Saturday, December 15, 2012

Too Soon

The sky has been dark all day.  Outside my window the city has been grey, hemmed in by heavy winter clouds that hang over us poised and heavy, ready to weep.

It feels so appropriate, too, because today it just feels that the world is dark.  It feels that there is more darkness than I can imagine, more than I can understand, more than I can bear to share this planet with.

The night before last, when I asked my seven year old son what he did at school that day, he told me they had a "stranger danger" drill.  "What's a stranger danger drill?" I asked him.  "It's where we stay in the classroom and have to be very quiet.  The Vice Principal came around and knocked on the door to get in, but we just ignored him and stayed completely quiet."

The image was haunting to me, my first grade son standing against a bulletin board with one of those cheerful scalloped borders, practicing what it would be like to hide quietly in his classroom as a shooter tried to get in the door.  I thought about it again Friday morning even before I heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  And now I cannot rid my brain of the image of those children sitting in their classrooms while a madman roams the halls.

~

I've worked for the same university for five years, and in that time, we've had a lockdown because of a shooter on campus and an evacuation because of a bomb threat.  The day the shooter was on campus, I learned that the trunks of police cars hold a terrifying arsenal.  I saw officers storm buildings with semi automatic rifles and riot gear.  Helicopters roared overhead while the campus-wide alarm system pierced the silence every few minutes. "Shelter in place," the voice on the alarm system told us, though we were desperate for direction, for reassurance, for any news at all.

We watched for signs of our own potential doom by streaming CNN on our computers.  No one told us anything except to stay inside and lock the doors.  We waited while the police searched building by building for a second shooter that would turn out to be just a rumor, and though we weighed the odds of coming face to face with this supposed shooter on a campus as large as ours and accused ourselves of being silly for worrying, we all called our mothers and husbands and children.  Just in case.

It wasn't until I was clear of the campus and headed home to see my boys that I realized how scared I had been.  The muscles in my back ached from hours spent watching death unfold and wondering if it was coming for me next.

~

I spent the day today with my five and seven year old boys, holding them and kissing them like I hadn't seen them in two weeks.  While they took turns on the "good" swing in the backyard, I carried the guitar out, sat on the patio, and played "O Come O Come Emmanuel" over and over, singing, praying the mournful words.  Later, while they watched a movie, I pulled out my phone and watched the internet argue over gun control. 

I have strong feelings about this, of course.  I think I know the best way, but then who doesn't? My brain has been around this subject and back again in the last 24 hours, and I have spent more time than is altogether healthy researching statistics and reading terrifying comments on articles I shouldn't have read in the first place.  I've read gun control blogs and the NRA website.  I have tried to wrap my brain around this, best as I can without losing myself to uncontrolled emotional reactions to the events of Friday morning and my fears about humankind in general. I know that most people have made their minds up too completely to hear anything I say as more than angry rhetoric.  In the end, though it may not ever do anyone any good, I have some thoughts to share with anyone who is at the point where they are considering buying a personal firearm. 

I want you to remember that if you buy a gun, you will not just own that gun on days when all is right with the world. You will own that gun on the worst days of your life. If you find out your wife has been cheating on you with your best friend, if you find yourself in a impenetrable fog of depression, if you learn that your entire life savings is gone in an instant.  You will have that gun on the days that make it almost impossible to see reason, to even recognize who you are.  If you are prescribed a medicine that alters your sense of reality, if you learn that your daughter has been raped, if you get blackout drunk one night.

You will own that gun on days when using that gun can begin to seem almost reasonable.

And if you can say with complete confidence that you know you would never use that gun out of hurt or anger or confusion, good for you.  That is admirable.

But, say, do you happen to have a roommate or a spouse or a child?  Because you will also own that gun on the worst day of your husband's life, the day he finds out you've been cheating on him with his best friend.  You will own that gun on the day your son decides to impress his cousin by showing him his daddy's pistol.  You will own that gun on the day your best friend, who has a key to your house, realizes that her depression will never go away no matter how many prescriptions they throw at her.

You will own that gun on days when the people around you, who know where that gun is and most likely how to get to it, are watching their lives fall apart.  Can you be as sure about them as you are about yourself? Can you be sure that none of them will one day take a turn that would lead them to use that gun to take the lives of others?

Can you be objective enough to recognize the signs if one of your children is no longer stable enough to be in a house with a gun?  Can you be sure that you will know it in time, that you won't be seeing your son or daughter as you want to see them rather than as they really are?  Can you be sure you will see the truth before he hurts himself or someone else?

See, owning a gun changes the likelihood that violence will enter your life.  For starters, the risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.  For every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, it is used 11 times for completed and attempted suicides, 7 times in criminal assaults and homicides, and 4 times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries. Keeping a gun in your home means that it is 3 to 5 times more likely that someone in your home will commit suicide by any means and 17 times more likely someone in your home will commit suicide by firearm. 

Think you would only use that gun for self defense?  Sadly, in an assault situation, people with a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot than people in an assault not possessing a gun.  Overall, guns kept in the home are 22 times more likely to be used in unintentional shootings, murder or assault, and suicide attempts than in an act of self-defense.  In fact, 41% of gun-related homicides, home invasion or in any other situation, would not have occurred under the same circumstances had no guns been present.


Think your children would never touch your gun? That they have been taught too well or don't know how to access it?  Well, 22% of children whose parents swore their children had never handled their firearms, when questioned separately, said that they had indeed held mommy's gun at least once.

That's the thing about owning a gun.  Whether or not you mean to, you are making your gun available to everyone in your life on the worst day of their life.

~

The sky is dark now, the sun has been set for hours.  My boys are safe in bed, but I will check on them before I climb into bed myself, thinking of those heartbroken families in Newtown. I don't know how long I'll continue to feel like we are living under this cloud, this cloud of unspeakable sorrow hanging over us.  My spirit sends an anguished cry up, a prayer with no words, as I read the names of the fallen.  


I know guns didn't walk into that school on their own and do this.  I know it's not so simple as that.  They were carried in there and used by a man, and there is an issue of mental illness and who knows how many other elements to consider.  But let's not pretend that if that man had walked in there throwing spoons, the result would have been the same.  Let's remember that the guns we own are not as off limits as we think they are.  Let's have the hard conversations and discuss what this means about personal responsibility, regardless of what the government decrees about gun ownership.  Let's talk about it too soon because it's either too soon or too late for other families, too late for other innocent children and teachers and movie goers and shoppers and pedestrians and college students.   




All statistics from here, here, and here.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. I think it puts the issue is a different perspective, one that may speak more meaningfully to people than abstract arguments about constitutional rights and such.

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    1. Thanks, Andrew. I believe it's important to think about the immense responsibility of gun ownership, and I think that gets lost in the gun control debate.

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  2. Amen Liz. Amen.

    I have racked my brain for a reason any average American would need to own an assault weapon...and all I've come up with is because "they can." And that is what must change.

    ~Angelika

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    1. I believe that most people who own guns do so because they believe it will make them safer, which is an impulse I certainly understand in a world that can be terrifying at times. They just don't realize that statistically speaking they are far LESS safe with a gun in the house.

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