We traveled to Washington DC for spring break a few weeks ago so that my oldest son Jed, who is 17 and a junior in high school, could visit a couple of colleges. We toured American University and George Washington University. Jed loves politics and history, so these schools are right up his alley and thankfully lived up to his expectations. They’re both still on the list of universities to which he’ll apply in the fall. We are entering this exciting time in which he has so many options ahead of him, but it’s also stressful and pressure filled. Helping him find a balance so that he can enjoy this season of life and find a path that fits with what he wants for his future will be our task in the next eighteen months. And our joy as his parents.
There are some other children and parents who should be navigating this time of life but are not. That’s because those children died in the gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut ten years ago. I’ll always know how old those children should be because Jed was in first grade at the same time those children were murdered. Those twenty little gap-toothed babies will never grow past that stage. Six adults from the school were killed that day too. We donate to Sandy Hook Promise, the charity that advocates for sensible gun control and school safety, that was formed by the parents of those children. They should be helping their kids prepare for their senior year in high school, but they cannot.
I’ll always know how old the children who were murdered by a gunman in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary should be as well because my son Alex was 9 years old and in fourth grade last year just like those nineteen babies who didn’t make it home. Two teachers were killed that day trying to protect them. But I realized that if nothing happened to restrict the types of guns available when white children on the East Coast were murdered at Sandy Hook, then nothing significant was going to happen when children with brown skin who lived near the Texas border with Mexico were the victims almost ten years later.
My heart breaks for all the children and parents impacted by gun violence. I’ll always know how old the children at Sandy Hook and Uvalde should be. But there are a lot of children whose ages I can’t keep track of. There are just too many killed by gun violence. After the Nashville shooting this week, I was ashamed that my first reaction was relief that there were only three children killed along with three adults. I was glad that the police killed the shooter within fourteen minutes of the first emergency call. Am I becoming numb to the problem? If there are fewer victims because the police acted quickly, can I turn away more easily? Am I afraid to look too closely? Because honestly, when I truly let myself dwell on the issue of gun violence and children, it terrifies me, especially when I drop my kids off at school. And then my fear spills over to grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, malls, concerts, parks, and church. It makes me want to keep my babies in a bubble at home and never let them leave. I must fight against my desire to keep them safe by keeping them sequestered. That’s no way to live either.
In a 1977 speech, Hubert H. Humphrey said, “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” I think we are failing that moral test. God, please help us because we must do better.