Two weeks ago,11 year-old Shamiya Adams was killed in Chicago when a stray bullet fired by a teen gang member came through a window while she attended a slumber party. In this age where mass gun violence, firearms accidents, and conflict-related gun deaths are saturating our national consciousness, I often turn away from the news stories, but this one stopped me dead in my tracks. A slumber party. This child was playing inside at a slumber party and died from a bullet to the head. My hands went cold, and I could feel my heart rate increase. This little girl could be my little girl, the little girl next door, any little girl I know. My children live in a world where they could be killed by a stray bullet at a slumber party.
A few minutes after hearing this gruesome story, the cold sweat gave way to a wave of anger welling up inside of me.
How has it come to this?! How on earth did the United States lose such complete control of our communities, our culture, and our guns? How is it that we remain embroiled in policy debate, semantics, and constitutional pontification when children and innocent citizens are literally being gunned down in an epidemic of uncontained gun violence?
It’s almost impossible not to feel hopeless, but I have recently become passionately interested in finding out what I can do, individually, to promote change in the American gun culture. I cannot sit idle while elementary school children practice “shooter” drills and companies market bullet-proof backpacks to worried parents. I did some research, and came up with this list of things that I (and YOU!) can do to stem the tide of gun violence in the US.
- Talk to your kids about guns and what they should do if they ever come across one. In Vermont, lot of families hunt or own guns for other reasons, but don’t assume that your kid knows what they should do if they found an unsecured handgun just because they have helped Uncle Ted clean his hunting rifle.
- Join advocacy organizations such as Everytown For Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. These organization will keep you updated via social media (I use FB)on issues and legislation that could use more citizen response, and they make it easy for you to help by sending emails, postcards, raising awareness (“share”!), educating other voters, and attending events. I have 20-month old twins and work full time, so I don’t have a lot of “free” time, but I follow their alerts and send emails, share posts, and keep the dialogue going even in my busiest weeks.
- Talk to EVERY SINGLE GUN OWNER you know about their gun ownership and how they can work to ensure that safe, responsible, mature gun owners can lead the fight against senseless interpersonal gun violence. Here’s how.
- ASK. Always ask if there are unsecured guns or other weapons in places your children may be playing or spending time. This is critically important not just because it helps you make informed choices about your child’s access to guns, but because it normalizes gun safety as an issue that parents should be talking about and takes it “out of the closet.”
- Change the conversation. The right to bear arms is so revered and controversial these days that we struggle to talk about it even with people of like mind, let alone with those who hold different views. One of the most effective ways to have meaningful dialogue around the need to increase gun regulation with folks who support gun ownership and are concerned about regulation is to talk about how gun ownership is a responsibility. Mature gun owners (like my brother, who is an Iraq and Afghanistan vet, and my many extended family members who hunt) intrinsically get this. They are just as horrified and offended with recklessness, illegal gun possession, and the rise in gun violence as you are. When we emphasize accountability and responsibility, we build allies in the gun-owner community who can help create the political and socio-cultural change needed to shift the tides on this issue. Just ask Gabby Giffords.
Maybe this list doesn’t seem like a lot, and it certainly isn’t enough to change things overnight, but it is an alternative to sitting on my hands feeling helpless. I suspect a lot of parents feel helpless and overwhelmed by the headlines as I do—this list gives me a small sense of hope.
How do you feel about this issue? Are there any other action steps you can recommend?
Just FYI, the link to the article on how to talk to a gun owner is more specifically here: http://www.thirdway.org/memo/love-your-gun-like-the-bill
Good stuff. Several years ago when my firstborn was starting to open drawers and things, my husband asked me to talk to my parents about the guns in their house and make sure they are locked up when we visited. I hesitated and felt that it was too sensitive for me to ask that of them, as if it would come across that we didn’t trust them or something. Anyway, we fought about it because he was unwilling to even have the kids stay there without this conversation taking place and so I did talk to them. The thing that changed my mind on it all was a memory that came back to me at that time of finding my dad’s gun in his nightstand as a child. I suddenly remembered that I knew where his gun was and that I had even taken it out and held it on occasion. It scared me to recall this, imagining one of my kids doing the same thing. Oh boy, what tragedy can be prevented just by asking people if they have guns and if they are secured.
Wonderful post Shawna!