Children and Guns

Water Pistol

Last night I dreamed my son was a Sandy Hook victim.

He’s six years old.

In my dream, I’d returned to Sandy Hook Elementary School for the first time since the shooting. I walked in the front, and there were photos of the victims, along with flowers and wreaths and pictures and poems. I approached the shrine set up for my son, and I felt my grief overwhelm my reason for a moment. Then I backed away, and I remembered why I was there.

Outside that front hall, school life had returned to normal. Children were in their lessons, or should have been. I spent some time there, wandering the halls, waiting in vain to see my son’s smile or hear his voice raised in laughter or argument.

I found myself on the grounds of a nearby high school. Much in the way of dreams, I don’t know how I got there. But I approached a young woman sitting at a table on her own. She would have been thirteen, and had dark curly hair and dark eyes. Ear-buds were jammed in both ears. She was reading a magazine.

When I stood next to her, she took out her headphones and looked at me. We exchanged pleasantries, and then I showed her a picture of my son. “This is Big Brother,” I said. “He died just down the road at the elementary school.”

“That’s sad,” the girl said. Then she shrugged. “But at least it wasn’t me.”

“No, you’re right,” I said. “It wasn’t you. You’re safe. But wouldn’t you rather it hadn’t been anyone?”

Her look turned guarded. “You’re one of those anti-gun crazies,” she said. “My Dad told me about you people. But guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Then she put her earbuds back in and turned away.

——————–

Last week in Kentucky, USA, a 5-year-old boy was playing with a child-friendly rifle he’d been given as a gift. He pulled the trigger. And in that simple action, he killed his 2-year-old sister.

When I read the story, my children were 5 and 2 years old. I tried to imagine handing my eldest boy a rifle. But I couldn’t do it.

I tried to imagine letting my eldest boy play, unsupervised, with a rifle. But I couldn’t do it.

I tried to imagine the grief of losing not just my youngest child, but both my children in a moment of negligent parenting. Because make no mistake, the little girl may be the one who died, but the 5-year-old is at least as much as victim in all this, if not more. But in this case, I didn’t want to do it.

Whether that poor boy is physically removed from the care of his parents or not, he will never be the same joyful, innocent child again. He’s too young to have understood what he was doing, and what it would mean, when he shot his sister, but exactly old enough to remember and regret it for the rest of his life.

——————–

I was driving Big Brother home from school two weeks ago when he asked me a question out of the blue. “Mummy,” he said. “If guns are so bad, why do policemen have them?”

A pause. A moment to gather my thoughts. And then, “Why do you think guns are bad, sweetie?”

“Because today at school I drew a picture of a hero shooting a bad guy, but my teacher told me we’re not allowed to draw pictures of guns at school.* And we’re not allowed to pretend sticks are guns and shoot at each other either.* So guns are bad.”

(* This is not uncommon in Australia, where most schools and child-care facilities won’t allow toy guns, and discourage gun-based pretend play. The majority of urban households won’t have toy guns at home for young children either.)

“Guns themselves aren’t bad,” I said carefully. “Guns are just pieces of wood and plastic and metal that have been turned into a tool. In some places, guns are very important and do a lot of good: like in the country where farmers need to protect their cows and sheep from predators.”

“Then why aren’t we allowed to play with them?”

“Well, you tell me what guns are used for.”

He thought for a few seconds. “Shooting people.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “And what happens if you shoot someone with a gun?”

He thought again. “They fall down.”

“Yes. And what else?”

“They die.”

“Yes,” I said. “Guns are used to shoot people or animals so that they die.”

There was silence for a good few minutes. “But, Mummy. After they die, do they get back up and be alive again?”

“No, Sweetie,” I said. “I’m afraid that when you shoot someone and they die, they stay dead.”

“Forever?” he asked in a tremulous tone.

“Forever.”

Another moment of silence. “But… But we don’t have real guns at school. It’s only pretend guns. And it was only a picture of a gun.”

“I know,” I said. “But do you think pointing a gun at someone is a very friendly thing to do?”

“No.”

“And it’s very important that we’re nice to our friends, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“So that’s why there’s a rule about guns. Because it’s not nice to pretend to kill someone.”

“Okay,” he said. And then, “But why do policemen have guns?”

