There was a time when I could hear a news report on a tragedy and feel sadness, but soon forget. Hear soundbites and shake my head and move on. But Friday’s tragedy is different. I don’t know if it’s because I have kids of my own now, or more specifically that I drop one off at pre-school , and his little face does not look entirely different from the little faces I see plastered across news reports. I can’t shake it. I feel physically ill hearing about it and reading about it and thinking about it. But I can’t stop thinking about it.
I’m beginning to think parenting is both the scariest thing one could ever do and the most important thing one can ever do. I was once naive enough to think that good parents could bring about a perfect world, but I know that there is far more to it than that. I hurt so much for the parents who have empty beds in their homes and clothes to clean out and are undoubtedly feeling a pain none of us can pretend to understand. But I look at the same blurry photo of the gunman that is plastered all over news reports, and I feel another pain entirely. I hear people calling him a monster, and I get it. I really do. But this has happened too many times in recent history for us to always point fingers and blame someone else.
He wasn’t loved enough. He played too many video games. His parents never taught him right from wrong. Blah blah blah. If we think for a moment that the issue stops there, we are fooling ourselves.
There are so few options between expensive outpatient therapy and prison. So few, in fact, that these occurrences will increase until they are commonplace if we don’t figure something out. Was Adam Lanza’s mother a perfect parent? Probably not, but most of us aren’t either. I don’t know the nuances and details that made up their daily lives, but I know that many parents of mentally ill adolescents – even the very best ones – feel out of options and fed up with the system we have now. Our mental health system is just as broken as the rest of our healthcare, and we are all going to suffer for it.
And I rarely get political in this space, but how many more of these incidences do we have to see before we understand that the carelessness with which we handle guns is quite literally killing us. I know the second amendment protects our rights in this area, but our founding fathers could not predict for a second the “arms” we insist on bearing today and the ease with which they can move from state to state and person to person. Why does anyone need a semi-automatic? I am posing a serious question here. Give me one solid reason someone needs a weapon of that kind. I get hunting. I get sport and hobby. I do. But what purpose do these assault rifles serve?
I read this great essay recently and found out that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is TWENTY times that of the next 22 richest and most populated countries COMBINED. And this editorial explains that children in America are THIRTEEN times more likely to die from gun violence than children in other industrialized nations. And Australia made simple changes like banning rapid-fire long guns and requiring safe storage of remaining guns and their mass shooting problem literally disappeared. The citizens still have the freedom to own guns and use them for sport, and one simple change had this effect. Canada, for instance, requires a 28-day waiting period to purchase a handgun, and you have to have two people vouch for you when you buy it. Maybe I am some crazy liberal who doesn’t respect personal freedom, but does a four-week waiting period and two signatures really strip us of those second amendment rights? I don’t think so.
I’m not even sure where I am going with all of this except to try and write my way to understanding this problem like so many others are doing now. I know there is no simple answer and the questions just keep coming. But I also know we have a responsibility to our kids to figure this out. It’s not a school issue; it’s a societal one that is emerging in parking lots and malls and theaters and everywhere else. It’s time we stop shaking our heads and DO something to fix it.
In the meantime, like every other parent watching the news, I’ll be hugging my own a little tighter and feeling gratitude for my undeserved grace. There but for the grace of God go I.