Today I’m angry. Very angry. And sad. Heartbreakingly sad. The story of why is a long one:
We moved to Australia towards the end of 2011, visited Colorado in the summer of 2012 and while we were there, the Aurora movie theatre massacre occurred. Shocking. Awful.
At the end of 2012, I was at work one day when the news came in about Sandy Hook. I could not believe it and was devastated. Instead of being devastated and shocked along with me, several co-workers made comments about Americans’ obsession with guns and how shootings are expected there because we are so free with, and committed to our guns. Those comments made me mad and defensive. I thought—please, just be sad about all the kids who died today; don’t make comments about Americans and their guns. Mourn for these families, whose lives are changed forever.
I heard of Australian kids telling their parents, “Aren’t we lucky that we live here, instead of a country like America where kids get shot at school? We’re so lucky to live in such a safe place. I feel bad for American kids. That must be scary.”
I reassured people—Americans care more about 6-year-olds dying than gun rights. It will change now. This won’t happen again.
But then we visited again for Christmas of 2013 and I remember talking with friends whose children attended Arapahoe High School, as they relayed their kids’ experiences hiding during the recent shooting. I remember how surreal it felt to listen to people discussing their own family members hiding from a shooter at school. At school. At school. It was a year later. Nothing had changed.
Now more than four years after that, the violence seems only to have gotten worse. Night clubs. Concerts. Churches. Schools—so many schools. Watching the news from over here, my heart breaks every time I hear an American interviewed following a mass shooting, tearfully speaking about how shocked they are that something so horrific could happen in their quiet community. My heart breaks hearing that because I don’t understand how ANY American right now could honestly NOT see how this could happen in their community. It seems we all must know someone by this point who has been somewhat close to this type of violence and it has happened in almost every venue imaginable. How could anyone not believe that it could happen to them?!
And I keep saying Americans, not because I still don’t identify as one, but because this is the ONLY country where this happens. Of course, countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are torn by war violence, but the U.S.A. is the only place where ordinary citizens cause so much carnage so regularly, killing their fellow countrymen.
The crazy comments I hear around these shootings make me angrier. And sadder.
“Now is not the time to discuss solutions to this problem. We need to mourn the victims.” I know. That’s what I said over five years ago. But now I realize how crazy this sounds. If now is not the time, when is? If a shooting has not occurred, why discuss how to fix the problem of shootings? When there is a problem, address it. If your car has a flat tire, fix it. That seems obvious. You can’t drive your car with a flat tire, so you can’t wait to fix the problem. Well, you can’t send your children to school safely right now. You can’t go to a movie, or to a concert, or to church and feel safe. Now is the time to address that. It’s well beyond the time.
“Guns aren’t the problem. The problem is mental health.” Well let’s address both guns AND mental health. Aren’t we a country that can tackle two problems at once? There’s even more to it than those two, I’d wager. Let’s get going on all the factors related to these issues. Anything. Everything!
I feel a bit helpless from here, but after Sandy Hook, I joined Moms Demand Action and send petitions and emails to lawmakers whenever they tell me to. I have also become active in emailing regarding health care for all. Living here has reinforced for me the belief that EVERYONE has the right to basic health care access. The system in Australia is not perfect. Far from it. I’m not sure any system is perfect. But if we’re committed to providing free education, people should not avoid going to the emergency room when they need to, for fear of cost. My activism isn’t much. But I believe it’s better than nothing.
“If we call for gun control, people will still get shot.” Seriously?! I was under the assumption that if we ban assault rifles, limit magazine size and implement stricter background checks, all crime will end forever. We will be in utopia. Come on! That’s the worst argument of all of them, I think. Since my kids can’t get 100% on every test they ever take, should I just tell them not to study at all? Not to try? Same with health care—since some people will abuse the system, let’s just not offer it. Well, some people will benefit greatly from access to health care and that could be me someday. It could be you. And even if it’s not, it’ll be my brother, my sister. We’re all in this together. If we can prevent one death by gun violence, maybe that was my death. Your death. It’s your brother or sister’s death. And that’s a success in my mind.
“There’s violence in other countries. It’s not just America. Look at all the acts of terrorism in Europe.” Yes, there are terrorists attacking Europe. They’re attacking America as well. America is the only place where these mass shootings occur regularly, most often carried out by sad white teenage boys (my heart breaks even more reading about the poor boy who carried out this shooting in Florida. No, I don’t hate him. I don’t believe he is pure evil. Learning his story rips my heart in two. What if just one of us had paid attention to him? He was crying out to be noticed. That’s another issue. So, so sad.). I’s a massive problem unique to this country that needs to be addressed. And, no, that doesn’t mean we should ignore terrorism, in all its forms. As I said above—multitask. Don’t ignore one problem because there are others.
“We need to make schools more secure, with metal detectors, more police presence and armed teachers.” This one makes my stomach turn. Can you even imagine going to a school like that?! The fact that kids today (in this country as well—everyone is trying to be prepared) practice drills on how to deal with an active shooter makes me feel ill. We had fire drills when I was a kid! That’s it—fire drills! My kids’ school today is outside. The classrooms are inside, but there is no school building. Nothing is secure. Anyone can walk into any room of the school from any angle. My kids are free. We aren’t free to carry around guns in Australia, but children here are freer than anyone faced with the option of going to school through a metal detector and sitting in a classroom with an armed teacher. I don’t want my kids growing up in a police state. I can move to the Middle East if I want my kids going to school in that type of environment.
And the reason I might be most angry is this–I’m angry with myself, because I still want to move back to this crazy, violence-ridden place. I miss it. Every. Single. Day. It is a country full of loving, friendly, happy people and I miss it. But every time I hear about another massacre, I question these feelings. I understand parents living there—you send your kids to school every day right now because you must. You send them out that door, and your throat catches a little and you pray you’ll see them again at the end of the day. You’re American. You’re strong. You’re brave. You do what you must.
But, my situation is different. I am also Australian. I can send my kids to school in a country where violence isn’t an issue. Not at schools. Not at movie theatres. Not at churches. Not at concerts. In fact, I’d be moving them AWAY from this free, safe situation in order to move back to America. Does that make me a bad parent? Why would I knowingly put my kids in harm’s way when I have an easy way to keep them safe? What is wrong with me?
So, yes, I’m angry. So, so angry. And so, so sad. But I’m also heartened. Partly because I must keep faith that things will change. Because if I don’t have that faith, then there is only despair and I refuse to live in a world where there is only despair and no hope. But also, because I believe that this may be the time where things FINALLY change. I have watched interviews of a teacher from the school, of students from the school pleading for change. I have seen social media posts angry about token offers of thoughts and prayers and begging for action. I think the current climate in America has inspired more people than ever before to be active, to realise what happens when passivity and complacency reign. I know it has for me. And I see it in others. America was founded by strong people breaking the mould, fighting for safety, for freedom from persecution. Americans are compassionate, loving, brave and not afraid to speak up. Things will change. It is time.