Can we be safe — any of us — in a nation awash in guns? The gun-and-ammo industry boasted $16 billion in revenue for 2015. Gun stores — from brick-and-mortar shops to online retailers – had $3.1 billion in revenue that same year. The industry as a whole claimed responsibility for nearly $50 billion in “economic activity” in 2015 alone. That represents a fair number of jobs, but here is the number that really goes boom: $229 billion. That’s the annual cost of fatal and non-fatal gun violence in this country, according to Mother Jones and analyst Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation who teamed up to crunch the numbers. That figure includes both the direct costs of gun injuries and deaths — police investigations, emergency personnel, hospital bills, long-term care for the injured, funeral expenses for the dead, and the costs of prosecuting and imprisoning the perpetrators. As the report concludes: “Even before accounting for the more intangible costs of the violence… the average cost to taxpayers for a single gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. And we pay for 32 of them every single day.”

We are awash in guns. Where does it end? Gun violence is imbedded in our national mythology, our foreign policy, our notions of masculinity, our entertainment industry, and our children’s play. We see violence solving problems on every screen — from the zombie apocalypse to the rise of ISIS. Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s maxim still applies: “One should not put a loaded rifle onto the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”  Sooner or later, that rifle is sure to go off. It might be an accident; it might be terrorism; it might be hate. But it will go off.  Somewhere, as you read this, it’s going off right now. 

I don’t want to police my kids’ imagination. And there is a whole strain of parenting literature that assures me I don’t have to. It says don’t interfere with your kid’s play, even if it includes guns and shooting and killing. Imagination is imagination and the violence isn’t real. It might even, so this line of thinking goes, be a healthy way for them to process feelings of aggression.

I get what they’re saying, but it seems like a cop-out to me. To my mind, nonintervention is often a missed opportunity to be a parent. Sure, the violence isn’t real. The pow-pows don’t actually rip skin and tendon or stop hearts from beating, but the United States, which has been fighting distant wars nonstop for 15 years now, does have a violence problem and a man problem and a gun problem.

We know where that problem ends, but it starts somewhere, too. One place to begin to look, at least, is at how our kids — particularly our boys — play, and how they are nurtured (or not), and taught to express their emotions (or not). It is, at least in part, up to us, their parents, to decide whether they are going to be the ones who help repair our society and reorient us (or not). And it begins with the kinds of care and love they receive, the kinds of conversations they are invited into, the kinds of expectations they are given about behavior and relationships.

I don’t want to raise Seamus, Madeline, or Rosena in the austere, ripped from the headlines of horror, polemical atmosphere that was the essence of my own childhood. But I don’t want them to get comfortable with killing either.

I want so much more for, and from, my little boy than “Pow, pow, yous are dead now!” And that starts with taking the gun or the stick or the rainbow flag out of his hands, sitting him down, and having a hard conversation about what guns actually do to people– and how much killing hurts us all.

Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Frida Berrigan

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