‘Nothing more important than our children’? Horse hockey


I am writing this column on behalf of the estimated 73 million Americans who are under the age of 18. We call them children. Most of them live with us, their parents, although some are with grandparents or guardians. We say we love them.

But do they believe us? More important, should they believe us? They may be children, but even the younger ones know that when you love a child, you provide basic necessities like food, clothes and a place to live. That’s only the beginning, of course.

When you love your children, you also care about their wellbeing. You make sure they get an education. You instill in them moral values. You teach them to get along with other people. You show them how to work so they can support themselves as adults. And you protect them, because — as you repeatedly tell them — there’s no one and no thing on this earth more important to you than your children. Children are God’s gift, you say, and you’ll do anything — anything — to keep them safe.

But, as Hamlet said, there’s the rub. We adults say we’ll do anything to keep children safe, but we refuse to have a calm, sane and productive national conversation about the proliferation of guns in our society and that proliferation’s impact on America’s young people.

We also refuse to talk calmly, sanely and productively about the fact that, according to a Johns Hopkins University report on 2020 data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms were the leading cause of death that year for U.S. children ages 1 to 19.

Not all of those deaths — indeed, far from it — were from school shootings, although those are on our minds now because of the most recent one at a Christian elementary in Nashville, Tenn., where a shooter killed three children and three adults.

In recent years, grownups — school leaders, parents, law enforcement agencies — have collaborated on finding ways to make schools safer. The steps have included fortified doors, active-shooter drills for kids and their teachers, stationing police officers in schools and other measures.

On the political level, however, where important steps could be taken, allegedly grownup politicians seem only to want to shout at one another. They accuse their opponents of either not caring about children or not caring about freedom. They argue over the interpretation of the Second Amendment. They spar over terms like “gun control” and “the gun lobby,” and repeat old saws like, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” They niggle and quibble over the definition of “assault weapons.”

And then, at the end of their sessions, the politicians go home, having postured mightily without accomplishing a damned thing.

So pardon America’s 73 million children and me if we reach back to the 1970s, to the TV show “M*A*S*H,” and respond as Col. Potter often did: “Horse hockey.”

Loving and nurturing children means creating a safe environment for them, and one of the ways to improve their safety is to reduce the number of deaths caused by firearms.

Why won’t we even consider some tactics that could help? Such as: Defining “assault weapons” and banning the sale of them. Providing money for enhanced school security and teachers’ training. Making mental health care affordable and accessible. Enacting so-called “red flag” laws that allow judges to order guns removed from a person’s home if he (or she) is deemed dangerous to himself or to other people.

While we’re at it, we could acknowledge certain truths. Such as: That banning the sale of “assault weapons” — or any other kind of gun, for that matter — won’t do anything about the number that already are in circulation. That criminals will always find ways to obtain guns illegally. That plenty of good and decent Americans want to own guns for hunting, for target-shooting and for protection. That you can’t force all gun owners to handle their guns safely and keep them where kids can’t find them. That you can’t assign total blame to the National Rifle Association or former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford’s “Americans for Responsible Solutions” or any other lobbying group for doing what lobbyists do, i.e., seeking to influence politicians.

But we can resolve to try to reduce gun violence in America, knowing two things: First, that it won’t be easy.

And second, that we’d be doing it because we love our children — or so we tell them.

Frances Coleman is a former editorial page editor of the Mobile Press-Register. Email her at fcoleman1953@gmail.com and “like” her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prfrances.

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