I was pregnant with my first child when the massacre at Sandy Hook happened – the devastation was too much to process.
I distinctly remember sobbing on the couch watching the news coverage, memorizing the faces of slain children and grappling with how the hell I could’ve decided it’d be a good idea to bring a baby into this world.
The next day, I hugged my own 3 and 4-year-old students tighter and kissed their sweet foreheads. I smiled extra wide to shelter them emotionally, while mentally analyzing the logistics of how I’d shelter them physically if we were ever under attack – how quickly could I clear out cabinets to hide these precious babies, I remember thinking. And how many kids would I be able to shield with my tiny body if I threw myself in front of them?
My stomach never stopped turning that day, and it hasn’t since then. If anything has changed in the world since Sandy Hook, it hasn’t been for the better, and now, we mourn slain innocent lives once more. But fear isn’t a lifestyle we want for the future, and hopelessness isn’t an option we can afford.
In a few days, I’ll send that little boy with whom I was pregnant to first grade, and I’m terrified. Sure, he’ll go to a great school with great teachers, like, perhaps, Sandy Hook. Sure, we live in a nice, quiet, seemingly safe town but not any more or less so than, say, Newtown, Columbine, or Parkland.
There’s a no guns sticker on the door of his school.
It’s a sticker we had to get used to seeing upon moving to the Midwest. The idea of “shall-issue” concealed carry was so foreign to us as Northeasterners. Now, I hardly notice it on doors of almost everywhere we frequent – our gym, our library — but he’s always quick to notice. “No guns here, mama,” he often notes, “this is a place to be safe.”
This is a place to be safe.
I hear my oldest son’s little voice in my head as I read an email from his younger brother’s preschool recently. It said they had just practiced a hard lockdown (read: active shooter) drill with my 3-year-old kid. “All of the children go to their assigned hiding places,” the email read, “and the teachers join them and lock themselves in.” That’s right. My 3-year-old child spent part of his school day pausing his play so he could practice hovering quietly in a locked bathroom with the rest of his tiny, adorable class in the event that they had to hide from a shooter terrorizing their school.
I suddenly found it hard to breathe. I felt like I was going to throw up.
When Sandy Hook happened, I thought it would be the actual low point for this country. I mean, the thought of sweet, innocent little children being slaughtered in the place they go to learn and play? Goddamn, how could anybody stomach that?
Turns out, the actual low point of this country is what happened next: nothing.
The actual low point is realizing how many people – citizens, leaders, lawmakers – are still resistant to stand up and demand change. Responsible gun ownership and common sense gun reform are not mutually exclusive. They can exist together. But the debates are endless, and we’ve grown so weary.
But where’s the courage in staying silent, in resisting conversation, in avoiding debate? Will silence protect your kids? It won’t protect mine. No life has ever been saved from gun violence because of a thought or a prayer. Are we doing what we can?
It’s a different kind of failure, isn’t it? When adults fail so badly at protecting children, that children, then, are forced to try to protect themselves? We can’t back down – not for the little loves we’ve already lost, and the little ones still running at our feet.
There’s work to be done. Shame on us all if we don’t stand up and do something now.
If you are looking for actions to take to help prevent more unnecessary gun violence, here is what you can do:
1. Know the facts
- Mass shootings are horrific, gutting situations. They threaten our daily lives and our schools, shops, places of worship, movie theaters, concerts, and festivals. They threaten our way of life. And they only account for less than one percent of the gun deaths in America. According to FBI reports, handguns were responsible for 90 percent of homicides in 2016.
- A study in the American Journal of Medicine found that Americans are 25 times more likely to die from gun homicide than people in other wealthy countries.
- The Brady Campaign used data provided by Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project’s HCUPnet and collected from emergency departments and databases to present a comprehensive picture of the way gun injuries affect those living in the U.S. In their research, they found that every day, 310 people are shot in the United States. Among those 100 people are shot and killed, including at least four children.
- But according to the State Firearms Law project, just seven states require a permit to possess a gun of any kind.
- Because guns pose a health risk to children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians start asking families about firearms in the home when children are 3 years old and curious about the world – and objects — around them. But some states – like Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, and Montana – try to prevent doctors from talking about guns with patients, even though most pediatricians remain judgment-free and just attempt to provide families with the tools and information in order to keep their children safe.
Gun violence is not a partisan issue. It is something that affects us all, regardless of political party alliances.
And common-sense gun laws and responsible gun ownership are not mutually exclusive.
