In this country, a child or teen is shot every 3 hours and 15 minutes. I don’t want to scare my children, but I also want desperately for them to stay safe and to be aware of their surroundings. The hard part is figuring out how to do this without terrifying them and when to do it. Is a 6-year-old too young to learn about guns? I used to think so, until Newtown happened.
I’ll never forget the weekend of December 15, 2012. We were hosting a party for my son’s 4th birthday. My daughter was 6—nearly 7—and in the 1st grade. I was eager to remain festive but suffering from unexpected episodes of PTSD after the Newtown shooting. In 1999, I was shot during a robbery and my friend was killed.
My PTSD symptoms had subsided tremendously over the years, but suddenly they were back: the sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, a nauseated feeling, and an inability to move. That weekend, and for many weeks after, I could not stop imagining my children coming face-to-face with a gunman as I had 14 years ago. I flashed back to the utter terror I experienced when the heavy, cold barrel of a gun was pressed against my forehead after running from gunshots. Gunshots which I first thought were firecrackers.
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I managed to carry on. At my son’s party, the kids ran exuberantly through our tiny house in Brooklyn. While dodging sugared up children, the adults were in the midst of serious conversations. Parents whispered, “Are you going to tell them?” It was clear among the parents of 4-year-olds that we weren’t going to mention it and would be careful when listening to the news. The parents of 6- and 7-year-olds, however, were on the fence. We all seemed to agree that we didn’t want them to know, but I was concerned. My daughter’s best friend has an older sibling and I didn’t want her to hear it secondhand.
Sunday night our public elementary school sent out a notice stating that the tragedy at Sandy Hook would be discussed in 3rd through 5th grade classrooms, but not mentioned in lower grades unless the children brought it up. This seemed reasonable to me, in part because I didn’t want to tell her, so my husband and I decided to go with that—we wouldn’t mention it until asked. We wouldn’t listen to the news around them.
Later that night I liked a Facebook page called One Million Moms for Gun Control, now known as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. A stay-at-home mom in Indiana founded the page in the days after Newtown, and through a friend of a friend, I found it.
I had lived in a bubble after my shooting, and that bubble made me feel safe. I convinced myself that what happened to me was random, that I was an anomaly. After Newtown, I realized that I could no longer exist there. I realized that if I didn’t fight with everything I had to prevent gun violence then I would be complicit.
Overnight, I went from full-time mom to full-time activist. Within a week I was quoted on the front page of the Indiana Star and interviewed by MSNBC. I haven’t stopped since.
My daughter was about to hear my story—my near-death experience with a gun—for the first time.
Soon it became clear that I had to tell my kids something. This new accidental job was taking over our dining room, and I was constantly on the phone, attending rallies, and making television appearances. Every day I would check in with my daughter’s teacher, asking, “Anything mentioned today?”
I finally came up with something simple: “Mommy is trying to make sure scary people don’t have access to guns.” Simplicity worked for awhile.
Then came the day I was to speak at a press conference with Senator Chuck Schumer. It was a typical Saturday, full of multiple kid birthday parties. And in the mess of scheduling it all, my daughter ended up going with me at the last minute. There was vague talk about Newtown by families who had lost a loved one, by politicians trying to make change, and then it was my turn.
At this point, I had given a few speeches, and though I found them all nerve-racking, this one in particular made me uneasy. This time, my daughter was listening. My daughter was about to hear my story—my near-death experience with a gun—for the first time.