An American Epidemic
We are in an American epidemic.
Children are accidently killing their siblings, their friends, a parent, or even the family dog every week in America. It happens in a flash. A toddler finds a hidden gun under a mattress; after all, access is eye level for a child of that age. They know exactly what to do. They have seen it on television, in games, and in videos. It is the observation of a repeated process that imprints in young minds—aim and press against the trigger.
But no child who pulls the trigger understands what happens next, including teenagers. They are not yet wired to fully comprehend the tragic consequences. A young boy’s sister stands in front of him. He squeezes the trigger, maybe because she is yelling at him, or taunting him, but more likely because pulling the trigger is irresistible—like cars—guns often symbolize control and mastery over a young person’s world. Whoever stands in front of that gun is alive in one moment, and dead in the next, and it can’t be undone.
Another tragedy and series of outcries are heard, but in the bigger picture, this death is just another incident of collateral damage in our politicized gun-toting nation.
Each and every gun tragedy is outshouted and outspent by groups and individuals who have been spoon-fed sound bytes about complex constitutional interpretation, with fear-mongering as their trump card. Whatever compassion for the families who will suffer for the remainder of their lives is short lived.
The Washington Post reports that a toddler, a child under three-years-old, has killed or wounded either him or herself, or another person at least once weekly in 2015—and if past is prologue, we can expect a dozen or so similar tragedies before the new year.
But the toll is actually much higher.
Don’t kid yourself, in that moment of a child pulling the trigger and killing someone, both the victim and the shooter are blown away. The survivers and their families are, in most instances, forever down the rabbit hole with enough blame to go around for years.
But this is where fact and fiction merge in strangely American ways. In the end the question is this: How do we as a people stop the American penchant for violence? Where are the lines, the borders, the area of demarcation between acceptable violence and tragedy?
The answer is, of course, is that there is no such line, no border.
The real truth is that we are in a war with our deep-set American psyche: the lore of individual might and largesse, the importance of personal rights over the greater good, even if too many children are killing and dying in America.
At someplace in the back of our minds, we are each still conquerers of the vast American dream, like the old west with guns laid upon the bar. We are tough, fearless, and undaunted. We demonstrate that myth in every violent, bloody movie in which the quintessential American survives what real humans likely could not. Those kinds of heroes are rare. They suffer and are likely forever changed into strongly compassionate people, much unlike the collective that battles against sensible solutions to this growing epidemic.
Compassion is not absent in American life, but it is transitory and conditional. Why does it take a bullet to the head for people to change their minds about sensible and responsible gun ownership? What will it take to finally protect our children and to realize, despite the corporate mentality that claims otherwise, none of us are replaceable?