I remember being on the National Mall July 4, 2002. Not because it was Independence Day and not because it was so brutally hot folks were lying limply on the floor of Air and Space Museum soaking up the A.C. No–it was the first time you had to pass through a security check to get on the Mall.
Growing up 8 miles outside of Washington, D.C. my parents took my brother and me to the Smithsonian Museums, many of which are on the Mall, seemingly every weekend, and we were always going on class trips to the various government buildings. It made me sad that the actions of the terrorists on September 11 of the preceding year took away the freedom to walk on one of our national treasures without passing through a security check first.
Of course, now we can’t take a bottle larger than 3 fl. oz on the plane and we have to take our shoes off at security. It’s debatable that these measures are needed, but the one thing they do for sure is to add to our fear factor.
And while I applaud Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld and others for beefing up their security measures, including adding metal detectors and security dogs and ending toy gun sales, to protect against a mass shooting during this holiday season, I feel so, so sad that they are needed.
My dislike and fear of guns goes back to when I was in 5th grade when a fellow 5th grader at my school, Brian Fleeger, was shot and killed along with his two younger sisters (6 and 4 years old) and his mom by his father in a murder/suicide. Brian was not in my class and though I knew him by sight, I doubt we had ever spoken to each other. I’ve always remembered details about his murder recounted in the Washington Post–that it was Easter, that his family spoke to their grandparents the night they were killed and a neighbor described the pattern of blood on the bed sheets. I also remember staring at his photo in the yearbook and wondering what it meant to be dead.
Most vivid and lasting of all was the knowledge that your life could end in a second because of a gun.
Later on in college, as a policy studies double major, my focus was on gun control. My feelings then, as they are now, is that a single child’s life, any and every child, is more important than a universal right to own guns.
Since I graduated college eons ago, there have been an alarming amount of mass shootings. I live near the Where Angels Play Foundation playground honoring Jesse Lewis, a victim of the Newton mass murder. When the weather is nice, I take my son there to play often (that’s him, above). I was newly pregnant at the time of those shootings with my first and my nieces and nephew went to elementary school in Connecticut . It rattled me. Whenever I’m at the playground or I walk my dog to the beach where it sits, I pray for Jesse and his family to be at peace. And I’m not a religious person. That 6-year old boy did not deserve to have his life cut short and neither did any of the other 25 victims that day, and their families do not deserve that pain.
And since Newtown, as we all know, there have been an alarming amount of mass shootings of innocent victims who didn’t deserve to have their lives cut short and still nothing has been done. And I’m scared.
A month after September 11, 2001, I went ahead with a planned trip to Egypt with my mom and Egyptian stepfather. Part of it was surely denial that anything else could go wrong and part of it was my wanting to show the terrorists they didn’t win. I was scared at home in NYC for a few months to a year afterward–I remember we all had the sense that the other shoe was going to drop, but it never did. And I didn’t change my behavior because of fear–I still rode the subway, went to sporting events, traveled and I never for an instance thought about moving out of NYC.
But now, after mass murders at Virginia Tech, Aurora, Charleston, Umpquoa, San Bernadino (those last three in 2015 alone) and so many more, I am scared. I think twice about going to crowded places with my young children, I plan on seeing Star Wars next week while visiting my mom–a state with laxer gun controls than my own–and I already plan on going during the day and sitting near an emergency exit, just in case. Did I mention I’m scared?
[Note: I wrote the first draft of this post before Christmas. There was in fact a shooting outside a movie theater in Mobile on Christmas Day.]
Part of it is being a mom. I want to be here for my kids and see them grow up. More than that, I’m scared something will happen to one of them and I don’t know how I would go on.
I have family members that own riffles and are regular hunters. I’ve shot both handguns and riffles. My mother owns a handgun, which makes me nervous and I’ve already spoken to her about the vital necessity of storing it in a locked box and unloaded while we visit. (She gets it.) I am not anti-gun, but I am staunchly in support of safe gun control laws, broader background checks and gun safety education to name a few.
There are so many measures that could be put in place to make our country safer from gun violence that have nothing to do with taking away any laws abiding citizens’s right to bear arms. A few of these include:
- Keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. In 29 states, domestic abusers can legally buy and own guns, yet more than half of women murdered with guns in the U.S. in 2011 — at least 53 percent — were killed by intimate partners or family members. I do not know of one single reason a domestic abuser should be able to have a gun.
- Lifting the ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control gun violence research. More than 2,000 physicians signed a petition that was delivered to Congress on December 2, the same day as the San Bernadino shootings. You can add your name to the petition here.
- Repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which gives gun manufacturers special protection against lawsuits. Read the fact check here.
I heard somewhere over the past few months an opinion that America’s gun control laws will get changed when all Americans know someone that was murdered with a gun. I guess with Brian Fleeger’s killing when we were both 10 years old I just got a head start.
In the meantime, I will mourn the days when we could go to movies and theme parks and not fear for our lives–and do everything I can to make our country safer for my children through advocacy, voting and donating money.