February 6, 2013 § 8 Comments
I have been working on a story about kids and guns; more specifically, about my kids and guns and all the strange emotional terrain such a combination mines, particularly for two parents who did not grow up with firearms. It is amazing how quickly guns have inserted themselves into our lives. We had a .22 for years, for livestock (or should that be “deadstock”?), but it was a lonely thing, tucked into a dark corner and fired only a couple of times per year. Now, we own a .22, a .22 mag, a .410 shotgun, a .308 rifle, and two .20 gauge shotguns (why so many? Some were gifted to us, the other represent a fairly standard trajectory in firing power, from beer can plinkers, to true hunting weapons), and it’s astounding how frequently I stumble upon evidence of their use. The boys like to hang onto their spent shells, and so inevitably the damn things end up in the unlikeliest places, like the washing machine, or in the case of the .22, between the cracks in the living room floor. Even now, I can look over my shoulder and see the guns lined up in a neat row. Like soldiers, I guess. I used to find them menacing, but not anymore.
I’d be lying if I said that Sandy Hook didn’t cause some misgivings regarding the sudden influx of guns into our home. Yeah, I know, guns don’t kill people, people do. It’s a comforting enough platitude, and maybe it’s even true on some level, but still, it’s also true that people don’t just walk into schools with their bare fists and punch 26 people to death. At least, not in my experience. So maybe it’s more accurate to say “guns don’t kill people, people with guns kills people,” but of course that’s not right either, because the fact is, the vast majority of people with guns don’t kill people. You can see why it’s such an emotional topic.
Like everyone I know, I was profoundly affected by Sandy Hook. It was a tragedy that revealed such enormous sadness, and I wonder if some of the mourning was and is not only for those who died, but also for a society that has devolved to a place where such a thing can happen in the first place. Sandy Hook was a tragedy that does not fit our view of ourselves and that exposes something we’d rather not have to face. There are so many other ways in which people’s lives are cut short in this nation – in car accidents alone, almost 100 per day – and we mourn these people, of course, but it’s simply not the same, in part because when you die in a car crash, whether you’re an adult or a child, you die in accordance with our cultural acceptance of the risk automotive travel entails. We have not accepted that merely by sending our children to school, we are exposing them to risk of death by gunfire.
In the days and weeks after Sandy Hook, it felt to me as if our country stood on the brink of something amazing. It felt as if we had hung our toes of the edge of a cliff and looked down, and below us, we could see what we could be, if only we might cling to that sense of what mattered, what truly, deeply mattered, and let ourselves fall into it. And it would be that easy, I think, if only we could stop resisting. But in a way, this does not fit our view of ourselves, either.
Then came the other cliff, the fiscal cliff. Then came the NRA, calling for armed guards in all schools. Then came Christmas and the New Year. Then we pulled our toes back. Maybe it felt too risky, or maybe we just forgot. Maybe all the information we absorbed – about the fiscal cliff, about Syria, about taxes, about this and about that – distracted us and somehow diluted the poignancy of the moment.
Even as I write these words, Penny and the boys are heading outside for target practice. For now, I feel ok about my children’s relationship to guns. I believe it is possible for them to both have a relationship to guns, and to that view I spoke of, of what the world could be if we could just hang on. Not to grief, and definitely not to anger. But to that sense of what truly matters. Of what connects.
I suppose if I could articulate any one hope for my children, it would be that they will be of the generation that doesn’t just tiptoe up to that cliff and glance briefly into a vision of what their world can be, before retreating. Nah, I want them to be of the generation that tiptoes up to that cliff, looks down, and jumps.