I found myself Tweeting, “how can a 12 year old be THAT angry?” Tuesday morning — a reaction to the latest school shooting. They’ve become so commonplace we have lost our sense of outrage. Until politicians stop taking money from the NRA (who gets their money from gun manufacturers), we have no hope of enacting sensible gun control in America. (It has been decades since the NRA truly served gun owners, although genuine anarchist-type gun nuts still have a close friend and ally.) Many, many more will die. But I digress.
Never mind how the 12-year-old boy in Sparks, Nevada acquired the gun — it belonged to his parents. I am sure they obtained it legally. Like my home, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Nevada requires no permit to own a gun. In June, Nevada’s governor vetoed a bill that would have extended coverage of background checks, but maybe that wouldn’t have applied to the purchase of this gun anyway. Nevada has gun storage laws, and police are investigating the parents to determine if those laws were followed. The parents must already be devastated by what has happened — I doubt any court can punish them more severely than they are punishing themselves. Maybe they were friends with the teacher their boy murdered at point blank range before turning the gun on himself. Maybe not. Perhaps they play bridge with the parents of the children their son wounded. Who knows? Does it really matter? Lives have been destroyed.
The anger matters, the despair and the hopelessness that must fill anyone who picks up a weapon, loads it (or verifies that Dad already did), takes it to school, and turns it on their peers and teachers — that cannot be a happy place. How did a 12-year-old boy get that angry? How do any of them? We’ve failed them, haven’t we, the children? Our anger has become their anger. Our frustration has become their call to action. Many gun-toting parents teach their children how to “safely” handle firearms, but if we don’t also teach them how to appropriately channel rage and frustration, we’ve merely armed them against their sworn enemies.
Never mind why the 12-year-old boy was angry (sadly, bullying is emerging as the culprit again), the outcome is the same. We all want to understand what motivated this child to make murder-suicide his next project. We hold dear the delusion that if we understand why and how, we can prevent the tragedy from happening again. I shudder to think how many more school shootings the country will experience in the future, carried out with one motive or another. This will happen again, and again, and again.
Anger simmers in every corner of this country: anger at politician bullies who seem hell-bent on burning the government to the ground just to show everyone they can, anger at jobs that don’t pay a living wage, employers who cut hours to escape having to offer healthcare, layoff older workers to avoid the expense of a pension, and themselves earn millions while their employees languish in low-paying dead-end jobs. We’re angry about the exorbitant cost of higher education, angry at the lack of training and education our underfunded public schools provide, angry if our child has to pray in school, or angry if she isn’t allowed to pray. We’re angry about taxes, who should pay what, and how the money should be spent. Mostly, we are angry at the people who don’t look like us, love like us, think like us, shop like us, or vote like us, acting like they should be allowed to be treated just like us. The nerve of “the other” to believe they have any rights...
Our children witness our anger, how we express it and how we channel it. So how? How does a 12-year-old boy get that angry? So angry no one’s life matters, not even his own. So angry that bullets are his only means of communicating how he feels. Anger and hatred are bad for our health according to the Dalai Lama, and we all know he’s right. Anger doesn’t feel good, and it can lead to a whole host of physical ailments. It can also cause death by “lead poisoning,” and I’m not talking about eating paint chips here. What did this boy learn from his parents about controlling anger? Are mom and dad the “shoot ‘em all let God sort it out” type? (I doubt it.) How about his friends? The school bullies? Did the boy learn to use violence to solve his problems from them, or a video game, a movie, a television show, THE LATEST FUCKING TV NEWS REPORT?
See, look, now I am angry too. But here’s what I won’t do about it. I won’t load my handgun and open fire on anyone. (Yes, I have one for home protection.) It’s easier for me though. I’m not in the throes of adolescence, enduring the taunts of bullies and the uncertainty of not knowing who I am or what I want to become, plus all the hormone surges that come with it. Don’t get me wrong, I deal with hormone surges everyday, but I know who I am...no one defines me. And I’ve finally learned self-control. I can get mad as hell, but I no longer need to break shit, hit people, or enact revenge in order to channel that anger. The average child has not yet lived long enough to gain the same level of self-control. God knows, it took me more than one decade to get there.
So what can I do? What can any of us do to prevent the next school shooting, and the next one? How can we address the anger these children are absorbing from us? I think prioritizing children in our legislation sounds like a good place to start. We pretend to be a country that treasures our children, but the policies and laws of our land don’t fully support that notion. I have a friend who works for an organization called Every Child Matters, a non-partisan group who is “working to make public investments in children, youth, and families a national political priority.” The organization does many things, including monitoring legislation and elections to keep candidates and lawmakers focused on policies that promote education, feed hungry children, provide affordable healthcare, prevent violence against children, and work with families to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the education and outreach my friend does for Every Child Matters, she has also attended a number of debates, town hall meetings, and appearances during this gubernatorial campaign season, questioning the candidates about their positions on the issues that affect children and families. It’s a good way to bring the topic up for conversation and get people thinking about it. Unlike the gun manufacturers, children don’t have a powerful lobby of their own.
What if we made top-notch public education our number one priority as a nation? Private schools would be unnecessary (and the public-education-fund-sucking vouchers that go with them). Kids from every socioeconomic group would come together, have access to the same high quality of education, schools so good that every parent wants their child to go there. And the children would have the chance to learn with and about kids from neighborhoods other than their own, a chance to find common ground early in life, before the prejudice sets in.
What if nutrition and healthcare for our children meant more to us than an oil pipeline or paying “please like me” money to countries that will always hate America? What if we made sure to feed their bodies with healthy foods that maximize their growth potential for their entire childhood, not just the first two years? What if they had access to medical care and mental health care? What if the whole community prioritized their safety, not just in schools and parks, but at home, where the potential to do the most harm still lurks?
What if we got rid of all the guns?