The “Wild Things” in this perennial favorite by Maurice Sendak, first published in 1963, are the ‘monsters’ in young Max’s imagination. He too is a “Wild Thing,” says his Mom, after he dresses up in a wolf costume and wreaks havoc in their house. Mom sends him to bed without his dinner. He’s madder than mad and stomps off to his room, but a strange thing happens. The walls of his room begin to resemble a forest. He enters the forest and walks until he finds a sailboat next to a body of water. The boat carries him to an island where he encounters many “wild things,” but he tames them and earns their respect. Later, feeling lonely, he sails home, where he finds dinner waiting in his room.
That’s the kind of childhood we wish for our children. A sheltered place where their imaginations are free to roam; the excitement of dressing up in a wolf costume—or as a princess or an astronaut; a meal that says “welcome home, I love you.” Once upon a time, we never dreamed of sending our children to schools that resembled armed fortresses, or that dressing up might include bullet-proof backpacks, or that the ‘monster’ who materialized before their eyes would be holding a semi-automatic weapon used to mow down their teacher before he turned his firepower on them. In Uvalde, the children slaughtered ranged in age from eight to eleven.
We have failed our children. To do nothing about gun safety is to allow this carnage to continue and to allow fear to invade classrooms and communities across our country. Will we be the next Uvalde? Columbine (13) Virginia Tech (32) Sandy Hook (26) Parkland (17) Santa Fe H.S, TX (10) Uvalde (21) to cite an incomplete list. Here in the U.S., of course, it’s not just our children who are slaughtered. Mass shootings in the U.S. (four or more killed or injured) have nearly tripled since 2013, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Some of these deadly mass shootings since 2013: Charleston, SC—a church Bible Study (9) San Bernardino, CA—an employee gathering (14) The Pulse Night Club, Orlando, FL (49) Harvest Musical Festival, Las Vegas, NV (58) Sutherland Springs, TX—a church (26) Pittsburgh, PA—a synagogue (11) El Pasto, TX—Walmart (23) Atlanta, GA—spa shootings (8) Buffalo, NY—a supermarket (10). And those numbers are just the fatalities—they don’t include the injured or the shattered families who will never be the same.
A majority of Americans—even those who strongly believe in the Second Amendment and a citizen’s right to bear arms—believe that things should be done. What can we as Americans agree to do?
Will Hurd, a former congressman from Texas (R) who represented Uvalde, said this in an opinion piece in Monday’s New York Times: “Since 2009, 1565 Americans have been killed in mass shootings. That’s more than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in hostile action in Afghanistan over the same period.” Mr. Hurd is a gun owner and NRA member who believes in the Second Amendment but says he was only one of eight Republicans to vote in favor of H.R. 8, a bill requiring universal background checks. “Removing access to guns won’t stop this epidemic, but as the tragedy at Uvalde proved, neither would a myopic and unyielding obsession with putting more guns into our schools. Any effective solution for mass shootings will require a multi-faceted approach.”
Ross Douthat, a conservative Opinion columnist and devout Catholic, wrote this in the New York Times on June 1: “Even if the right to a demilitarized childhood isn’t enumerated in the Constitution, it should be treasured and preserved.” He said he wants the next teenager with an obvious set of warning signs—“severe familial disorder, self-harm, violent online threats—to find it much harder to turn 18 and immediately acquire a high-powered weapon.”
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist who has a weekly dialogue with a more liberal colleague in the New York Times, said this on June 6, in a piece called “There Has to be a Tipping Point on Guns, Right?”: We can protect gun ownership “while keeping them out of the hands of crazy and dangerous people by using common-sense background checks, 21-years-of-age purchasing requirements, three-day waiting periods, and mental-health exams. It’s not about denying your constitutional rights. It’s so your children come home from school alive.”
Michael Fanone served 20 years in D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Dept., including the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection, where he was beaten and stun-gunned. In an Opinion Piece June 6 on CNN.com, he talked about the specific dangers of the AR-15, used by the gunman in the Uvalde shootings. “The AR-15 has the dubious distinction of being America’s most popular semi-automatic rifle.” As a former policeman, an NRA member, an avid hunter, and someone who used to work part-time in firearm sales, Mr. Fanone knows guns. He purchased his own AR-15 because he was assigned one as part of his police duties and officers weren’t allowed to take department-issued weapons home. He spent hundreds of hours becoming proficient. These weapons were designed for military purposes, he said, and “magazines that can feed dozens of rounds into the weapon in the space of minutes clearly were meant for use only on the battlefield.” He suggests two solutions. One, “Banning these powerful weapons from the civilian marketplace is a no-brainer, as are universal background checks.” Or, two: Reclassify them as Class 3 firearms. Purchasers have to be 21, go through a background check, fingerprinting, and a review by an official from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (a 12-16 month process).
As horrific as it is to witness the mass slaughter of innocents–children at school; your next door neighbor at a supermarket, concert, or house of worship–even more deaths-by-gun are due to suicide and homicide. And let’s not forget the tragic accidents, like young children getting their hands on guns that weren’t safely stored. The CDC reported that the 45,222 gun deaths in 2020 were the most on record–and a 14% increase from the year before and a 25% increase from five years earlier. Many of these deaths could have been prevented by limiting access to guns for certain people, red-flag laws, and by raising public awareness about gun safety and storage. In the past and present, campaigns like “Seat belts save lives. Buckle up every time” and “Friends don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” have greatly reduced the number of car fatalities. Anti-smoking campaigns over the years have kept many a teen from lighting up.
Politically-speaking, we are a horribly divided country, but in our heart-of-hearts we’re not. No sane American wants to see innocents slaughtered. If we can unite to curb this trend of ever-increasing gun violence, what else might we accomplish?