I sit here now in my warm home cluttered with evidence of my healthy, beautiful children. My baby is asleep and my son is at school. It is just like so many other days. Except that since Friday, I have felt like the foundation of our lives is faulty. My assumptions about American childhood are under the microscope and I examine them and wonder if I need to change them. Can I keep my children safe? I no longer know.
Since the shooting in Connecticut on Friday, I have been casting about for solid emotional ground from which to evaluate the situation. I’ve spent hours on social media opinining on guns, faith, the media, and public policy. In a moment of radical desperation I thought perhaps I should mount a primary challenge to my Congressman in 2014 and encourage other mothers to do the same. Not with the intent of winning any seats: just with the intent of being given a stronger platform from which to make our demands about what we want for our children. I realized the gravity of the whole situation when my husband didn’t dismiss the idea as one of my typical, crazy rantings. He’s a professional political operative. He knows that my idea might be the best way to get them to listen.
My god. Do I have to run for office to be heard over the sound of gunfire?
As I dug through my brain looking for some sort of emotional blueprint to use for dealing with my feelings about those children lost and the child who killed them with his mother’s guns, I found only two moments in my history that were as confusing and terrifying as Friday. One as 9/11. The other was the week when we learned that a dear family friend, a person we had known for more than 20 years, with whom we had sung in a church choir, who had been a treasured guest in our home, had killed his wife. I shared as much of the story as I care to tell on Twitter:
I know a murderer. His name is Tim. He killed his wife with his bare hands about three years ago.
It was a tremendous shock. He is a gentle man and was deeply in love with his wife.But something in him broke irretrievably. There were circumstances. Situations. But in the end, he was broken.He decided he, his wife and their dog needed to die. He succeeded only in killing his wife. The dog survived.
He was sentenced to 16 years in a plea deal. My mother writes to him. He writes back. A gentle, broken man in prison.
There are two truths that we hold simultaneously about Tim. One, that he is our friend of 20 years. The other is that he is a murderer.
It turns out those two facts aren’t mutually exclusive. There is a way to have compassion for him even as we know his punishment is just.
I don’t ever want him to walk free. He killed my friend. But I don’t want him friendless in the world. It’s a hard balance.
When I think of the kind of mental illness that manifests in murder, I think of Tim. And I think of my struggle to remember his humanity.
When I hear the word “monster” applied to killers, I recoil. Tim is not a monster. Or if he was, it was only in one moment.
I doubt Adam Lanza was a monster before Friday. And to people who loved him, he’ll still be a whole person in their memory.
I do not know why Tim didn’t seek out a gun in his moment of madness. I do know that if he had, he would not be alive. Having a gun in our hand makes violence easy. I know because I’ve held one, shot one. I took a handgun class once to try and understand a boyfriend’s affection for weaponry. It was terrifying. It is not hard to shoot a gun. The trigger moves smoothly. It takes no thought. It’s a tiny motion and then…And then.
I’ve said before that I hate guns. I think they are nothing but tools of murder and why anyone would care to live with such a thing strapped to their bodies or tucked under their mattress mystifies me. I have not changed my position on that. I also hate the kinds of mental illness the results in snapped psyches, minds so deeply damaged from the inside that they no longer operate in the rational world. The kinds of mental illness that result in murder and mayhem.
Of these two things that I hate, only one can be rectified. We cannot end mental illness. We can limit access to guns. I propose that because we cannot end mental illness, we must limit access to guns.
I will not mount a primary challenge to my Congressman to direct the conversation toward gun control. But in the interest of rebuilding my emotional foundation, my assumptions about American childhood, I will be active on gun control as a policy issue. If you want to join me, here are three places to start:
To contact your Representative: www.house.gov
To contact you Senators: www.senate.gov
To donate to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence: http://www.bradycampaign.org/