Wouldn’t it be great, if everybody had a gun?
No one would ever get shot, because everybody would have a gun.
– The Arrogant Worms
On Friday I was in the library all afternoon. I had no idea what had happened until after E. had gone to bed, when I turned on my laptop to check my e-mail.
I was stunned into silence for a moment.
And then I cried. Huge, wracking sobs that just erupted up out of my gut. I couldn’t contain them. I couldn’t stop them. Q. tried to distract me with a film, but all through the evening they would find their way out again.
I cried until I thought I would vomit.
When you have a baby, everyone tells you that your perspective on the world changes. “Everyone’s child becomes your child,” they say.
Friday was when I truly *got* this.
I’ve noticed ever since E. was born that I’m more sensitive to news stories, more likely to cry during movies, less able to switch off my emotions if what I’m watching/reading/hearing involves children or pregnancy.
But to a certain extent, I just viewed this as evidence of a new ability to empathize, the same way I am far more sensitive to depictions of infertility, having lived with it myself, and how I always cry at weddings when it comes to the vows (which I never used to do), even weddings on screen, because they make me remember my vows and the way I shook while I said them, and the look in Q.’s eyes as I spoke the words that bound us together for life.
Friday was different.
And what really got to me wasn’t thinking about the kids. I’m still not actually able to think about the kids.
It was thinking about the parents.
And there was this moment where I could put myself in their place and imagine what they were going through.
It was only a moment. I couldn’t think about it longer than that or I would have started screaming. At the very least I would have needed to bolt up the stairs to E.’s room and wake him from his dreaming so I could hold him close and promise again and again that I would protect him.
And it felt self-indulgent, really, to imagine the level of pain that those parents are actually experiencing, to toy with the idea of something so horrible that it would end my life as I know it, forever, all the while knowing that E. was safe in his crib upstairs (something Q. said to me repeatedly when I first read about what had happened and I couldn’t stop the tears).
Those parents are living our worst nightmare, and they will never be able to wake from it.
But in that moment, that first instinctive gasp, I could put myself in their place. And even imagining something like that happening to my E. was enough to bring me to my knees.
It is a terrible love that we have for our children. It owns us, completely and forever more.
E. woke up the next morning, too early, and I did what no doubt so many of you did as well- held him a little tighter, kissed him a little more, swore up and down not to get frustrated when his early waking caught up with him and every tiny frustration overpowered his usual good temper.
Our lives got to continue as usual.
But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I’m trying not to read about it, not to look at the pictures, not to listen to the briefings. I am not yet capable of coping with it in any rational manner.
But again and again I find myself thinking. We bring these little lives into the world. We promise them, in the wee hours of the night in our rocking chairs, while we kiss their tiny heads as they snuggle into us, that we will protect them. We do the best we can. We buy the right car seat. We put gates on our stairs. We put them to sleep on their backs. We hold their hands as we cross the road. We do everything we can.
If they’re not safe at school, where are they?
When Q. and I first started dating, we got quite serious quite quickly. So it wasn’t that far into our relationship when I gave him an ultimatum, the only one I have ever given him.
“I will never,” I told him, “live in the United States.”
Even though there are far more universities there than in either of our countries.
Even though there are richer universities there that might be interested in a spousal hire, which probably is our only real chance at both of us getting full-time positions.
Even though we have good friends who live there, and, now, family as well (both of my sisters have moved there in the last couple of years).
I will not go.
Not for any price.
It’s not all about guns, of course. It would be far too simplistic to suggest that. It wouldn’t be true.
But it is part of it.
My father owns a gun.
It is a shotgun. He hunts geese every fall.
The gun used to live at my uncle’s house in another province where my father normally hunts, but since he’s found an opportunity to hunt closer to home, it’s in his house now.
When we go to stay with him after Christmas, E. will be in a house where there is a gun.
And I am ok with this.
I am not opposed to guns.
I don’t think it’s as simple as all guns are bad.
I have played with Nerf guns.
I have watched children build guns out of Lego.
I can see why some people need to own a gun. I can see why other people might not need to, but might want to own a gun.
Where my head explodes is with this idea that one should have a right to have ANY gun that one fancies.
Even a gun that can fire dozens of bullets without needing to be reloaded.
Even an assault rifle.
No civilian needs a weapon that has been designed to allow it to kill as many people as quickly as possible.
After the massacre in Port Arthur, the Australians changed their laws and made it much more difficult for people to own particular types of guns.
Farmers could still have their shotguns. Hunters could have rifles.
But it became much more difficult to purchase and own semi-automatic handguns and their ilk.
I live in a city that probably has one of the worst gun cultures in Canada.
Nearly all of our gun deaths are gang related.
Sometimes an innocent civilian gets caught in the cross-fire. There was a shooting not so long ago in a mall which I have been to probably dozens of times since we moved here.
We will never be able to sort out our gun problems so long as the weapons continue to flow so freely and easily across the border.
Yes, it is true that the lack of mental health support in our societies played a role.
And yes, the media coverage no doubt encourages emulation and imitation.
And yes, it is true that you could ban all guns and people would still find a way to get them.
But here’s the thing. It would be harder for them to get them.
They might get noticed when they try to get them.
They might end up with a gun that fires fewer rounds before they would have to pause to reload.
They might end up with one gun instead of three.
Some might not end up with a gun at all.
And those who did, who would still try to perpetrate these horrors, might only get a few shots off before they were stopped.
I do not disagree with those who want the right to own a gun. I don’t understand the attitude, but I fundamentally do not disagree with it.
But I don’t agree that you get any gun. Whenever you want. With almost no questions asked.
And what breaks my heart, over and over again, is I cannot see how things will change.
I expect in a year, or two, or six months, the President will be standing at another podium, wiping away more tears, as he speaks of another tragedy, involving young children, or high school students, or university students, or co-workers, or theatre-goers, or shoppers in a mall, or citizens at a political rally, or whoever, and everyone will jump up and down and say this cannot happen again, this must not happen again.
But it will.
It is a running joke that Canadians define ourselves by what we are not. And what we are most not are Americans.
And while I know that many, many Americans feel the same way that I do, this weekend I’ve never felt that to be more true.