That was a trickier question to answer simply, especially on the spur of the moment. But I did the best I could. “Well,” I said. “Policemen have guns because it’s their job to protect people from criminals. Sometimes criminals have guns, so policemen have to have guns, too. But they don’t like having to carrying a gun and they really, really, really, really don’t like having to shoot at someone.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“But if it’s a bad guy, then it’s okay.” Pause. A little less confidence in his voice. “Because it’s a bad guy. And you’re allowed to kill bad guys.”

“No, Sweetie. Policemen don’t even like to kill bad guys. Bad guys are still people.”

A long pause. “So… Are guns bad or not?”

“No, Big Brother, guns aren’t bad. But the only thing they can be used for is hurting and killing. They’re good for farmers to protect their animals from dingoes and other wild animals, but guns aren’t toys. And it’s never okay to point a gun at someone, even if it’s only a pretend one.”

——————–

I woke up this morning shaky and trembling all over. The dream left me feeling traumatised. Not, strangely, because of the death of my son. Rather, I was traumatised by the uncaring and dismissive reaction of the young lady I encountered. By the way she shrugged off an entire tragedy because someone else told her not to listen to the crazies. By the way that maintaining the status quo was more important than even acknowledging that lives had been lost.

Because she’s right: Guns don’t kill people without someone to pull the trigger.

But killing is the only thing guns are good for.

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23 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Random Stuff

23 responses to “Children and Guns

  1. Thank you. I will have to explain this to Little Chap in due course and when I do, I’ll be referring right back to this post. You hit the nail right on the head. Horrid dream to wake from but glad you managed to do something positive with it here 🙂

    • Thanks, Emma. I don’t honestly know if I went about it the right way — he always springs these conversations on me when I least expect it, usually while we’re in a moving vehicle — but if it prompts you to think about how best to answer the question for Little Chap, then I’m happy. 🙂

  2. Sadly, this is a lesson that’s wholly and completely lost on the people who most need to understand it. The “crazies” in this discussion have revealed themselves by their utter and complete lack of rationality in the face of these tragedies.

    I cried when I heard the news about Sandy Hook. A grown man, actual tears came out of my eyes. (Okay, that’s not actually that uncommon for me, but you get the picture.) I cried, of course, for the children who’s lives were lost. I cried tears of anger that this could happen. And I cried because I knew, even then, that this wouldn’t be the end, it wouldn’t be the last time, because the crazies lean heavy on the levers of power in my country.

    • Also, thanks for sharing this… it gives me an idea of how to approach this topic when my eldest reaches the age when he can start to grasp this.

      • As I said above, I don’t know if I handled it the right way, but if it’s got you thinking about how YOU want to handle it, then I consider my work here done. Good luck. 🙂

    • The problem is, of course, fear is an easy, and effective, lever to push if you want people on your side. And the fear of “How will I protect myself and my family?!” always outweighs the fear of “What if someone, somewhere, that I don’t know might possible one day perhaps get hurt by someone who isn’t me and who might hurt people anyway”. It’s all in the way the message is sold.

      The doomsayers abounded in Australia when they were debating a ban on all semi-automatic weapons, and there were protests and demonstrations and “You have no right!” editorials and calls to arms (pun intended). But the law passed (in part because of our different political system, and in part because of the lack of political power of pro-gun organisations), and all guns were handed in as part of a Buy-Back scheme, and that was that. The country hasn’t fallen apart now that families “can’t protect themselves”. Gun-related crime has decreased exponentially. There have been no mass shootings in the last 17 years. (The last one is what prompted the gun buy-back scheme and new laws.) And I’ve never seen or heard anyone proclaim that the country is worse off without guns.

      The “crazies” are fear-mongers, and as we know, words can change the world for ill as easily as for better.

  3. Beautifully said, Jo. My heart breaks for mothers and fathers raising young children amidst all this turmoil. We have become so desensitized globally to brutal violence–movies, tv series, songs up the standard of what is acceptable in order to garner unhealthy attention. Whenever I watch/hear something very dark, I always wonder what ideas the unstable mind gleans from it. I don’t even think I know what the answer is–except for what you’re already doing, raising conscientious children with a heart for their fellow man.

