For Me and Other Parents, Gun Violence Is Personal

I knew something was very wrong when I pulled in the driveway to pick up my daughter for the weekend and saw her mom’s front door ajar. As a single mother living in suburban Miami, my former wife always kept the door shut tight and locked.

“Are they gone,” she asked when I knocked and walked in without waiting for an invite to come in.  Visibly shaken, she told me of the three men who forced their way in, held them at gunpoint in the bathroom and tore up the house looking for valuables before running out a few moments before I pulled up.

As a reporter for a big-city daily newspaper, I had grown numb to the onslaught of crime involving guns. When I covered the police beat, most stories were considered so routine that the shootings and armed assaults were relegated to the Page 3 “Briefs” column in the Metro section.

This time, though, it was personal.

Someone had stuck a gun in my kid’s face – my 7-year-old daughter’s face – and I was angry, well beyond the point of pissed off.  But like most people, I was powerless to do anything except call 911, watch investigators process the crime scene and offer comfort to my daughter.

Now, though, that sense of powerlessness seems to be anything but.

With the massacre of 20 elementary school children last month in Newtown, Conn., parents are finally saying they’ve had enough. They too are angry beyond the point of being pissed off.

Much to my surprise, the leadership in Washington is starting to act. Their new-found backbone is remarkable given that even the shooting of one of their own, Congressman Gabby Giffords, two years ago in Tucson didn’t motivate them to do anything but issue meaningless press statements and shed crocodile tears for the TV cameras.

Even President Obama has found his spine.

With the election behind him, Obama is showing a willingness to chomp like an alligator when it comes to guns and is leading the charge to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.

His nine-point proposal – which offers a good start toward ending the gun terror that ravages this country – also would require background checks of people who want to buy a gun;  limit to 10 the number of bullets a weapon’s magazine could hold; increase funding for the long-neglected mental health system and increase the criminal penalties for violating weapons’ laws.

What still surprises me is the large number of people who oppose this modest effort. Four in 10 people oppose the ban on assault weapons, according to a recent Gallup Poll. One in 10 oppose mandatory background checks, nearly three in 10 oppose increasing criminal penalties and almost half say it’s ok to jam as many bullets into a gun’s magazine as possible. I guess if you miss the soda can or deer with the first 20 bullets, you need five more at the ready to try, try again.

I’m presuming the defenders of an armed-to-the-teeth society are the same folks who insist that guns don’t kill people, video games and movies do. Still, FBI statistics show that seven of every 10 murders is the result of a gunshot, not a slingshot.

Or perhaps they are those like Brian Fischer of the conservative American Family Association who believe “God doesn’t go where he isn’t wanted” and the Almighty let the school kids in Newtown get slaughtered because prayer is banned in schools.

Or as religion columnist Lisa Miller wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post, these people believe God also supports the Second Amendment, as it’s currently misinterpreted. “This, at least, appears to be the argument on the home page of the Christian Gun Owner Web site,” Miller wrote. “It goes like this: The authors of the Constitution were acting under the guidance of God, therefore the Constitution is itself inspired by God.”

Putting God aside, I suspect many in the no-gun-control group are just selfish and neurotic.  They’d rather see kids at school risk wholesale slaughter than give up the thrill of firing an assault weapon. As a friend of mine said, “It’s a real rush, you have to try it.”

Um, no thanks. I want the critters, discarded Coke cans and kids to feel safe in my neck of the woods.

I also believe there are some people who need the psychological ammunition of owning a gun to compensate for the powerlessness they feel in their own lives. To them, owning a gun means they really aren’t inferior – they indeed are more powerful than their boss, their spouse, the girl at the bar who didn’t laugh at their jokes, the idiot who cut them off in traffic, the minorities who “are taking over the country,” or anyone else who makes their skin crawl.

Then there’s sex. A condition known as “Holophilia” creates a strong state of sexual arousal among those with the disorder when they’re near a gun. No wonder there’s a condom machine in the men’s room of a local gun range here in Raleigh.

To the “keep-my-gun-at any-cost” crowd, the 9,000 murders caused each year by gunfire in this country is trivial compared to their Second Amendment “rights.”

To them, it’s meaningless that 2,900 children are treated in the hospital each year from accidental gunshots when mom or dad leaves their weapons lying about, according to statistics compiled the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence.  Or the fact that nearly 20,000 people commit suicide each year with a gun.

To them, the scores of multi-victim shootings since the assault on Congressman Giffords just isn’t that relevant.

But it’s not trivial to the parents of the children in Newtown. Or to the families of those shot in a movie theater in Colorado, or to the mother of the 7-year-old girl killed at a Giffords’ greet ‘n’ meet in Tucson, or to the parents of students slain at Virginia Tech.

Last weekend, thousands gathered in Washington to protest gun violence and show their support for gun control. Some carried signs like, “What Would Jesus Pack” and “Stop the NRA.” Some just wrote the names of victims written on a cardboard sign.

As I watched the news, I thought back to another night during my days in south Florida.

It was Friday evening and my daughter and I were watching TV. My apartment complex was a nice place in a safe neighborhood. It featured two pools, a hot tub, a gym and well manicured lawns punctuated with palm trees. The city’s police station was right across the street.

Over the laugh track of a silly sitcom, we heard a young woman scream.

“No, John, No!”

Bam. Round one fired.

Bam. Round two fired.

John had killed his ex girlfriend in a jealous rage and then turned the gun on himself.

She was 20, he was 22, the police later told me.

Once again, 911 was called, police officers processed the scene and I tried to comfort my daughter. Once more, I felt powerless.

I don’t feel that way today. Parents are pissed. They don’t like it when their children are gunned down at school, at the movies, at the mall, at a cafeteria, or attending church.  And for once, their outrage is being turned into a real action.

It’s about time.


Originally published on January 28, 2013


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