2. Hold your reps accountable
Many politicians are seemingly afraid of the NRA – they don’t want to go against them because of possible loss of donations and supporters. Last year, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America took out a full-page ad in The New York Times last year to call out 100 lawmakers, their phone numbers, and the amount of money they accepted from the NRA.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization which tracks money in politics, these are the federal lawmakers who accepted money in some form from gun-rights backers. Here is a list of the states they represent: AL, AK, AZ, AK, CA, CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MI, MN, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, and WY.
If your representatives in your state are accepting money from the NRA, hold them accountable for their actions. Call them and tell them to stop taking money from the gun lobby and use their influence to instead pass gun-control policy as desired by their constituents (you). Know who’s doing what and vote accordingly – vote single issue, vote locally, state, and nationally.
In addition to calling out your reps’ NRA support, call them to let them know you are in favor of gun reform and that they should be too – regardless of what state you live in. Polls suggest most people of both major parties support sensible gun control, so call your elected officials and tell them you won’t settle for anything less.
To find your representatives, you can use the House or Senate websites and search using your zip code. You can also use any of these awesome third-party websites that make finding your representatives easy: Call My Congress, Contact in Congress, or Who is My Representative?
5 Calls finds your representatives for you based on your location and also gives you scripts as a base for your phone calls based on the cause you feel strongly about. Their app is the one I use to make my own calls.
Signing up for Everytown’s text updates has also been very helpful – they text me with local news, rally updates, and when and how I can use my vote and voice to impact change in my own community and nationwide.
If you’re not sure what to say, try this script from Everytown.
If you’re leaving a voicemail, be sure to leave your entire street address so your call will be tallied.
And call every single day.
3. Support groups doing the work
There are a number of gun-control groups that could use your donations. Whichever one you choose to support is up to you, but be sure to do diligent research to ensure that your support is going exactly where you would like it to. Choose an organization that aligns with your priorities. These are a few of the groups who are doing good, important work to change the incidence of gun violence in our country.
States United to Prevent Gun Violence is a grassroots network of 32 state affiliates working to make our communities and families safer.
Moms Demand Action works to pass stronger gun laws and to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. They also work at the community level and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership.
Everytown for Gun Safety is a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.
The Brady Campaign is committed to delivering life-saving change and comprehensive solutions to the American people.
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence seeks to prevent gun violence through data-driven policy development and aggressive advocacy.
New Yorkers Against Gun Violence works to reduce gun violence through legislative advocacy and education designed to encourage action, influence public opinion, and lead to policy change.
Sandy Hook Promise is based in Newtown, Connecticut and founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Their intent is to honor all victims of gun violence by providing programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.
Pledge to Ask promotes a simple idea with the potential to help keep kids safe. It encourages parents to ASK if there is an unlocked gun in the homes where their children play.
Newtown Action Alliance is a national all-volunteer grassroots organization founded by Newtown residents after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. They are dedicated to reversing the escalating gun violence epidemic in this nation through the introduction of smarter, safer gun laws and broader cultural change.
One Pulse for America was founded by actor/LGBTQ rights activist George Takei in response to the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. One Pulse uses social media to bring strategic pressure on legislators (and other decision-makers) by amplifying support for gun violence prevention efforts at the national, state and local level.
Women Against Gun Violence was created with the challenge of taking meaningful action to stem the public health epidemic of gun violence affecting communities.
Survivors Empowered is an organization founded by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips after the slaughter of their daughter, Jessica Redfield Ghawi, and eleven others in the Aurora Colorado Theater Mass Shooting in 2012. The national organization empowers survivors by providing resources, a network of support, and education on how to use your voice to create change.
Giffords Law Center has achieved considerable success to date by effecting change at the state and local levels. They are supporting and passing new legislation to reduce gun violence – including laws that prevent domestic abusers from acquiring weapons and extreme risk protection order laws that empower families to temporarily remove firearms from loved ones experiencing a crisis.
4. Show up
If you have the capacity, volunteering for a local chapter of a gun reform organization is a tremendous way to create impact.
But showing up requires guts – and it’s something that we’ve all shied away from in the past. How will we look? What will our neighbors think? What will people say?
Does it matter?
Showing up is a true commitment to change. It’s canvassing for candidates in your school board, local government, and state representatives. It’s voting in local and state elections. It’s marching and rallying and encouraging change in your schools and communities. It’s calling your elected officials again and again. It’s signing up new volunteers at farmers’ markets and town events. It’s talking to your friends and neighbors about why this is important, what they can do, and how to do it. It’s putting your face to the cause and not backing down.
We can feel as bad as we want, but what matters is what we do about it.
