Living Room

It’s the Children, Stupid

By Sheila Johnson

Earlier this month I received an award by a DC-based group called Fight for Children.  Along with NBA superstar Kevin Durant, trailblazing journalist and sports reporter Christine Brennan, and the late, great John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown basketball coach and mentor, I was part of a quartet of DC-based difference-makers cited for the work we’ve done on behalf of the District’s most at-risk schoolkids.

The presentation gala was, as one might expect, a glamourous affair and one full of elegantly clad people and plenty of good food and spirited conversation.

Yet that night, even as others were toasting us and we were taking our bows and giving our acceptance speeches, a young man in Uvalde, Texas, not far from San Antonio, was taking whatever final steps necessary before waking up a few days later to shoot his grandmother, before driving off to a nearby elementary school and using the military-grade assault rifle he’d just bought on his 18th birthday to kill 19 students and two of their teachers, while injuring 18 others.

And, with that, as anyone with an even marginal understanding of recent history could have predicted, gun activists everywhere began frothing at the mouth and accusing anyone calling for even the most basic, common-sense gun laws of trying to “politicize” the event. 

As if the killing of children with guns – more American kids every year, in fact, than the number of policemen shot and killed in the line of duty – is, somehow, political

These gun zealots would have you believe, in other words, that the shooting deaths of dozens if not hundreds of kids each year in America – many of whom go to their graves still believing in Santa Claus – is just one more Red versus Blue issue, like, I don’t know, taxes, gerrymandering, and the role and size of the federal government.

Seriously, are you kidding me? 

But the reason I bring this up today, and the reason the blood is pounding in my brain and my knuckles are growing whiter, even as I type this, is this: we four “difference makers” that night earlier this month were honored for having fought for our children. 

But – and this is what I can’t let go of – what about those two teachers down in Uvalde?  What about those two remarkable ladies who not only fought for their children – and did so every day of their working lives – but who, in the flash of a moment, if not the pulse of a single human heartbeat, gave their lives for those very same kids. 

How, in God’s name, does one honor them?  A moment of silence?  A prayer?  A proclamation?

And, indeed, multiple reports claimed that one of those teachers killed – a mother herself – willfully put her body in front of a handful of her students and took the bullets intended for them.

And I’m not writing this today for those of you who already believe our country should adopt a small number of basic, common-sense laws, not to mention things like background checks, licensing, and mandatory training before being able to buy the kind of military grade weaponry that would have been unfathomable when our second amendment was being drafted. 

No, I’m writing this today for everyone else.  I’m writing this today to those of you who – after yet another slaughter of yet another group of Americans on the basis of their age, gender, skin color, and/or religious beliefs – still feels something like what happened in Uvalde is, somehow, not part of a bigger and far darker picture of the America of 2022, a not-so-flattering snapshot of who we’ve managed to become as a people.  

Because, believe me, the mass public execution of children is no longer an ideological, or political, or even hypothetical issue.  It’s a moral one. 

What’s more, it’s real.  It’s happening.  And it’s doing so with greater and greater frequency.

Look, common-sense gun laws are not about our freedoms, and they’ve never been so. Oh, many who traffic in guns, and who make millions doing so, would have you believe that.  They’d have you believe the right to own guns of any kind – even those designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible – is as American as apple pie and baseball. 

And they’d have you believe that anyone who hopes to keep assault weapons out of the hands of the insane, domestic terrorists, and those still too young to buy a drink legally is somehow anti-American.

For them, though – and don’t kid yourself for one minute – guns are about one thing and one thing only.  They’re about money, and lots of it. 

Yet, time and time again, these people will wrap themselves (along with their latest and greatest high-tech killing devices) in the American flag, and they’ll beat their chests, call themselves patriots, and tell you that those on the other side – people like me – are trying to take away your freedoms.

Yet the thing is, no one’s trying to strip you of your freedoms, least of all me.  And no one’s trying to take away your guns. Like so many of us in the real world – and like so many mothers and, indeed, mothers of color – I’m just one more sane and rational citizen who, especially after the recent slaughters in Buffalo and Uvalde, has finally had it.

I’m one more individual who’s now standing up and saying, “enough.”  Enough killing. Enough bloodshed.  And enough hiding behind the very symbol of the country that we all know and love, left and right:  the American flag.

It’s time a very vocal minority in this country stop shoveling what they’ve been shoveling for far too long and wake up to the reality of what’s happening in the world that the rest of us are out here trying to inhabit and make a better place. 

And it’s time they stop spewing their unique form of venom, a cynical and financially motivated form that would have everyone believe that the mass executions of children and people of color should be just one more subject for debate during the next election cycle.

Just like eighty years ago in Nazi Germany, today in America there can no longer be any such thing as remaining neutral or non-committal.  You are either against hatred and the slaughter of innocents or (whether you’re willing to admit it or not) you’re for it.

And you will either join the rest of us and finally stand up and do something or, quite simply, you won’t.  I’m sorry, it’s as simple as that. 

What’s more, if you’re one of those who, somehow, wants us to magically return to the kinder, gentler America of sixty years ago, yet at the same time believes the only way to protect our children is to arm their teachers and seal off their schools with barricades and bulletproof glass, then I’m not sure there’s much I can to you say anyway. Because you’re clearly someone trying to run as fast as you can in opposite directions and do so at the very same time.   

You have, in other words, no clue as to what it means to be a child.

It’s look-in-the-mirror time for Americans everywhere. And it’s time to, once and for all, take a stand against assault weapons and speak out on behalf of some common-sense gun regulation. After all, you’re either against the mass slaughter of children or – and may God have mercy on your soul – you’re perfectly willing to accept it as the price of your own beliefs.

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