I Did Not Want to Write This

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Gun control and Sandy Hook.

Today, I was going to post another template for one of John’s Christmas ornaments. And then, yesterday, Sandy Hook happened. If you don’t want to read my thoughts about this unconscionable horror, I understand. It is hard to read about and watch, as we are a nation of saturation and sensationalism. In fact, I really questioned whether to write this post at all. I rarely write anything political because, quite frankly, I am so tired of the screaming-makes-right, my-way-or-the-highway, you’re-the-devil-because-you-don’t-hold-my-beliefs, rabid discourse of our country.I recognize that many of you may not agree with this post; but I also know that you, my wonderful readers and friends, are rational, kind, caring, and loving people. And I know that you are saddened and outraged and disgusted by the cold murder of elementary school students. My intent is to, calmly and rationally, process my anger and frustration, and hopefully, create something that resonates with many people, regardless of their political leanings.

Time and time again, whether the shooting takes place in a mall in Oregon, a movie theater in Colorado, a grocery store in Arizona, or a school in Connecticut, the outrage is palpable.

As if we never saw this coming.

As if we live in a nation where no one ever draws a gun on another.

As if we had no idea there is such brutality and calculating evil in our borders.

After every mass shooting, people ask the same tired questions and make the same tired statements: Our hearts are broken. Why did this happen? Go hug your children. Who is responsible for this tragedy? Show more empathy towards each other. How do we respond to this? Carry a concealed weapon. Why are semi-automatic weapons available for sale? Prayer in schools is the answer. Why did God let this happen?

But nothing, none of that, no adage– no matter how heartfelt or self-righteous– can bring back a child, dead in their elementary school classroom. It can’t dry  parents’ tears.

As an educator (and a living, breathing, human being), the rhetoric angers me because it is so impotent. Rhetoric does not stop bullets or prevent someone from walking into my classroom and turning a gun onto any one of my precious students. In an age of relativism, we too often allow discourse to boil down to this one idea: “You can believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want, and we’ll both pretend both sides are 100% right.”  Because that’s the easy thing to do. It’s easy to sit back and continue with the status quo rather than doing the hard work of change.

[Tweet “Rhetoric does not stop bullets or prevent someone from walking into my classroom and turning a gun onto any one of my precious students. @JoMyGosh”]

I am just as guilty as– if not guiltier than– the next person of passive compliance. I don’t like to ruffle feathers and, while I enjoy debate, I don’t enjoy conflict. And so often, the conversation about gun violence and gun control turns malicious with both sides slinging angry diatribes at each other.

I do not see the average gun owner as a murderer or accessory to these heinous crimes. Personally, I dislike all guns– their lethality terrifies me–but I grew up in a rural area where many people hunt. (Heck, we even got days off from school for hunting season.) I have friends who own weapons; my dad even has flintlock pistol, built from a kit, in my parents’ house (I know, I know, we’re up on the latest technology in Central PA).

But, I also teach in Baltimore– a city with a chronic, debilitating gun violence problem. My five years as an urban teacher have not gone untouched by it.  I’ve had two students injured in shootings, one of whom is restricted to a wheelchair and will never walk again. Two years ago, we had a student gunned down in the  street, while his friend desperately ran for cover. And last year, a student took a gun into my school. Thank goodness he never pulled the trigger. But what if he had? What if he had in my hallway? Or on one of my students? Or in my classroom?

And, my heart has broken countless times over the student essays I’ve read and conversations I’ve had with my kids who have seen their relatives shot in front of them, or who have attended funerals of friends whose lives have been– often randomly– cut short. My students are inured in the violence and abuse of urban poverty, and yet, when we talk about it, not a single one of them wants easier access to guns. They don’t see guns as a solution or preventative to more violence.

I won’t pretend to know all of details and facts about every aspect of the gun rights/control debate; it is so multifaceted. But I do know this: if gun violence were a blind turn that resulted in multiple auto fatalities a year, we would fix the road. If this were a crosswalk on a dangerous street, we’d pay for crossing guards and red light cameras. If this were nightclub with a history of violent fights, ordinances would be created and the business given an ultimatum: clean up or close. If it were an outbreak of e.Coli because of unsafe food practices, the FDA would work tirelessly until those loopholes are closed. And if those measures failed to produce results, we’d recalibrate, fix them and try again. Because we’re a nation of fixers, doers, and solvers.

But certainly, certainly the answer to this despicable crime is not to press on, pretending as if it’s an anomaly. Because it’s not.

