By BECKY CABAZA
Special to Montclair Local
My son is a college senior preparing to graduate, ordinarily a time brimming with hope and possibility. But on the night of Feb. 13, he was barricaded in his dorm at Michigan State University, a dresser pushed in front of his door – fearing for his life while a stranger with a gun murdered three students in nearby buildings and gravely injured five others.
For hours we talked and texted, me listening to the police scanner feed along with countless other parents as I tracked 911 calls with a campus map and glanced at CNN. The New York Times reports that more than 200,000 people tuned in to the live scanner feed as this nightmare unfolded in real time.
“Mom, did they say my dorm? Did they say McDonel?” he asked repeatedly. My son is an RA, so he worried not only for himself but for his terrified residents, as well as friends sheltering elsewhere on campus.
“No,” I lied, as the dispatcher relayed numerous reports of gunfire near McDonel Hall. “Everything’s going to be OK,” I lied again, as SWAT teams entered his building.
“I love you,” I said, not a lie. I didn’t want him to panic. He was on the fifth floor, so he was safe, right? The 911 calls were riddled with false alarms, right? It really was going to be OK, right?
For the rest of my days, I’ll remember that night. I can’t imagine what it was like for parents whose children were not safe, for whom everything would not be OK.
My late husband believed the only cure for gun violence was to repeal the Second Amendment. “That will never happen,” I’d say, though I readily agreed that access to guns was the problem. I’d suggest we needed better gun control.
“That’s not enough,” he’d argue. “Getting rid of the Second Amendment is the only way to stop mass shootings.” I’m starting to see things his way now.
There is something about killing students that is particularly evil and cruel. The three who died, a 19-year-old and two 20-year-olds, were in class and at the Student Union, doing what students are supposed to do – just like the students at Sandy Hook … Parkland … Uvalde … University of Virginia … maybe another campus by the time you read this.
We can’t keep up with how many people are shot every day, en masse or alone. Even in the wake of this carnage perpetrated on American youth, gun laws barely budge.
Still, I am in awe of how brave young people unfailingly unite to publicly call out lawmakers, especially groups like March for Our Lives, who faithfully show up to offer support (and register new voters), despite the do-nothings in D.C. who remain cowed by the NRA.
I won’t argue about the Second Amendment – repeal will never happen, even if my husband was right that it’s the only real solution.
But there is something we can do to feel less helpless. Next time there is an election, local or national, please vote. Don’t tell me it doesn’t make a difference. Because it does. Even in our Montclair bubble.
No matter how you lean, your quality of life is on the ballot – reproductive rights, what books kids can read (and which bathroom they can use), what’s flowing into your rivers and out of your tap, whether your community pool will open this summer, where you can walk your dog or park your car, issues of crime and punishment, zoning laws and property taxes that could determine if you stay or go, and more.
True, these things aren’t literally on most ballots, but who you elect will have a say when such topics inevitably come up for debate. And “appointed” folks who make many decisions are generally appointed by the same lawmakers you choose – so elect people with voices that are in harmony with your own.
Finally, you may not always live here, in safe, leafy-green, blue Montclair, and there’s a chance your children won’t either. You may find yourself in a strange land. Florida. California. Colorado. Texas. Michigan … or maybe just down the Shore.
Or like me, you may have your bubble popped in the comfort of your Montclair home, when you get a late-night text from a loved one who tells you that they’ve been instructed to “run, hide, fight.”
So, flex your voting muscles to keep them strong, because you may be voting someone into – or out of – office who can help stop the loss of lives to gun violence. Some day.
Becky Cabaza is a freelance editor and writer and a longtime resident of Montclair.