    • Thanks, Denise. I think I’ve mentioned before that I try to live as removed as possible from the elements of modern culture that I don’t like or agree with, and I keep my children as far removed as possible as well. So we don’t watch TV, the movies we watch tend to be (on average) twenty years old, we don’t listen to most modern music, and the books I choose to read to the children are ones I’ve read before. I know I can’t keep them safe from the modern world forever, but most of the values and beliefs we carry through our lives are the ones we learn when we’re very young. So I’m hoping that, by the time they inevitably find themselves exposed to the violent, fear-driven world, they’ll have the emotional security and the values to choose their own path.

      Interestingly, when I was a teenager, my opinion was: “All censorship is bad! Everything should be available for everyone, no matter how dark.”
      In my twenties, I slowly started to believe: “Censorship is generally bad, but young people should be protected from really dark material.”
      Now that I’m in my thirties, and a mother, I’m more like: “I don’t like censorship as a concept, but there are some things so dark that no one needs to experience them. The world is dark enough already.”

  4. Alex Hurst

    “Whether that poor boy is physically removed from the care of his parents or not, he will never be the same joyful, innocent child again. He’s too young to have understood what he was doing, and what it would mean, when he shot his sister, but exactly old enough to remember and regret it for the rest of his life.”

    This is exactly what I needed to hear. People have come at the gun debate for this town from every angle, but that is the only one I haven’t heard. He will have to remember for the rest of his life what happened to his sister. I hope he will be okay, but I could not imagine it for myself. I teach 5 year-old kids and when I read stuff like that, I can not imagine ANY of them with a gun.

    Just from the very basic, non-political point that their brains aren’t fully developed. Hormones are not in control. Temper tantrums abound. Why would you put something that can permanently change someone’s life in his hands before he has the ability to comprehend the consequence, or even the result of his actions. Cause and effect, the ability to grasp the consequence of something, is something that is not fully understood by the brain until someone is at least 8-years-old. And that’s only for things like ‘if you steal, mommy will be mad.’ The concept of death is still an unreal thing… in my honest opinion it still remains an unreal thing until death is experienced, and I feel so bad that the boy’s first experience if from such a horrible accident.

    Thank you for this post; I’m sorry about the nightmare. Sometimes, they feel too real.

  5. Susan

    It wasn’t really a “child-friendly” rifle, was it…?
    You are very right, that the only thing guns do is take life. I’m saddened that you didn’t impress that more upon your child and still felt you needed to justify gun ownership. Two of my family members have been shot (in separate incidents years apart – one died, the other was traumatized for the rest of his life). For a five year old to understand the politics is impossible. I’m glad his school doesn’t allow any demonstration of guns. I hope they can instill upon their students other ways to deal with conflict. Even police have been having a hard time learning other ways to deal with situations; they have become so trigger happy they now shoot first and ask questions (if they do that at all…) later. I’m sorry for your nightmare; I think it’s an issue that is salient and I’m glad you are discussing it. Thank you.

    • I’m terribly sorry for your loss, and thankful for your comment.

      “I’m saddened that you didn’t impress that more upon your child and still felt you needed to justify gun ownership.”

      I honestly don’t think that was what I did. We live on the border of a rural area, and I think it would be dishonest and more damaging not to acknowledge that there are valid reasons for gun ownership. That’s not the same as justifying gun ownership — which implies I’m going out of my way to explain why gun ownership is “right” and “just”. A gun is a tool like any other, and can be used for good reasons as well as bad. I wouldn’t tell my son that all chainsaws are evil either, but I’d certainly impress upon him the need to use one only in an appropriate setting, with appropriate training, and for an appropriate reason.

      I’m not sure where in the world you’re writing from, but it sounds like the police there have very different rules and regulations surrounding gun use than we have here in Australia — Queensland specifically.

  6. This was incredible, Jo. Your words were perfectly picked and placed. I appreciate you sharing the conversation you had with Big Brother, too.
    Kids have been suspended from school for drawing pictures of guns, as well as eating a Pop Tart to resemble a gun. I don’t know if that kind of reaction is warranted or not – it may create a mistrust that is too extreme. (Remember the photo I posted?)
    I wonder – does Australia ban violent video games? This is something that bugs the mess out of me. I do believe violent video games desensitize society to violence (and guns), and if they are going to react so strongly to a stick becoming an imaginary gun or a drawing of a gun – why they heck do parents allow their kids to play violent video games?
    Apparently Mine Craft is a huge hit these days. And, in Survival Mode, you kill things. I shake my head. I don’t get it.

