Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Wish for My Children

My children are close to the age of no longer being children. With a daughter turning twenty-one and twin sons turning seventeen this year, it can be easy to think of myself as a rising empty nester, soon to be beholden only to the daily needs and caprices of my wife and myself.

It's a strange sensation, the idea of returning to the mindset of a newlywed. It's been a long time since we wantonly attended plays, took romantic weekend trips and enrolled in classes at the local community college for the fun of learning flower arranging. I think we're ready for it.

I know we've done the best we could for our children. Were we perfect parents? No, perfection is impossible. Regrets and missteps are inevitable, but they know we love them and that is the most important thing. We've encouraged their interests, indulged their strengths, pushed them to become involved academically and socially, and held them back when they were at risk of over-committing themselves. They are the responsible, intelligent, questioning and compassionate people I hoped they would become. As my wife would say, I want to be just like them when I grow up. Their prospects for fruitful lives seem boundless as we shoo them out the door to continue their educational careers.

Then you see the news. Another mass killing at a high school, this time in Florida.

No terrorists flying planes into the administrative office. No jihadists in Middle Eastern dress setting off IEDs outside the cafeteria. No illegal aliens from south of the border covered in gang tattoos.

No, just another broken white male with a history of behavioral problems and access to a soldier's arsenal. Three of the five deadliest mass shootings in our nation's history have occurred in the last two years. The recent Marjory Douglas High School shooting in Florida ranks ninth behind the 1966 University of Texas tower shooting. For those of you who recall the shock and horror of Columbine, despite it's devastation it ranks a disheartening eleventh place, tied with the Oklahoma Post Office shooting in a list dominated by native-born, white perpetrators. In this most recent case, children routed from their classrooms by the fire alarm were greeted by rounds from a semi-automatic weapon capable of firing 45 bullets per minute from magazines carrying up to 30 rounds.

I can't imagine losing a child to such mindless violence. I  can't imagine the degree to which a mind must be twisted to justify committing acts of that nature.

I especially can't imagine a legislative body so hamstrung by one special interest group that it would allow this kind of bloodshed to continue unchecked, mostly because I don't have to. Regardless of their talk of a safe America, regardless of their promises to build a wall and enact travel bans, our elected leaders have failed to keep our nation safe from its worst enemy. After decades of working nativists, isolationists and conspiracy theorists into a froth over any attempt at regulating gun safety, our PAC-funded politicians have created a 2nd Amendment dystopia in which research on gun violence by the National Institutes of Health is prohibited and law enforcement officials are forbidden to create an electronic database of gun ownership.

Re-posting a hate group's message on social media can get you flagged as a potential threat, possibly justifiably so. You run the risk of being flagged as a potential threat if you buy too much fertilizer because Timothy McVeigh used it to create a bomb in Oklahoma. You have to remove your shoes at airport security because one idiot tried to sneak explosives onto a flight in his. All these reactions and responses to potential threats, yet there exists no meaningful tracking system to identify someone stockpiling weapons or ammunition. In fact, the creation of such a tracking system has been outlawed by the very people elected to serve and protect us.

I am not naive enough to believe we can create a utopia. There will never come a time when any one person in our country or world can wake up with a guarantee of seeing the next sunrise. That doesn't mean we give up hope and stop trying to fix this problem. The loss of hope only inspires inaction that results in an environment conducive to more tragedy.

There is a seemingly endless list of simple, practical things that can be done to proactively address mass shootings, especially those committed by mentally damaged people with semi-automatic weapons. My wish is for elected officials who have the courage to put the safety of our children over their need to please campaign contributors.

If not for my children, I wish it for yours.