Well, it finally happened: more mass shootings occurred in this country, and for the first time, I wasn’t sad.
No. I was pissed.
Pissed because two of the shootings in recent months have happened in a community I used to live in and care deeply about. Pissed because there have been 355 mass shootings in the past year. Pissed because more Americans have died because of guns since 1968 than in all American wars combined.
I'm over this. I’m over wondering if any of the students in my school who are struggling with depression have access to guns and whether someone might decide to bring one to class next week. I’ve over panicking every time I hear the words “COMMUNITY COLLEGE SHOOTING” on the news because my husband teaches at a community college. I’m over worrying that my nephews and godchildren and all the other beautiful, innocent children in my life will witness and be scarred by the trauma of gun violence.
Look, I’ve never been about giving up freedom for security. I’ve always been that person who argued against things like the Patriot Act, because honestly? If you need to spy on me to keep me safe, I’d rather take the risk. But the gun issue isn’t about giving up freedom for security. We’re operating under this bizarre illusion that security from gun violence means we have to chuck the second amendment out the window, and it just isn’t true. I don’t believe it. I don’t buy that argument.
Cars weren’t around in the 1700s, so there’s no amendment in the Constitution about one’s freedom to drive. And when cars became a Thing People Used, we immediately regulated them—and rightly so. Because they are dangerous, dangerous pieces of machinery. We carefully monitor who has cars and make laws about when people are allowed to drive them. I had to sit through no fewer than six disgusting Driver’s Ed videos showing me all the ways I could get killed in a car accident before anyone gave me a driver's license. Not to mention the hours of practice my poor parents had to put in with me. (Sorry, Mom.)
Where’s the equal regulation for gun ownership or use? Where are the consistently mandated safety courses? Where are the required hours of proof that you a) know how to hold that thing b) know how to lock it up c) are probably not going to use it for horrible purposes? Look, I grew up in northern Vermont. The Vermont I grew up in had one of the highest rates of gun ownership and lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the country. And it turns out that, as of July, this statistic is still true.
You know what I remember about my childhood? I remember how seriously people took gun ownership. I remember gun safety courses being offered every year at my school. I remember it being a very, very big deal when one of my friends went hunting for the first time. I remember that when a gun-related accident or shooting happened, people talked about it, dissected it, looked for ways to share messaging in the community to make sure it didn’t happen again. I’m sure our gun culture wasn’t perfect or nearly as idyllic as I remember it (nothing ever is), but I am sure of this: guns were considered serious things. Because they are.
My idyllic Vermont had laws and culture that made gun ownership possible with very little gun violence. Our country as a whole right now? We don’t have that culture. We’re not taking guns seriously.
Regulating guns, making them less accessible or illegal where necessary, being far, far more careful about how they are distributed—none of these things are an indication that we are giving up freedom to the government. I didn’t feel held hostage by my government when I took Driver’s Ed. I felt like I was learning a skill so that I could take on a very important responsibility. I don’t feel held hostage by the government when I renew my license and prove I can still see before I get behind the wheel again. You know who I do feel held hostage by these days? The NRA. Because they somehow manage to do things like get laws passed that say the government can’t fund any research that might lead to further gun control. How is that even a thing? We can never learn and grow and develop gun laws that are safe and sane and logical? How does anyone not felt held hostage by a body so powerful and intrusive that they can get that kind of legislation passed? It literally nauseates me. (And no, I didn’t just misuse the term literally. I am actually nauseated right now. It’s very uncomfortable, frankly.)
I’m angry today. I’m not scared, and I’m not sad. I should be, but I’m not. I’m angry. We need laws and culture around guns in America to change, or nothing else is going to change. And maybe that means addressing the issue differently in different cities and towns and states, and I’m okay with that. Vermont and Chicago are not the same place, and their communities may require different legal and cultural shifts. That’s okay. Speed limits are different on different roads.
But something needs to happen—and fast. I can no longer be held hostage by the NRA. I can no longer worry every day that my students will experience gun violence either in their homes or inside the walls of my school.
Because those are both places where every child has the right to feel safe.