Tuesday, January 5, 2016

God, Guns, and Old Glory

Girl with flag and gun, 1952
photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

If I were a songwriter, I'd write that country song because America loves songs about America and Americans and the things that make us five million times better than any other country or culture on planet Earth. But I probably couldn't sleep at night, and not because of the piles of money stuffed under my mattress.

Our President is speaking today about some significant proposals in the world of firearms. Nothing sets off such a marked parting in my sea of friends as when that happens. Here in Idaho where we're in a race to the bottom for education (State motto: "Hey, if you can't be first, be last!") folks don't take too kindly to infringements upon their freedom.

Last week, open carry became a thing in Texas, and in true Texas style, Texans did not disappoint in their displays of enthusiasm.

"Two Knives" Takacs tore up his own clothes to make a point.
But he's definitely not looney-tunes. Trust him.
photo: Joe Takacs/Open Carry Texas, facebook

But that's not what this is about. This is about action on an individual level. This is about me. A mom. Pushing my children through to adulthood and doing a really lousy job of it. I'm the first to admit that. Last year when I took my tree down in January, I found something that set my hair on fire.

After that, the ornament owner went on through his year becoming increasingly aggressive. Stories of friend-based interventions on the playground filtered home. Clayton had one playdate with him, at his grandma's house, at her request, and she and I had THE TALK.

The talk. The one where I go first to put people's minds at ease. The one where people know there's a gun in our house because Hubs needs it for his job. The one where I let them know that it's locked up and that their kids might come home with a stubbed toe and a sugar high, but they won't have any extra holes in them when they leave. The one where I tell them that even though our kids know, KNOW that there are some things that are off limits like the Hershey bars we use for s'mores, like that they need to ask first before getting the iPad...and that ANY of Dad's work gear is not negotiable, that they needn't worry about them getting their grubby paws on a gun.

And our kids? They don't even think about it. The only time either has displayed an interest was one 9/11 anniversary when the teacher asked Hubs to swing by to collect some thank you notes the kids had written to firemen and police officers. Only after classmates began asking standard questions such as, "Have you ever SHOT someone?" and an over-sharer describing with his thumb cocked and finger tucked up under his chin how his uncle had committed suicide did our son act interested in the 98 pounds of gear strapped around his father's waist.

You know, typical second grader stuff.

Taking temptation off the table for our own kids is only part of it. We have no control over the wild pack of neighborhood ruffians who I freely let roam about, in or out. I look out our front window periodically to count heads, and I watch the numbers swell and ebb as pairs break off from the gang to run home for lunch or race one another to the park. They all know that Hubs is a cop, but I know how kids are. I know it's only a matter of time until just ONE of them suggests to one of my kids they should go find his gun.

Will my kid say no? I hope so. I hope they'd tell their friends that Hubs is going to have a chitty-chat with their parents for even suggesting it. But they probably won't. Kids just want other kids to like them. So we've taken that pressure off by making them inaccessible.

The friend whose house the boys play at the most has an accomplished hunter for a dad. He works in the hunting gear industry, and his livelihood depends on those who get excited to pop off a few rounds. He also has all his guns in a safe, and he has very open and strict ground rules about what's off limits to his kids (and to mine). I don't ever worry when they're visiting these kids that they're in danger.

We've pulled the plug on friendships over this. We've had to sit our kids down and explain to them in the most kid-appropriate terms that because their friend's parents did not take the same level of care to secure their firearms that we did, that they were not allowed to play at his house. We left out the parts about the domestic violence, the parts where there were threats made to family members, the parts where the dad was off his rocker. Kids don't need to be burdened with that. But it doesn't mean they don't play a part in the discussion at all.

Does this mean I prohibit toy guns? No. Our house has an arsenal of all kinds of Nerf guns. ToddlerBandit's favorite thing to do is walk right up and shoot you in the face with them. I know without a doubt if that kid got his hands on a real gun, he'd put a hole in something or someone with it in no time. He has no business having access. It doesn't matter how many times we redirect him. He sees big brothers having Nerf wars, and he mimics them. That's what kids do.

Does this make me less American that I want my kids nowhere near a bullet flinger without supervision? That I would expect other parents to do the same?

The paranoia fueled by our media is nothing new. The platform is different. In the pre-interwebz olden days, my mother slept with a gun. Loaded. I guess she was scared of intruders. Or whatever. She got her nerve-wracking, fourth-hand urban legends and world events the old fashioned way without a shareable meme or email chain to forward. We also spent every night eating dinner in front of the evening news during the years the Green River Killer was on the loose (which is a whole other thing for me). She worked at our local bullet factory for 33 years. It's a culture here. Guns. Bullets. Normal. Bullets put food on our table and clothes on my back for 16 years.

We were detained at the airport making our way back from Germany when I was five. I was questioned about who this lady was. Where we were going. Where we had been. She had a powder-less bullet in her coin purse, one that had been there as long as I ever remembered. A fixture in her pocketbook. I'd clanked it around digging change out for gumball machines and the candy cigarettes they sold in the front end of our neighborhood butcher shop. They found it. They didn't understand why, if she didn't mean any harm, she would have that. They pulled the head off my doll and looked down into its cavernous body for contraband. Once they determined us not to be a threat, we were sent on our way.

When I was older, I had to wake her up when I returned home after nights out with friends. Her 4 am schedule meant she was in bed early, but no matter what time I got home, I had to wake her. She was always jolted out of sleep like someone was attacking her, and more than once I had to let my eyes adjust to the dark first so if she made a move for her gun I knew where her hands were. Once she knew I was safely home, and once I knew I was safe from friendly fire, I headed to bed.

We survived. We, the children of the 70's. Except that not all of us did. Nor the children of the 80's. Nor the 90's. Nor of this year already. They're dying. Dying because gun owners are not being responsible. Dying because the paranoia is so great that we must have weapons accessible at all times. Dying because We the People value an amendment and our NRA window decals over the innocent lives of our fellow Americans. Especially the small ones.

No matter what side of the issue you're on, please give our children that gift. The one that says they won't die or be injured by accidental (or purposeful) gunfire under your roof. They deserve that much. And I think everyone should agree on that.

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