‘Pow, Pow, Yous Are Dead!’
It was a beautiful evening and the kids — Madeline, two; Seamus, almost four; and Rosena, nine — were running across a well-tended town green. Seamus pointed his rainbow flag with the feather handle at his sisters and “pow-powed” them, calling out, “Yous are dead now, guys. I shot yous.”
Madeline and Rosena laughed and just kept on running, with Seamus at their heels. I hid my face in my hands. It wasn’t just that he was playing guns, but that he was using a Pride flag as his gun at a vigil to mourn those killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. My pacifist husband Patrick ran to redirect their activities, replacing the flag with a ball and glove and beginning a game of catch. Vigil organizers were taking turns reading the names of those killed into a microphone.
“… Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Luis S. Vielma, 22…”
Those three men and 46 others were massacred on June 12th. Another 50 people were wounded. Omar Mateen, who killed them, was armed with a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle and a Glock 17 9mm semi-automatic pistol. He bought those two weapons legally in the days leading up to the attack.
The carnage brought politicians and pundits out in force, using all the usual arguments for and against guns. Because the victims were mostly gay and mostly Latino, and because the attack was carried out by an American citizen with an ethnic last name who may have been enthralled by Islamic terrorism, or a closeted, self-hating homosexual (or both), the commentary quickly became muddled. Was it a hate crime, Islamic terrorism, or a strange double-bonus hit for the haters? Mateen was killed in a shootout with police and so can’t speak to his motives. Investigators were left to sift through the material evidence and a dizzying compilation of online comments, Facebook likes, and recollections from old co-workers, family members, and possible lovers in their search for answers.
The most essential facts are, however, not that complicated: Mateen had a license to carry a gun, training as a private security guard, and hatreds to act upon. He armed himself and he killed.
And all over the country, since that fateful day that elicited the usual cries of “never again,” the killing continues: Alton Sterling and Philando Castille by the police; Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Officer Brent Thompson and four Dallas Police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, and Patrick Zamarripa, by a lone sniper, Micah Johnson, who himself was then killed by an armed police robot; three more police officers in Baton Rouge on July 17th.
“… Montrell Jackson, 32
Matthew Gerald, 41
Brad Garafola, 45…”
And the killing continues. Using the Gun Violence Archive, I counted another 306 deaths by guns throughout the United States in the first eight days of July alone. Most of them weren’t high-profile police shootings or mass tragedies, but in a small-scale and localized way, the grief and outrage of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas were replicated in every corner of this country, including Ticfaw, Louisiana; Woodland, California; Tabernacle, New Jersey; and Harvey, Illinois. More than 300 deaths by gun in just eight days.
“Stabbin’ My Bunny”: Teaching Kids About Guns and Violence
And then, of course, there were my kids, my husband, and those “guns.” As a boy, Patrick wasn’t allowed to play with toy guns. Instead, he, his parents, and their friends would go to the mall during the Christmas buying spree to put “Stop War Toys” stickers on Rambo and G.I. Joe action figures. When he went to his friends’ houses, he had to tell them that war toys were verboten.
I grew up in a similar family of activists. We, too, were forbidden toy guns and other war toys. My brother and I were more likely to play games like “protester at the Pentagon” than cops and robbers. I’ve been thinking recently about why toy guns didn’t have a grip on our imaginations as kids. I suspect it was because we understood — were made to understand — what the big gun of U.S. militarism had done in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Indochina, and throughout Central America. Our dad had seen the big gun of war up close and personal. His finger — the same one he pointed at us when we were in trouble — had pulled the trigger again and again in France during World War II. He was decorated there, but had zero nostalgia for the experience. He was, in fact, deeply ashamed of the dashing figure he had once cut when home from the front. And so, dad screwed up a new kind of courage to say no to war and violence, to killing of any kind. His knowledge of war imbued his nonviolent peace activist mission with a genuine, badass, superhero style swagger.
Our parents — our community of ragtag, countercultural Catholic peace activists — made that no-violence, no-killing, no-matter-what point again and again. In fact, my early experience of guns was the chilling fear of knowing that, in protest, my father, mother, and their friends were walking into what they called “free fire zones” on military bases, where well-armed, well-trained soldiers were licensed to kill intruders. So we didn’t point toy guns at each other. We didn’t pow-pow with our fingers or sticks. We crossed those fingers and hoped that the people we loved would be safe.
Our inner city Baltimore neighborhood, where crack cocaine madness was just taking hold, drove that point home on a micro level. Our house was robbed at gunpoint more than once — and we had so little worth taking. We watched a man across the street bleed to death after being stabbed repeatedly in a fight over nothing. People from our house ran to help and were there for far too long before an ambulance even arrived. We knew as little kids that violence was no laughing matter, nor child’s play. It was serious business and was to be resisted.Wait, before you go…
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