Our Children Are Not the Enemy

My 18-year-old son is a senior in high school. On the day after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, as my son gathered his things to head to school, I went to give him a hug good-bye. He tensed and put his hand up to stop me, as he has been doing over the last few months whenever I go to touch him—a normal thing, I think, for your average 18-year-old. But, I told him that I needed to hug him and asked if he would let me. I just couldn’t let him go without touching him, after what had happened at that high school in Florida the day before. He let me give him a brief hug.

Another senseless, horrific shooting at an American school. I’d like to think the shooting was also “unimaginable,” but that’s no longer true.

I just couldn’t get it out of my head. How many of those young people had left home that Wednesday morning—Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday—refusing a hug or a kiss from their mother, because, well, that’s what teenagers do? How many of those who died that day had been their normal, teenage selves that morning and had left home without a hug or a kiss from a parent?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, as I have before, after a school shooting. How can it be that we continue to allow such violence to take place? How can it be that nothing has changed, no meaningful, substantial alterations have taken place in how we live together, in how we deal with gun access and ownership, in the United States? How can it be that another mass shooting has taken place, in a school, and that those in power to change such things have not thought of their own, precious children and have been moved to action at the thought of sending their own child off on a normal day—not to war, not to chaos, not into some violent place—but to school and to know that school is no longer the safe place it ought to be?

These are our children—young, with their lives in front of them, brimming with potential—whose lives have been cut short because we somehow can’t get our act together and to eliminate, or reduce, access to assault rifles to the general public, or at least to young people.

In this mortal, imperfect life, many children die during childhood, sometimes through violent means. But, the mass shootings in American schools seem to me to be just the thing that should call us all to figure something out to eradicate, or at least severely limit, such events.

As many have noted, if these young gunmen were named Mohammed, we would likely do something about it. But, they are white, young, American men. Although some have offered clues and “red flags,” this seems a flimsy path to meaningful action.

It’s the manner and method of their violence that ought to be the focus: assault weapons.   Assault rifles are military weapons and their purpose is to kill quickly and efficiently. Why does any civilian need such a weapon?

Living in Maine for the last twenty years, I’ve gained an appreciation for firearms. Although I don’t own one myself and have never used one, I know hunters—lots of them. I’ve also met plenty of people who live in places where there is no local police department and where the rare possibility of harm compels them to own and keep a weapon at home. There are lots of remote places in this corner of the country, places that are beautiful and peaceful but are not completely free from threat or danger.

But, no civilian needs an assault rifle—to hunt in the woods or to protect themselves at home.

Given that these are the weapons of choice for those who walk into schools bent not just on killing, but on killing on a massive scale, it seems logical to work on how to limit access to such weapons.

Yet, shooting after shooting, child after child gunned down, nothing happens, except empty talk of thoughts and prayers.

This time, the aftermath seems more forceful than it’s been for a while, and I am truly grateful for that. But, I’m also wary. I don’t want to get my hopes up that maybe something will happen this time only to discover that nothing happens—yet again.

I’m grateful that my son will graduate in a few months. But, I hope I never let go of that feeling I had on the morning of February 15, when I had to hug him before he left for school, that feeling that I was sending him off to a place that may not be the safe place it should be. While we cannot make our schools completely safe, schools should never be the hunting ground for shooters armed with military weapons. Our children are not the enemy.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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