How many murdered students, Christmas shoppers, and movie goers does it take until our hearts are so broken we are forced into action and into compromise?

Or do we just pick up next week, hang ornaments on our Christmas trees, wrap presents, and slowly forget about the twenty families that will be taking down small stockings from their mantles?

14 Responses

    1. Thank you. I really would have rather written about something else. Such an awful, horrible, completely preventable tragedy.

  1. Well written, Jo. We all have our opinions on how to “fix” it, we all show our sympathies and outrage and then we go about life. Yes, life must go on, but forgetting leads to repeat offense. I don’t think the answer necessarily lies in more laws because it’s apparent that the ones we have are already being broken and those who wish to be violent will always find a way to be so. I think the answer simply lies with compassion and morality. That is over-simplifying things, but I think you know what I mean. I think we also need to remember days like this, watch the news, force ourselves to REALLY embrace it…so we learn from it.

    Thank you for pushing yourself to write this. I can’t imagine how hard it was. I have forced myself to talk to my kids about it, to talk with family about it, because I don’t want to forget. I want to remember that life is precious, that we can make a difference by showing kindness and compassion, that we can stop violence one person at a time by not being violent ourselves. Some people will never change, but that doesn’t make me stop praying for them and others.

    Anyway, I digress. I don’t want to start any comment wars on your post; that was not my intent. I guess I needed to talk about it a little, too.

    1. No comment wars ensued and thank you for sharing your eloquent opinion, as always, Julie! :-) As a teacher, I think I have a different perspective than a lot of people simply because I deal with so many variables during the day– parents, students, other teachers, administration, and anyone else who walks through our doors. We’re a repository for the entire community– and all of the emotions and problems that go along with the community. We have had so much gun violence surrounding our population in just the five years I’ve been working there. It is sad and frustrating. The availability of high-powered, automatic weapons (not those used for hunting or target shooting) frightens me because they are so fast and lethal. The availability of SWAT-team style body armor that makes perpetrators close to invincible scares me. If our laws are broken, then we must fix them. If we don’t have laws that prevent these things, then we must write them. To simply stand by, light candles, and say how painfully sad we are without action is just not an option anymore.

      With that said, I agree that we need to remember the horror of days like this so that we can learn from it and work towards a better, more peaceful future. And prayer. We always need prayer.

  2. Over from SITS, you stopped by my blog The Tales of Me too (thank you). This is a difficult subject not just because it’s such a tragedy. Another post I read about this took an interesting angle on it, asking the question why this happens and what is going wrong with the men (she pointed about that all the shootings since the 90’s have all been men and mainly under 30). I’m not sure what I think of the gun laws in America (I’m personally not against guns, they have a time and a place and at times a need eg hunting) as you say it’s a complicated subject but it makes you wonder. Then again what drives these men to kill, what has changed in their lives or what switch has been triggered in they’re brains so they commit such horrendous crimes? If something has happened in their lives or with they’re mental health, if they’re were tighter laws, would this of stopped them committing the crime. When someone is at that point I think they will find what ever means they need to do what they want to do.

    Who knows what the answers are, it would be good to have an answer though wouldn’t it and get to the bottom of things to try and stop further tragedys. wishful thinking?


    p.s On a lighter note, your blog is lovely :)

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Kate! There are so many variables, including the way that mental health is treated in our country.

      And yes, I wish I had an answer! No such luck, though!

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. You’ve managed to capture a lot of my own feelings in this post and present them clearly and thoughtfully. With what happened in CT, I can’t help but think back to Columbine, which happened in 1999, and wonder if we’ve done enough (as a country) since then to prevent this from continuing to happen. I think it’s important that people talk about what has happened, but the things we say can’t just stay as words; there needs to be action.*

    1. Amy, thank you for reading! I was in 7th grade when Columbine happened, and I remember being terrified that it would happen in my school. I was in college when I watched the Virginia Tech shooting occur and I worried that it could happen at my university. Now, as a teacher I’m terrified it will happen in my school. If this (and the Oregon and Colorado shootings in the past months)isn’t the breaking point for action , I don’t know what will be. 20 murdered first graders should not weigh lightly on anyone’s conscience.

  4. It is heartbreaking that these children and their families have to endure this pain. Very well written. I don’t know what will stop a tragedy like this from happening again but I do know that something has to be different!

    Thanks for sharing your heart! Visiting from Sharefest!

  5. Very well written, Jo. This surely was a hard post to write. It’s sad that it has taken such an enormous and senseless loss to get the people in charge really ready to talk about change, but I’ll welcome that change when it comes.

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