You see, I am a non-violent peacenik. At least, that’s what they used to call us in the ’70s – not sure what the nomenclature is today. I grew up opposing violence, guns, wars – in high school, one of the most inspirational and defining books I read was Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” I wrote papers espousing nonviolence, wrote a speech on “Love” and performed it in forensics. I still remember the first line: “Love, a four-letter word meaning … what? What does love mean to you?”
When my children were young – 3, 4 and 8 – we lived in Aurora, Colo. At the time, there had been a spate of accidental shootings – you know, kids playing with their parents’ guns or their friends’ parents’ guns. It scared me, and I worried about my children and their safety. When they were asked to go over for a play date to little Jimmy’s or Lisa’s house, I wanted to first ask: Well, do you have any guns?
I researched and wrote a story about gun safety, knowing that no publication would touch an article on gun control. It was my first paid article, published Nov. 19, 1986, by the Aurora Sentinel. I think they paid me $35 – I’ve got the check stub somewhere.
The article talks about how much toy guns look like real guns (they still do). It talks about what you can do to make your guns safe (keep them unloaded, bullets and guns in separate locations). I interviewed Aurora Police Officer Joe Petrucelli, who had been a first responder to one of the accidents. He described the heart-wrenching scene: one boy fleeing the house, blood on his shirt. Inside, a distraught father standing over his 14-year-old son, who was bleeding from a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
I was living in Denver at the time of the Columbine shooting. My kids were in high school, too, and my youngest had almost attended Columbine that year – it was in his dad’s neighborhood. I remember it as the first tragedy I saw play out on my computer screen instead of the TV.
On July 20 of this year, I woke up to read about the horrific shooting in Aurora. One of my sons, now in his 20s, lives in Denver. He had called me the night before. He was excited because he was going to a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. I tried to call him – no answer. I can hardly describe my terror. I was out of my body, calling the Aurora police, hospitals where the victims had been taken. I called every one of them. I had to tell them my son’s name. Every time they checked, I felt myself going more and more numb. My stomach fluttered; I was sweating, weeping, shaking. What could I do? I was so far away. I kept calling his number: no answer. I called his dad, said: You need to go check on him RIGHT NOW.
Finally he called me back. He had gone to a different theater; just woke up. His phone had been recharging. He was fine; didn’t even know about the shootings yet.
I felt relieved. But connected somehow to all the parents and loved ones of the theater shooting victims. I began following Denver news so I could keep up with all the related stories. I felt like a cousin or aunt or sister to all the victims.
Fast forward to today. Why I am writing this blog.
As the IBR special sections editor, I get to work on a variety of annual publications. Right now, I am conducting interviews for the IBR Women of the Year. There are 50 of them, and they are all amazing women. I am awe-struck at their stories and inspired by them.
Near the end of an interview, one of the women looked up and saw the first article I had ever written, the one on gun safety. It is framed and hangs on my office wall.
“Wow,” she said. “You wrote that how long ago? You could have written it today. And you were in Aurora? You should revisit that or use it to re-open the conversation.”
I’m not an idealistic 16-year-old peacenik anymore. I am an idealistic mother and a grandmother. This whole gun thing is goofy, in my opinion. If I had my way, we would toss all the guns in the river. I know, that is not realistic. But the way I look at them? They are death sticks. And right now it’s easy for angry, drunk, sick, disturbed people to grab them and use them. I believe that if they weren’t around and people had to get creative to kill someone, there would be fewer deaths from enraged people, drunks and sickos.
But I know – and you know – that’s not going to happen. Nobody in this country will ever – at least in my lifetime – invoke a ban on all guns.
So, how can anyone be so upset by making some rules to keep people safer? To make it harder for humans to shoot and kill other humans? You do not need an automatic weapon to shoot game or wildlife. You do not need high-capacity magazines. You do not need to allow felons or the mentally ill access to guns.
In closing, I want to give one of our IBR Women of the Year a shout-out. Thank you.
And consider this conversation re-opened.