Column: Lacking Conscience or Courage, What Toll?

My son, Tucker, appeared at the door of the bedroom where I’d snuggled him in for a nap but minutes before. He was three years old, and we were visiting a friend for the day. Clearly unnerved, he said, “There’s a gun in there.”

I scooped him up and entered the room. A rifle was in the corner, leaning against the wall. How had I missed it? The gun was removed, and I lay down with my boy until he drifted off to sleep.

Not long before Tucker was born, one of my students died in a gun accident. He was thirteen, a bright kid, funny, kind, and promising. Having spent two years at a school for children with learning disabilities, he’d been accepted at a competitive, traditional school and was eager to commit to that challenge. Instead, he died. While playing with a gun, a friend of his shot him in the face by mistake.

In the aftermath of that loss, I raised my children to have a gun aversion borne of my own.

In 2012, twenty children and the six adults striving to save them were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a troubled young man with an AR-15. Sometimes it’s a struggle to ban from my mind images of the carnage faced by first responders at Sandy Hook. And now, Uvalde. And it stills my soul to think of the unfathomable grief of the victims’ parents and loved ones. How does one live with such pain? Joe Garcia, husband of murdered Robb Elementary School teacher Irma Garcia, could not. He died of a heart attack the day after the shooting, leaving their four children orphaned. The ripples of tragedy fan wide, anger and sorrow sweeping parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, friends, neighbors… and those of us, far removed, who mourn for them. What will be the toll of this recurring trauma?

Mental health in America is a serious issue, but it is guns that are doing the killing. It is assault weapons that are slaughtering children, shoppers, and worshippers. Those who bellow, “You can take my gun only from my cold, dead hands,” seem to think their rights, based on a willful application of an amendment written in the 18th century for militia men and musket owners, supersede those of the swelling ranks of deceased, injured, and bereaved.

They are wrong, but for now, it seems Karma alone will settle these countless scores. Life-saving laws have idled for years as congressional Republicans, absent conscience or courage, worry more about re-election than murdered children.

Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, 2000 Americans have been killed or wounded in mass shootings, and that does not include the thousands of individual gun deaths and suicides. As 50 Senators block H.R. 8, the Bi-Partisan Background Checks Act of 2021, the murders continue as Americans approach outings with wariness, and parents, fearfully, send their kids to school.

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