I still have distinct memories of the white-hot disgust and fury I had after the horrifying school shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. I was still two years away from being a parent at that point in time, but because I’m a human being with some empathy I joined countless others in being shocked and disgusted and also in shouting to the sky that this must never happen again, things must change.
Well things have changed, but unfortunately the change is just that now these shootings happen so often they barely crack a news cycle. I know it’s not exact number, but I’m pretty sure there have been, give or take, 800 millionty-billionty school shootings since Newtown. What is an actual number is that this week’s mass shooting in Nashville was the 130th mass shooting in the U.S. this year. THIS YEAR. That’s more than one a day for you math fans out there.
Parents now as a matter of habit both dread how long they have to wait in drop off and pick up lines at their kids schools, but also count every second they are with their child, knowing that is a not-zero percent chance that those will be their last moments with them.
As parents today, we live in a nightmare of a society that absolutely refuses to do the bare minimum to protect our kids from the kind of gory death that used to be reserved for soldiers in World War I. And if that’s not bad enough, we have to deal with this in a media environment where we hear day and night about how desperately we have to protect our kids from the horrific threats posed by drag brunches, Judy Blume books and books that point out the fact that Rosa Parks was Black, but can’t be bothered to do anything to protect these same kids from being mowed down by literal high-powered murder machines.
If you’ll forgive me for saying so, it makes me want to crawl out of my fucking skin. And if the language offends you, I refer to you to this quote from Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now:
“We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘Fuck’ on their airplanes because it’s obscene!”
Like Kurtz, I have to ask…what is the real obscenity here? The word, or what is happening in our world?
For posterity, I’ll note that I’m writing this following the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, but I of course acknowledge that given the basic realities of life in 2023 America, there might be 2 or 3 fresh mass shootings by the time I finish writing this.
And that is precisely my point. We CANNOT become numb to this. And I fear we are. After Newtown, when nothing changed, many of us, myself included, slumped into a place where we assumed if THAT couldn’t bring about legislative change, nothing can. Well since I’ve already gone vulgar here, I’m going to say fuck that. This cannot be allowed to continue. You don’t get to say “America is the greatest country on Earth!” and be OK with kids being mowed down in a hail of bullets at schools on a regular basis. Sorry. Those two things don’t align.
In business, we often look to other organizations to find best practices. Maybe there is something we can learn from a similar company! I think that’s a good way to approach this problem. As a country, there must be someplace we can look for fresh ideas. In the case of mass shootings, the U.S. can absolutely draw from the success of others. As of this writing there are 195 countries on planet Earth. Where it comes to this particular problem of mass shootings of children, it turns out we can learn from 194 of them.
America is exceptional, all right. We are exceptional in that we are the only nation on earth who deals with this problem, this often and at this level. We are the only nation on the only planet that we know to harbor life where a child’s most likely reason for dying is from a gunshot wound. That’s not hyperbole, that’s an actual fact drawn from data from the CDC. That is pretty exceptional, if not exactly something to be proud of.
Many of you have probably seen the video clip of an actual member of Congress shrugging and saying there’s just nothing we can do because there are just bad people in the world. Hey, I don’t disagree. There are plenty of bad people in the world, but I fail to understand why we should make it as easy as possible for any bad person to get a hyper efficient murder machine.
“But bad guys will always find ways to get guns!” That’s true. We shouldn’t have any laws at all because why bother? People will always break them. But to those who love this “laws don’t matter” take, I would like to share this very simple graphic from Financial Times. The red line represents when the assault weapons ban went away. See how mass murders were…oh wait…not at all the same on either side of that. More guns didn’t make us safer, it made us significantly less safe.
I grew up in a rural town with lots of gun owners and hunters. What stands out to me is that the current framing of the gun discussion is not anything close to what I grew up with. I have many relatives who had firearms, hunted, and were and are very responsible gun owners. They treat their firearms as tools, not fetishized totems, and recognize the need for care, education and regulation. What I can’t wrap my head around is the idea that any of those people I grew up with would ever think an assault weapon like an AR-15, a war weapon, is what should be used for hunting. Hunting, as I grew up with it, was both for sport and for sustenence. We would get venison sausage after deer hunting season. Why would any hunter use a weapon that literally rips apart its target and renders it unsable?
Which brings me to this extremely uncomfortable and yet necessary point. If anyone is still with me, I’m going to ask you to take a moment to read this extremely difficult piece from the Washington Post. The parents of two victims from school shootings allowed ballistic analysis to be done on their children’s bodies, to show the damage done by AR-15 rifles. I won’t lie, this is awful. I read this and watched the animations because I believe it is important for us to not look the other way and sanitize these horrific events. Accepting them as normal means we stop fighting, and we cannot stop fighting.
I adore my children. I will do anything, anytime, anywhere to ensure their best future. I refuse to concede that is remotely acceptable that I might someday get a call that my child’s body has been ripped to shreds by a weapon designed for a battlefield, but allowed to be casually purchased by ANYONE WITH A HEARTBEAT because of the bizarre fetishization of firearms by a small portion of our population. There are people who now think it’s adorable to have Christmas cards with small children holding assault rifles. Again, growing up around plenty of hunting rifles, safety and respect was always front of mind. So when I see that this same member of Congress with the gunny Christmas card apparently thought it was adorable to pose a baby with high-powered assault rifle…I’m going to go out on a limb and say maybe my deep discomfort here is what we all should be feeling.
Stand back for a moment realize how distorted and disgusting this is. We are bombarded day and night by people freaking out about “woke” culture, whatever that means. At what point do we start to ask what damage is being done by a culture that glorifies objects that literally have no purpose other than death and murder. Meanwhile, when the same people who think it’s responsible to take pictures of babies with deadly weapons want to assure us, “hey it’s cool, we got this. Parents worried about your kids being shot up at school, sorry, you just have to deal with that because George Washington strongly believed that babies should be able to have gatling guns.”
I am a student of history. History means examining the rise and fall of great societies. How often do we hear that the fall of Rome came, not from without, but from within? Rome fostered a culture of decadent violence and rot. If that is true, than what are we doing? If we as a country are willing to say that the fact that death by gunfire is the leading cause of death FOR CHILDREN is an acceptable trade for zero-hassle access to high-powered weapons, than what the hell do we stand for? Please don’t tell me we stand for morals or the future or for children, because that is just bullshit.
For you Constitution freaks, the second amendment rather specifically defines the right for a “well regulated militia.” The word “regulated” is right in there. So please stop with the framing that any regulation is unconstitutional. You don’t have to a lawyer to see that.
And for those who say that the answer is better doors or “more good guys with guns,” I hate to disappoint you, but that doesn’t pass muster either. A while back I actually wrote an article on the topic of school security. I spoke to numerous security experts and none thought the idea was terribly practical. The expense, recruitment and training of qualified security professionals in every single school in the entire country would be logistical and financial nightmare.
Yes there will always be bad people and yes, there is no perfect solution, but taking high powered weapons off the board sure would help. Nobody needs a goddamn assault rifle. I’m sorry if you think it makes you look cool. I used to think cargo pants made me look cool, I was also wrong. Truth be told, I’m much more interested in my children living. I know this is and will be a fight. I know it seems hopeless. It can’t be hopeless. We have to change things. Please don’t stop caring. Raise your voice, work with organizations like March for Our Lives and keep pushing to make a difference. Call your representatives. Don’t stop.
We can’t give up. Let’s keep talking. I’d love to hear your own thoughts and stories about this, too. Let’s get loud together.