    • Thanks, Lenore. In my opinion, suspending a child for drawing a gun is too harsh — especially when a simple “you know we don’t draw guns at school” and the removal and destruction of said picture is just as effective. Otherwise you’re just building a new fear culture, and that’s not helpful in the long run either.

      As for video games… Australia doesn’t outright ban violent games, but we do have a fairly restrictive rating system for video games.

      G (General) — Games rated G are suitable for everyone, have no violent themes, sexual content, or bad language. They’re not necessarily child-friendly (eg. quiz games, exercise games, etc.) but there’s no content to be worried about.

      PG (Parental Guidance) — Games may contain some mild cartoon-style violence, or mild themes young children may find confusing. It’s not recommended for children under 12, and is recommended that parents are present when children under 15 are playing.

      M (Recommended for over 15s) — Games may contain moderate violence and/or moderate references to sex and are recommended for people aged 15 and over. People under 15 can legally play the games, but parents should make the decision whether their children are mature enough for said content.

      MA 15+ (Legally restricted to over 15s) — Games may contain strong violence and strong themes. People under 15 can not purchase these games (ID needs to be shown), and are not legally allowed to play them without a parent or other responsible adult (over age 18) consenting and being present at all times.

      R 18+ (Legally restricted to over 18s) — Games contain strong violence, drug, or sex scenes, and may include elements that some adults will find offensive. People under age 18 are not legally allowed to play these games.

      Obviously these restrictions don’t 100% prevent children from seeing or playing violent games — but there’s simply no way for society at large to control what parents do in their own homes. Minecraft is rated PG — so considered safe for children over 12 as long as they have parental guidance, because it includes cartoon-style violence. (I haven’t played it myself, so don’t know anything about how that manifests.)

      Violence in video games is a huge issue, and one I’m sure you and I could discuss until the wee hours of the morning. I suppose that for me, like with most things, I believe adults are capable of making their own decision and should have a strong enough ethical and moral code to understand the difference between a game and reality. Banning all violent video games for adults should also mean banning all movies with violence and all books with violence. BUT children don’t have those clear filters yet, and allowing small children to play violent video games is irresponsible on the part of their parents.

  7. Awesome awesome post. One of Hot Joe’s friends, who is still in the Navy, has a lot of guns. He has no children. He lives alone. He doesn’t carry. Some of them are pretty heavy duty. He uses them ONLY for target shooting. He’s in the military to keep our country safe and when he’s on deployment he carries a weapon because he has to keep himself safe, but when he’s home he only likes to shoot at targets.
    BUT NO GUNS IN MY HOME

    • On a personal level, I don’t “get” the point of having a heap of guns in your home anyway, but I understand that target shooting is a hobby. And I also understand that lots of people don’t “get” the stuff I do. 🙂 The important thing about your story is that he’s a guy who is responsible about owning death-dealing weapons.

      (And I won’t even have toy guns in my home, let alone real ones!)

  8. I love you. I wish more people understood that the reason to have gun laws, to ban some guns, and to regulate them is because they are dangerous. They are intended for killing. Why anyone would give them to a child is beyond me. I unfriended someone on FB a few weeks ago because she posted a picture of her 8-year-olds birthday cake. It had assault rifles on it made out of fondant. It’s depraved. I honestly believe that, people who give guns to children are depraved.

    • Seriously? An 8-year-old with fondant assault rifles? That makes my stomach turn. I wonder what they’d think of a cake decorated with fondant nooses.

      • I know. I kept thinking, what would we all say if the name on the cake was “Adam” instead of “Tristan” (her son’s name). I thought about blogging it out, but I didn’t want to call this person out specifically. I guess that makes me a scaredy cat.

  9. A very sensitive post, Jo, and the responses too.

  10. Beautiful post Jo. I knew it would be handled with care. I meant to put this on your About page, but couldn’t get to a comments section. Please keep writing your wonderful stories. You deserve a book.

    Reading your blog has inspired me to continue writing, so I’ve nominated you for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award! Pay it forward!
    The rules for receiving this award are:
    1. Display the award logo on your blog.
    2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
    3. State 7 things about yourself.
    4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
    5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

    • Thank you, Mimi. I’m not sure whether I’ll post about it (I’ve posted a lot of award links in the past), but please know that your gesture is humbly appreciated.

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