I’m going to ask you to do something hard. Close your eyes, and imagine you are in an elementary school. A shooter is prowling the halls. He has shot the safety resource officer, whose powerful weapon was no match for the intruder’s AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
Hear the muffled sobs, see the tear-streaked cheeks, watch the eyes widen in horror as a child’s best playground buddy is shot and falling beside her while she crouches – painfully, knowing she is next.
You might be in Uvalde, Newtown, Wilmington Park, Newton, Cummings, or Wynbrooke elementary schools, just a few of over 30 elementary schools visited by shooters since 2000.
I don’t have to close my eyes and imagine. I saw the video of a mass shooting. I saw the sprawled or crouched bodies, the lifeless faces, the bloody wounds, the whizzing bullets. While we always count the dead, we often dismiss the survivors, whose memories over and over play the same images in their minds, like an earworm of the worst song ever.
Every time there is a school shooting, I imagine those faces replaced with those of terror-stricken schoolchildren, some surviving, others whose tiny bodies are so destroyed by weapons of war that their parents are asked to identify them by the shards of the clothes they wore off to school that morning. Schools are nevertheless one of the safest places for our kids. Even more American children are shot and killed every day in homes with unsecured firearms, often in the midst of a domestic violence event. They experience the same terror.
Students are protected in every other country in the world, except for this one. Gun violence is now the number one killer of American children. We’ve tackled the epidemic of smoking, the disease that killed my father, who danced at my wedding 37 years ago this month. Nicotine addiction starts in childhood, a violence inflicted on them by killers in tobacco companies who knowingly directed their marketing to children. We’ve tackled the epidemic of heart disease, which killed my cousin, who hijacked a guest’s floral hat to wear proudly at my wedding. We’ve tackled colon cancer, the disease that killed two dear family friends, one who splurged to buy me a complete set of silverware for the occasion; another who slipped me, a poor grad student, $500 on the dance floor. We’ve tackled car accident deaths of youth with a multi-pronged approach from car seats and air bags to drunk driving awareness, so that it dropped by over 50% since 1999.
Your property rights aren’t infringed upon by requiring a fence around your pool, but we can’t find the political will to require that guns be stored in gun safes.
The weekend of June 3 marks Wear Orange, a day to honor gun owners who practice safety, and also to honor Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old student and musician. Orange was her favorite color. A week after she played at a presidential inauguration, she was killed by a stray bullet. Her hometown of Chicago is still flooded with guns trafficked from Indiana, as our city of Baltimore is flooded with guns trafficked from Pennsylvania. I invite you to join Everytown and Moms Demand Action to honor Hadiya and promote gun safety, and vote for federal background checks for all firearm purchases, safe storage requirements, emergency risk protective orders. Looking away is no longer an option.
Imagine what it’s like to send your child to school knowing they are safe.
Andrea Chamblee is the widow of Capital Gazette reporter John McNamara, who was murdered on June 28, 2018, in a shooting that took the lives of five staff members. She is a co-author with him and David Elfin of “The Capital of Basketball.” She writes from the pastoral splendor that is the Howard-Carroll County line. Email her at email@example.com.