It’s easy to think that our voice is insignificant in the larger scheme of things or that someone else will pick up our slack. But in order to impact change in a democracy, every single person has to do their part.
Will we stand up for our kids when it counts?
5. Use your voice
Similarly, many avoid voicing support for gun control on social media because of the possible backlash from those who disagree. I’ll be honest, getting in a back and forth with some rando in the comments section of Instagram is not exactly my idea of a good time – and so, that’s not what I’m suggesting.
The fact of the matter is that you’re rarely going to change someone’s idea about something because you post it on social media or bring it up in a large group discussion. People are, unfortunately, pretty set in their ways and resistant to opening their minds, for the most part.
Using your voice has one truly remarkable benefit – it allows others to feel comfortable in using theirs. What starts as one voice can soon become a community. What continues as a community can soon become a country.
Using your voice also allows those who are open and willing to learn a safe space to ask questions, develop their own priorities, and get involved. Because YOU say something, someone else may too.
We hold power as one. And we can all do better together.
6. Be the parent
When the time is right, we’ll have to talk to our kids about this issue. Whether it’s to tell them how to act if they ever see a gun, to be cautious when they go to a friend’s house, or to explain what they see or hear about on the news.
Or, in the case of my oldest, the subject might come up unexpectedly on the walk into school one day, when he asks why it seems that the flag is almost always at half-mast.
However the conversation arises, it’s only a matter of time. But talking is not enough.
A 1996 study indicated that informative intervention (talking to children about guns and how to behave should they see one) was ineffective in modifying the behavior of the children if they actually did come across a gun. Curiosity is a truly powerful force when it comes to children, and the study found that children who had lessons and interventions on guns played with them just as much as kids who didn’t – proving that just talking is not enough. “There’s no amount of teaching that can overcome natural curiosity about guns,” researcher and psychologist Marjorie Sanfilippo concluded.
So, what can we do?
First, be extremely vigilant about your children around guns.
That means, if you or any close friend or family member that cares for your children owns one, it should be stored in a locked place, unloaded, with the ammunition stored separately. This is non-negotiable.
When your child goes to another friend’s house to play, you need to ask whether or not they have guns in the house and if they are stored safely. Talking about guns makes many of us uncomfortable (usually those of us who are not gun owners), but this is also non-negotiable. If you worry about offending the other person, remember that most parents want to keep their children safe. If guns are not stored in a way that makes you comfortable or if the other parent is not responding the way you’d prefer, consider meeting at a neighborhood park for a playdate or inviting your child’s friend to your home instead.
Understand how children play and what is a red flag
Keep in mind that rough, aggressive, play fighting (including pretend gunplay) is a totally normal part of childhood pretend play – in fact, it’s largely beneficial from a childhood development standpoint as it allows children to learn self-control, self-regulation, empathy, and combat fears. It’s also integral in developing morality – exploring what’s right and wrong, good and bad, is how we begin to understand the world and how we behave in it.
That being said, play always has limits. If someone says “NO” or “STOP,” the game is over. If an adult intervenes, limits have to be followed or the game is over. Pay attention to how children react when playing together – if only one person is having fun, the play is not functional. If the play is not creative (for instance, it follows the same movie script over and over), the play is not functional. It definitely matters if your child is using his or her imagination – without flexing their mental muscles, the opportunity for growth in self-regulatory behaviors begins to diminish.
For children who have a difficult time separating pretend from reality or have trouble with impulse-control, this kind of play is not ideal. If a child’s play is excessively violent, unimaginative (following a script or constantly bashing an object over and over), or involves intentionally hurting others, it’s time to get your pediatrician or therapist involved. Most children grow out of the rough play phase by age 6, and it is considered a red flag if consistently aggressive rough play behavior or bullying and hitting continues beyond this. If they are constantly talking about hurting others, this is also a red flag.
In a similar regard, it doesn’t really matter what sort of video games older children might play – it matters how they behave in society at large. Use your objective judgment, and if something seems off, don’t wait to talk to a professional for guidance.
Teach emotional awareness
We can prepare our children by building a foundation on which all of this will land. Though we want to protect them from everything, what we need to do is to teach them how to protect themselves. And that starts with having the tools to manage things like fear, anxiety, and worry.
When we empower our children to manage their own emotions, we set them up to adequately cope with the stressors of the world. When they know how to recognize, process, and work through their own feelings, they are able to actively reject the climate of fear that is now becoming our new normal.
By raising kids who understand their emotions and how to process them in a healthy way, we can create change for their future.