Dallas, TX –
Many familiar arguments have been recited over the past few days. We've heard again about the American gun culture. We've seen the usual contrasts with Europe, Asia, Scandinavia. We're debating, again, the possible contributing role of TV and movie violence.
Some voices say we must disarm the country. Some say we must arm every schoolteacher. Some say that we must "get to the fundamental root causes" of violence, as one authority demanded on NPR the other day.
As a father, though, only one question preys on my mind at such times: What do we tell the children?
I was already thinking about that question because of an incident in Richardson a few days before the Virginia Tech shootings. A father, apparently distraught over marital problems, killed himself and his six-year old daughter. Another daughter, 13, was critically wounded.
Our 12-year old daughter is now at the age where we just can't hide bad news from her. The morning after the Virginia Tech massacre, she was listening to the radio as she got ready for school. She heard them talking about the Virginia shootings, and on the way to school, she asked me about what she had heard. She doesn't mention news topics very often.
I mumbled something like "how sad, how terrible...every once in a while, some angry or insane person gets a gun and does something like this." I think I mentioned the University of Texas shootings back in the Sixties.
Then, silence. She listened to the music. We drove on, and as we did I thought about how utterly inadequate were my words.
"Yes, it's really, really sad, darling. Just terrible."
But what else can I say? What guarantee can I give her?
When these eruptions of violence occur, well-meaning medical professionals always tell us how to comfort and reassure kids. I appreciate their efforts, but sometimes I find it hard to listen, because I think at such times you can tell the kids the truth, which is depressing and cold, or you can opt for comforting lies.
The truth is that every day, a few people out of millions, some of them children, become statistics in random and not-so-random acts of violence. We can and must do everything possible to get help for troubled people, train teachers to see warning signs, and keep weapons out of the wrong hands. I truly believe these and other efforts will help reduce violence.
But those steps, necessary as they are, won't end violence. All too often the "wrong hands" seem like the right hands until the moment the hand starts pulling the trigger. Gun store clerks are not psychologists or priests. And what do you do about some sane, normal guy who buys a gun for hunting, but uses the gun for murder 5 or 10 years later?
The vast majority of our kids will never be victims of a crazed shooter. Look at the statistics. There are more than 100,000 public schools in America; the vast majority have never had a shooting or any serious violence.
But it seems like pretty cold comfort to say it's all in the numbers. Somebody's number will come up, but chances are it won't be you, kids.
I guess I could say, "Well, some studies show that the odds of being shot at school are less than one in six million..." And I'd be right; most likely, the god of probability will keep our kids safe.
But that's not the same as saying, "Darling, it won't happen. I won't let it happen. I promise."
That's what parents want to say. It's what we've got to say, because the numbers, while they don't lie, don't comfort, either.
Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer.
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