Sunday, December 16, 2012

A 9-Year-Old Boy's Questions about Guns

Immediately after I heard about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wanted to scream and throw things and throw more things. I felt sick and sad and yes, angry.

I was driving and physical anger wasn't a real option, so instead I cried. I cried when Obama talked about children who had their lives ahead of them. I cried and listened and cried.

As a country, we are left with another hole. Sadness and more sadness. Gaping holes in our hearts. Swiss cheese holes of loss and sadness and loss and sadness. So many holes now that I wonder about our ability to mend.

I am sad and I am angry. I am angry because it doesn't have to be this way and absolutely nothing has made this clearer for me than the conversation about the shootings that I had yesterday with my nine- year-old son.

I knew that I had to talk with Cole about the shootings before he discovered the news on his own. I knew that he would read or hear about the news, and I knew that it would devastate him. I carefully approached the subject, not exactly knowing where to begin, because let's face it--this is an absolutely shitty conversation to be having with a nine year old.

I told him that there had been a shooting at a school and what follows is Cole's very earnest and very serious attempt to make any sort of sense of what happened.

Cole: How did someone get into a school?
Me: They used force. This is a person whose brain wasn't working right. We call that mental illness.
Cole: How did he get a gun?
Me: There was a gun at his house.
Cole: Why do people own guns? What do they do with them?
Me: (Realizing that Cole has never had any experience with guns - hunting, etc.) Some people hunt, some people go to a shooting range, some people have guns for protection.
Cole: Did he have more than one gun?
Me: Yes
Cole: Why would people want more than one gun?
Me: That's not an easy question for me to answer.
Cole: How does a person get a gun?
Me: They get a license and they buy one at a gun store, much of the time.
Cole: If his brain wasn't working right, then why could he get a gun?
Me: That's a good question (I later find out that the guns were registered to the killer's mother).
Cole: Why would someone want lots of guns?
Me: There are different types of guns.
Cole: What do you mean?
Me: Some guns do different things.
Cole: What does that mean?
Me: Some are small, some are big, some shoot slower, faster (It hurts to say all of this).
Cole: What does faster do?
Me: (I ask him because I can't say it) What do you think it does? (This is a devastating conversation to have with a kid.)
Cole: More bullets.
Me: (Pause, pause, pause, pause. Feeling angry. There is no fucking way that I can explain anyone's need to own semi-automatic or automatic weapons to my son. There is no way. Do you hear this senators and congressmen? Do you hear this NRA? There is no way.)
Cole: I don't really want to talk about this anymore.
Me: You are probably going to be hearing about the shootings in the next few days. Please, please come to me with questions that you have. I will do my best to answer them.
Cole: Okay, Mom.
Me: I love you.
Cole: I love you, too.

At this point Cole runs off to play with Legos. He never asked me how many people died or how old they were. He never asked me if something like this could happen at his school. I am very grateful for this, though I believe that he will ask these questions in the next few days--so the relief is only temporary. He did ask me what happened to the gunman. I told him the truth. It was terrible to say.

I continue to be angry. Very angry. Why am I having this conversation with my son? What do Cole's questions reveal about our country's obsession with the right to own guns? Multiple guns? Semi-automatic guns?

It is messed up, to say the least.

We need to change.

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