they came home.

This time.