I am not a politician, but I am a mother, and I know something has to change.
I know this because I have to hold my breath and put on a fake smile to send my daughters off to school, malls, and parades as if I’m not worried they won’t come home.
I know my children have been taught the pros and cons of scattering in the classroom so they and their friends can’t all be shot at once versus clumping together so that the unlucky kids on the outer edge can be bullet shields for the lucky ones who made it to the inner circle. I know they have actually thought this through, imagined it, practiced it.
These are not faraway concepts like they are for the politicians signing the bills. These are children, and they are practicing for it. It’s part of their everyday. Our children have to go to school somehow tolerating the intolerable truth that the next time might not be a drill.
I am a mother, and I know that my daughter and her friends ducked when a balloon popped in assembly. They had to learn on the spot, alone in a crowd in the assembly hall, how to try to feel safe again after just thinking they were about to be murdered. At assembly. Do you remember assembly? It was the best part of school—everyone together, social, silly, playful, energized. Well, now, it’s a dangerous place, because if everyone gathers in the same room, they might all die. Alone…together. The children.
Have you let yourself actually take in the horrifying detail from Uvalde that the children were unidentifiable, or that the people shot at the parade in Highland Park looked like they had died at war? Sometimes, it feels like the only way to keep moving is to not think about it, but we have to think about it. We all have to think about it because the children have to think about it. They are living it. They are practicing for it. We have to think about it so we can think about the choices we are making. Why are the politicians protecting the possibility of this happening yet again? I’m not a politician, but I’m a mother, and I know something has to change.
I am not a politician, but I am a psychologist, and I know something has to change. I know that we are starting to crumble under the grief, the rage, the fear. I know that our central nervous systems are all jacked up, and we are struggling to feel safe on a daily basis. I know the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are escalating, and we are becoming people riddled not only with bullets but with anxiety and depression, eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
We cannot continue to bear the ever-escalating crisis without feeling we have some efficacy to create change. It’s psychologically and emotionally untenable. We have so much adrenaline and cortisol in our systems that we cannot feel okay, and we cannot heal from trauma while the trauma is ongoing. We cannot feel safe when we are not.
As we hit our breaking point tolerating the intolerable, we are at risk of putting our heads in the sand to protect our own psyches. It’s only human. But when we succumb to the survival instinct of avoidance to protect our own sanity, we sacrifice the safety and survival of the children instead. The children cannot be the change-makers to protect themselves. They are relying on us. We have to keep facing the painful realities, and we have to do something.
I hear people saying, “This isn’t a gun issue; it’s a mental health issue.” We could debate this if we had time, but we don’t. Our children don’t have time. And in this moment of urgency, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because as a psychologist, I know that the first thing we do when a person with mental illness is posing a risk to themselves or others is we take away their weapons, their sharps, even their pencils; we take away objects they might use in violent or self-destructive ways. If it’s a mental health issue, we take away their shaving razors, but our politicians want to preserve the universal right to carry an assault rifle because “it’s a mental health issue”? That’s not how mental health care works. I know this because I am a psychologist—but I am not a politician.
I’m not a politician, but I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I know that it is increasingly mortally risky to live my life and raise my children here. Guns are now the current leading cause of death for children and adolescents in America. We have had 42 school shootings in our country since the tragedy at Columbine in 1999, directly impacting 311,000 students in 331 schools. As a citizen, I am dumbfounded as I watch the politicians take inadequate action.
In New Zealand, it took less than a month for lawmakers to respond following a mass shooting at Christchurch on March 15th, 2019. Within weeks, in a vote of 119-1, Parliament passed new laws into action to protect the people of their country. Citizens received a similar response in Norway, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Scotland. But here in the U.S., the numbers just keep rising.
In 2022, there have been 314 mass shootings in the U.S. and 18,800 people have died by gun, and we are only halfway through the year. (Every time I edit this article, I have to recheck the archive, because the number keeps going up.) Did you know, fellow citizens, that there were 13 mass shootings in the first weekend of June, alone, in places we all might have been: graduation parties, the mall, nightclubs, and schools? We are becoming so used to mass shootings that most of them aren’t even making it into our newsfeeds. We deserve thoughtful and effective action from our leaders, and they are failing us.
I am a citizen saying to my politicians: do not claim that you are acting on my behalf by protecting my constitutional right to bear arms. The intention of that right, as written in our constitution, was to create safety. The “arms” being referenced in that document were single-packed muskets and flintlock pistols, and the greatest risk was non-citizens trying to reclaim sovereignty over America for England. Times have changed.
Today, “arms” include AR15-style rifles that can blow children into unidentifiable bits and kill tens of teenagers at a time, and the greatest risk to our children’s safety is no longer the Brits, but over-armed U.S. citizens carrying weapons of war into peaceful, everyday settings. As a citizen, I am asking my politicians to honor the intention of this country’s institution to protect us.
I am not a politician, but I am a citizen, and I know that when the majority of the American people are asking for change, and our leaders are failing to listen because they are preserving their own sliver of personal power, then we are no longer living in a democracy. In a democracy, the leaders are elected to carry out the will of the people. Fifty-nine percent of Americans are asking for better gun control, and Congress just agreed upon a plan that falls far short of what most Americans want. I am a citizen, and I know that we, the majority, are being ignored.
I am not a politician, but I am a mother, a psychologist, and a citizen, and I know that something needs to change. The adults need to stop being greedy, shortsighted, and self-serving. The adults need to stop acting like children playing “King of the Castle.” Or actually, you know what? The adults need to start acting more like our children.
Our children go to school knowing they might die, picturing it, planning for it, practicing it. The children can’t do anything about it. They are living in this nightmare reality that the adults created, preparing for their deaths, and they can’t do anything about it. I ask our politicians: can you?