As I sat down to write this – my first post in 2013 – I feel compelled to write about the Newtown tragedy, which has haunted me since the moment I first heard about what had transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.
I imagine that most of us will remember where we were when the news of the shootings in Newtown reached us. I was in the NICU with my daughter, who had been born just one week earlier. For the seven days after her birth, I sat next to her in the intensive care unit and willed her to grow and be healthy so that I could take her home. I sat in that room with a lifetime of hopes and dreams for her, and for the two of us together. And so when I heard about the senseless murders of twenty children, and thought about the lives that were taken from them and the decades of memories that they did not live to make with their parents and loved ones, I was heartbroken. And then I was outraged: how could we have allowed this to happen?
Since that awful day, we have all talked about how such a tragedy could be prevented in the future. The proposed remedies vary in the extreme, and the emotion elicited by the conversation has been intense. Our elected leaders have proposed several different pieces of legislation and policy initiatives designed to lessen gun violence in America. And while I am encouraged by the possibility of action at the national level, I also believe that we have an obligation to consider what our personal gun control policies should be. In other words, how can we, as parents, take control of gun violence risks in our own homes and communities? A few thoughts come to mind:
1. What is your position on toy guns? What about water guns? We have made the decision that we will not allow our children to play with guns, as I think it sends a confusing message to connect any sort of play with a weapon. To the contrary, I want my children to understand, in no uncertain terms, that guns are off limits.
2. If you have guns in your home, how do you keep your children away from them? Do you keep them locked away? Are they loaded? Are they protected with a child-proof safety lock? What steps do you take to educate your children on the uses for which your guns are intended?
3. Do you know whether your friends and/or your children's friends' parents have guns in their homes? According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, unintentional firearm injuries caused the deaths of 606 people in 2010, and 8% of such shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six. With this in mind, have you considered asking whether guns are kept in the homes where your children play and, if so, whether they are stored in a safe location?
4. What kind of exposure do you allow your children to have to violence in the media (and what kind of exposure are they getting from friends or relatives when you are not around)? To the extent your kids see guns on television, in movies, or in video games, do you make a point to have discussions with your children about what they are viewing?
Of course, considering these questions and implementing any changes based upon them will not solve the problem of gun violence. It's possible that it will have no impact at all, except perhaps to make us feel as though we have even a small bit of control over a terrifying problem. But I do think it is worthwhile to think about what can be done on a very local level to address the fears that we all have in the wake of the Newtown shooting. If you have additional thoughts on how we can make a difference in our own lives where this issue is concerned, I am interested to hear them in the comments section below.