The Illusion of Safety

Today is the five-year anniversary of Sandy Hook.

It’s got me reeling.

Can’t believe it’s been five years.
Remember where I was and who I was when I heard the news…
blah, blah, blah. 

All the things we say and do when we traverse those little-to-large personal and societal passages of time.

If you follow, then you are already aware I was at Virginia Tech when the shooting happened there. You probably also know that I did work in the first year and then again recently for the ten-year observance of that tragedy. You may even know that I have become a pretty ardent gun sense advocate.

What you may not know is that I was already a skeptic about guns and our human interactions with them way before Tech.

First, I should say there was a hunting rifle in our house when I was growing up. I will never forget the day when I was 14 and inherited the downstairs bedroom, a rite of passage that comes somewhere between getting to shave your legs and getting a driver’s license. As I was cleaning out the closet that had been used for storage, the rifle shifted and fell backward, startling me. It was, thank goodness, unloaded. Nothing else happened.

Also when I was growing up, our family had some friends whom we initially met because the man was our mechanic. After the end of a fertility journey that didn’t work out, this couple adopted a baby who was much anticipated, much adored. I remember going to visit their house the first time after he came to live with them. He was sleeping, and it was decided not to disturb him, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked to go to the bathroom and snuck into the bedroom to peer into his crib. I stood and stared down into his crib as he slept. “You’re gonna have an awesome life, little guy,” I thought. “I’m so glad you all have found each other.” As he grew, and I went off to college, I would hear stories of his successes or spot a picture of him on my parents’ fridge.

On the day our friends’ son graduated from high school, he went to a party with some friends. They were sitting around in a circle when the young man who was hosting the party got out his father’s gun. Not long before that day, this other young man’s father, in anticipation of his graduation, had gotten out the gun and talked him about it with the notion that ‘he was a man now.’ He walked him through gun safety and how to shoot it, and then returned it to its place.

To impress his friends, the young man got out the gun during the party and showed it off, bragged about the ‘man now’ conversation. The gun was, unknown to him, still loaded. It went off and hit our friends’ son in the chest. He clasped his chest, said “Call 911”, and fell over dead.

Imagine that. 18 years old. Just graduated high school. Just. Gone.

There are so many stories like that in our country. Stories of innocent people being killed because someone else who felt they needed a gun around to protect themselves thought they had taken the right precautions to keep it safe, but hadn’t. Toddlers who accidentally kill each other or their adult family members, etc.

Then there are all the many people with mental illness who are able to get easy access to guns. Lots and lots of them. We’ve seen what can happen there. What about what can happen to a person with a mental illness when guns are around?

I used to work with a woman who, as soon as she came into the office on a bi-weekly basis, would lock all the doors, close all the blinds, and call her husband to tell him she’d arrived. Eventually, I figured out she was packing heat as well. When I inquired where all this fear was coming from, she asked why I wasn’t more afraid. “Aren’t you scared of this dangerous place you work in? There’s a dark alley back there. There are homeless people who come stand outside the front door.” I could hardly bring myself to tell her that people who are homeless are more at risk for the harm we’ll do to them, either intentionally or through our lack of care, than anything else.

I suppose, for me, the illusion of safety was shattered by what happened to us at Virginia Tech. All our sacred spaces are gone now. Classroom, church, theatre ~ all the places we sit and breathe together ~ breathe in human knowledge, breathe in the divine, breathe in stories, breathe in our sense of ‘common-unity’. If it’s no longer a possibility to harbor under that illusion, rather than doubling down, why not just free up and say hang it all? I’m going to feel just as safe walking down this street as anywhere else. I’m not going to stop congregating with my fellow humans.

I say all that, and I still believe in the second amendment. The second amendment was written by men who had no comprehension for the technology that would come to pass.

Please note that I’ve yet to use the term gun control.  I truly believe in gun sense, which is to say that the common citizen shouldn’t have access to military-grade weaponry, that we should have universal background checks, and that maybe 9 is too young to go hunting.

I believed, after Virginia Tech, everything would change. It seemed we were poised on the edge of passing smart legislation that would regulate common sense about how we treat guns. I was heartbroken when it didn’t pass.

Then came Sandy Hook. I didn’t know what heartbreak really was until that day.

The only thing you can do with that kind of loss, other than lay down and not get up, is to get up, work, and hope. After Sandy Hook, I thought, surely, surely. hope, hope. But I had underestimated the power of the gun lobby, how insidious the dollars are that are being poured into controlling our legislators. If you haven’t checked yet, please take a look at this graph.

030516_50ya_plutonium_feat_free

Ultimately, here’s the thing. It is just as likely, if not more so, that a gun will accidentally kill someone innocent around us because it simply exists. Or that it will be stolen from us and therefore be used in the commission of a crime or in some other unintentional way. All those things are more likely than it is that we will ever be able to use it the way we think when purchasing and training to use one. It’s like purchasing a couple of ounces of plutonium and keeping them around in your house in case you ever need to participate in a nuclear war and saying, “Yeah, I may get cancer, but at least I’m armed.”

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