Since Friday’s horrific mass murder of schoolchildren and teachers in Connecticut, I — like many moms with school-age children — have been sick with grief for those who were lost, and with worry for my daughters. Our family’s sense of safety and security in our own community has been shattered by events in another state, which seemed so frighteningly close to home. Those kids could have been any kids in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. Or could have been her.
Never before had I felt compelled to make gun control my #1 priority as a mom, but now I’ve signed up to participate in the Brady campaign and plan to write all my elected officials to press for sensible gun laws.
(Here’s what I consider “sensible”: strengthen background checks to include adjudications of mental illness; require background checks at gun shows and for online gun purchases; prohibit suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons at gun shows; and ban military-style assault rifles. There may be other steps we should take, but that’s a good start.)
Never before had I grasped the magnitude of the mental health issues in this country. Now I am questioning what can be done to ensure that kids, young adults and older folks no longer slip through the cracks of our society, and can get the mental help they need.
And for the first time, I wondered how much additional security is required at my daughter’s school. Without going into detail, I fear that the safety measures being taken aren’t enough to have prevented a tragedy like the one in Newtown.
Every parent across the country is wrestling with the same questions. But now the debate on gun control is exposing an additional danger, of which I was previously unaware. When people vehemently defend the right of anyone to own any gun they choose, what are they really saying? A gun is a means to an end, and in the minds of many gun-rights folks, that end is defending themselves against something. The question needs to be asked — against what, exactly?
Probably the most common answer is protecting one’s family against a home invasion. I can understand this argument, having grown up on an isolated farm out in the country where no law enforcement could ever come quickly enough to save us from danger. We were out there alone and had to protect ourselves. My parents were both responsible gun owners with handguns as well as hunting rifles. (My dad was also a hunter.)
But another answer to the “what are you protecting yourself from?” is much more troubling, and one that I’ve only learned about in the wake of Friday’s tragedy. It seems that many red-state folks are arming themselves against an Armageddon-type scenario in which the federal government moves to take their liberties, or something like that. Basically, they are arming themselves against the government.
I’m baffled by this angry loathing of our democratically-elected government. We’re Americans — when our guy loses, we’re not supposed to “take up arms” and overthrow him, like they do in third-world countries. We’re the very model for peaceful, non-violent transition because our Founding Fathers set it up that way. I believe that it’s un-American to threaten revolt against the government just because your side lost an election.
Larry Pratt of the Gun Owners of America recently stated that U.S. civilians need automatic rifles in order to be prepared “to take on our government. And this government has gone overboard.” He continued that it’s time to take action “when elections are stolen.”
Pratt knows exactly what his rhetoric is doing: stoking the fears of anti-government gun owners. It’s incredibly irresponsible and helps to create the Timothy McVeighs of this world — angry individuals who won’t accept that the very strength and power of America has always come not from millions of individuals alone and isolated, but from citizens living together as an American community. Our strength hasn’t come from everyone being the same background, but from our diversity. We didn’t become a great nation by silencing debate with weapons, but by protecting the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press and petition. And we didn’t amass our power by overthrowing our president and Congress, but by believing in our democracy to address the most important issues of the time.
In addition to working in the short-term for better gun laws, expanded mental health options and improved school security, I now feel the need to defend our American tradition of a free and peaceful democracy. Because that’s the America I want to leave to my daughters.