I was not ready for this question.
I had hoped we could shelter my 3 year-old from the daily acts of murder/terrorism/religious-extremism/whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it that goes on in our country. But, that was a naive hope. This murder culture is everywhere. The terrorism in Colorado, San Bernadino, and all the preceding national and international news stories have crept into our pre-schooler’s consciousness. Hell, as I type this, there’s an active shooter hostage situation going on about a half hour south of our small midwestern city.
I grew up with firearms. I was raised with a positive view of them, built on respect for their deadly power, and their ability to provide sustenance for our family. Guns weren’t to be feared, and we didn’t have negative experiences with them. So, gun violence was never really a topic of conversation.
My wife’s family didn’t have the privilege of avoiding the gun violence topic. A family member of hers was murdered a few years before my wife was born. Understandably, guns were not viewed positively in her household.
We come from different backgrounds on this topic, and our conversations about it have been ongoing. Maybe we need a handgun. Maybe I need a CCW license. Maybe all of that would just make everything more dangerous for our family.
Here’s my view. I think with the 300 million guns in our country, we’ve reached a point where even sensible gun control measures aren’t going to save us from the Wild West atmosphere we’ve been creating for ourselves. Do I think there should be more thorough background checks? Yes. Do I think there should be reasonable waiting periods? Yes. But, I think the ship has sailed on these things for our generation and our children’s generation. Cynical? I suppose. I usually try to be more optimistic, but I don’t know what we as Americans could realistically enact that would provide an immediate modicum of safety.
But, then my son starts asking questions that make me realize how it would be abdicating my parental responsibility to simply sit around, throwing my hands in the air, and doing nothing to reverse the tide of our murder culture.
I am trained in how to respond to active shooter situations, and I have the certification to train others. This gives me a small measure of peace of mind, and it helps me feel more confident as an elementary classroom teacher. It’s certainly a lot better than nothing. But, obviously, it doesn’t guarantee safety to those in my proximity.
Today, en route to visiting Santa at the mall, and again on the way back home, my wife and I talked pretty earnestly about gun culture, sporadic violence, and moving to some distant Canadian wilderness away from all this garbage. So, it should have been no surprise when our little boy started in with the questions at our dining room table this afternoon:
“Papa, why do they shoot the bullet guns?”
I don’t know, honey. They want to hurt people.
“Do they hurt the nice people?”
“Do the bullet guns hit the little boys?”
…Sometimes, they do.
My wife and I quickly return to our talk of escaping to the Great White North. We don’t honestly make enough money to pay for college here in the states, and who knows what will happen with health care costs. Look- there are some good teaching positions in British Columbia. Vancouver is pretty expensive, but maybe we could afford something nearby, like-
“Where do they go?”
Where do who go?
“Where do the little boys go when they get hit by the bullet guns?”
[Cue the tears and stomach-wrenching and me indicating to my wife that I’m really not ready for this conversation- eliciting a response that informs me no matter my level of readiness, we’re going to have this conversation.]
[inhale] Well. [exhale] Sometimes they go to the hospital.
“And then where do the little boys go?”
…Sometimes they go to heaven.
And that’s what I tell my 3-year-old who goes off to preschool and will start 4-year-old Kindergarten next year. Sometimes nice little boys get hit by bullet guns and go to heaven. And I’m not really sure why.
His unasked question is on repeated loop in my mind right now:
Papa, if little boys go to heaven because they get hit by bullet guns, what are you and Mama doing to keep me and my little brother safe?