When a 20 year-old man opened fire inside of an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, I was about an hour away in a coffee shop, studying for a psychology final that I would be taking the next day. In the coffee shop, I heard some murmurs about a shooting, but I didn’t think about it much and kept studying.
When someone I knew shared a few more details, I shook my head but was too engrossed in my work. I brushed it off as if it was just another shooting, the kind that’s in the news every couple months now.
Eventually, though, I opened my laptop, read the news for myself and discovered that the shooter was the same age as me and that 20 kids had died. Their teachers, too.
Growing up in Maine, I had a complicated relationship with guns. I was exposed to them early on, in a way that treated them like what they are: tools that humans use to ease the process of killing another living being. I was also taught that if used correctly they can be safe mechanisms, which offer their users recreation and safety.
I grew up in a place where hunter orange clothing and dead bucks in the back of pickup trucks were regularities and even went hunting once or twice myself. I also grew up a dedicated student of the social sciences, reading the news about murders, the statistics on gun violence and the arguments made both in favor of and against gun control. The issue of guns is one I’ve always been torn about, and that’s because it’s so layered.
The fact is, no one has the right answer on guns. Each side has some convincing statements and the figures to back them up, and they also say some other stuff that I’ll never be able to support. But it is unacceptable for us to let this event pass us by and to continue saying, “Now isn’t the time to talk about guns.”
A lot of people out there are mourning, and I’ve been mourning, too. No matter what I do, I can’t get those kids out of my head. I can’t stop reading the new stories released hour after hour, and every time I do I try so hard not to cry for them.
But I think about what their lives will really mean if they’re overshadowed by another shooting that happens in two weeks. Or if we don’t take this opportunity to have real discussions about stopping the irresponsible use of guns and about making it easier for anyone who needs mental health resources to access them.
Being a college student, I’m afforded time to dream about the future. Sometimes I think about the day when I have my first child and what that will be like. I think about putting the kids in the car and taking them to the park. When we’re there, I’ll push them on the swing and teach them about the world.
This dream has never included having to wear a concealed weapon in order to feel safe while we’re there, and I don’t ever want it to. I don’t want the world I bring my children into to be one where they have to walk by an armed security guard on their first day of school. I don’t want them to live in a world of fear, like the one I feel like we’re being pulled into.
It’s true that we live in a country where people have been given the right to own guns, and I support that right. But we are also endowed with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Every moment of my life I’m thankful for that. I want my children to live in a world that allows them to be thankful for those rights, too, and it’s time to talk about the way we make sure that happens, whatever the costs might be.
Kyle Smith is a junior at Connecticut College where he is a government major. He is a graduate of Belfast Area High School and hopes to one day work in journalism. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyledavidsmith1.