Our two most important jobs as parents are to love our kids and to protect them. I've got the love part down. That one's easy. The protecting part is tougher. No matter how much I want to, I can't protect my two kids from teasing or bumps and bruises. Or from guns, even in places where they should be safe. Yesterday morning, a shooting took place at Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, killing at least 14 and wounding at least 17 more. After a police pursuit, two suspects — identified as Syed R. Farook and Tashfeen Malik by authorities —were shot and killed. I watched the scene unfold on the TV, sheer terror seated beside me, and all I could think about was how we've failed our kids.
Over the years, my politics have changed on a few issues, but never, not once, have I looked at our gun laws and thought "Yeah, that's a reasonable and relevant law to have." One of the central aspects to my ideology is that the government exists to protect its citizens. I mean that in a broad sense. I believe in social justice, and national security, and democracy.
The problem with our gun laws is that they are not keeping people safe. And, yeah, I've heard the rhetoric that if we all just practiced our right to bear arms, we could all take safety into our own hands. But there is no denying the fact that we have a problem with gun violence in the United States. The San Bernardino shooting was the second mass shooting of the day yesterday, and the 355 mass shooting that's taken place in the United States so this year. (To put that into further perspective: we've only made it through 336 days of 2015 so far.)
There is no denying that our right to bear arms quickly goes awry when the people practicing their "rights" are terrorists, or domestic abusers, or racists, or criminals of any stripe. Of course there are some laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, but a large majority of guns used in mass shootings are obtained legally.
I admit that I've been shielded from gun violence. I've never witnessed it firsthand or known anyone whose ever been shot. I am lucky. Aside from historical reenactments, I've never seen a gun fired. I live in a fairly liberal area of Northern Virginia. I wouldn't consider this an area where guns hold a lot of cultural significance. Except for the fact that I'm right down the road from the NRA Headquarters.
The first time gun violence felt like a real threat to my own safety was when the Beltway Sniper was shooting people randomly as they filled up their gas tanks. I remember feeling anxious as I had to stop to fill up my tank. I remember looking around, wondering if I'd see the shooter coming if he pulled up in his van. I was in high school, and many of our homecoming activities were canceled that year. There was a lot of fear. That's as personal as it ever got.
Then I had children.
Having children has made me a grade-A worrier. It's made me a raw nerve. It's made me hurt for other people in a way I didn't know I could. I can't even think about Sandy Hook without hurting. I'd wager that every other parent out there feels the same. It could easily have been my kid. I could have sent my kid off to school that fateful, horrible morning and never seen them again, knowing their last minutes were filled with terror.
When I allow those thoughts in, our lack of common sense gun violence prevention makes me ill. How did we, as a country, allow that to happen?
It's not random. There is a shooting every single day in the United States. It's no longer rare. No longer uncommon. No longer an accident. Sandy Hook wasn't an isolated event. In fact, of all the victims of mass shootings, children make up a whopping 27 percent.
I worry when my son gets on the bus every morning. Since he's started kindergarten, thoughts of Sandy Hook float through my head at least once a week. And I'd like to believe that nothing like that would ever happen here. But how do we know?
Guns frighten me on a very basic level. Just last year, my family went to eat at a local burrito restaurant. As we stood in line waiting to order, and as my kids happily watched someone make tortillas from scratch, I spotted a gun. The man right behind us in line had a handgun in a holster under his arm. I don't know how these holsters are supposed to work, but I'm pretty sure the gun shouldn't be dangling and swinging as the wearer moves.
I was holding my daughter so she could peer through the glass at the tortillas, and I realized that her head was level with the gun. One look at my husband and I know he saw the same thing. He put himself between the kids and the gun and I put my daughter down. I'm sure it was legal for this man to open carry. And maybe he had a reason to have a gun in a family restaurant. Maybe he knew every safety precaution he should. Maybe if a terrorist jumped into the restaurant and started shooting, this man would knock over tables and push my kids to safety while taking the shooter out.
Or maybe something would set him off and he'd draw his gun in anger. Or maybe he'd bump it and it'd go off. Or maybe he really would use it on the super slim chance that some terrorist happened by. But then my family would be in the crossfire. There were so many "maybes" and so many "what ifs" floating through my head. I definitely did not feel safer for that gun being there, and neither did my husband. So we left.
I don't keep guns in the house, but how do I know if there aren't guns in every house they might walk into? How do I know someone won't walk into their schools, their favorite restaurants, their belief centers, their healthcare facilities with the intent to harm them? I don't, and that is terrifying. All I can do is try to make my voice heard. I vote. I send letters to my congresspeople. I can do more. It's just too f*cking scary to not be doing something.
Right now, the only thing I'm doing is hugging my kids a little tighter. Maybe it's cliché, but right now, it's the thing that's making me feel better. Right now, my daughter is asleep next to me and my son is playing on the computer in the next room. Later today, I'll have to send them out into the world again — a world that, in the wake of the San Bernadino shooting, is a little darker than it was yesterday. But I send my kinds forward, hoping they can be the light.
Images Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh (4), Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images