Friday night my nephew stealthily took me aside to reveal the nunchuks and spring-loaded nail gun he had hidden in his pocket. The makeshift weapons were assembled from what the resourceful boys found where they were hiding: a key chain, a spring taken from a toy, and a screw found on the floor. In the storage room, behind file cabinets placed as fortifications to thwart the man trying to kill them, B and his classmates had just survived a massacre. When B put the handful of weapons back in his pocket I said, "you're very brave love, but you don't need those anymore." "Of course I do Auntie Jen," he replied, "now I'm prepared when the shooter man comes back."
When B asked how I knew that the shooter man wasn't coming back, I wish I could have answered, but I didn't. I looked at him, feeling defeated and unworthy of the title Auntie. I didn't want to tell the truth and I didn't want to lie, so I just stood there and waited for B's dad to come to the rescue, which he did. F and B discussed the number of schools in the country, the infrequency of this kind of shooting, and the "less than one in a million odds" that this would happen again in Sandy Hook. It was the language of mathematics that B understood, an approach many parents wouldn't take, but exactly the rational and honest answer that B needed.
The tragedy I felt in that moment when B refused to part with his weapons was that I wanted to promise him something that would have been a lie. I wanted to tell B that there would be a great change, that in the future people like the shooter man would have access to mental health care instead of guns. But if I am honest, really honest, that isn't what I believe and I don't think B would have believed it either. In fact, he already seems to have normalized the shooting. To him it's not a nightmare -- it's a very sad, very scary but nonetheless very real event. Tragedy with precedent is not less tragic, but it offers the message that if life has continued for people in similar communities before, life will continue here as well. We live in a country where, sometimes, crazy people go into schools and kill children. Message I wanted to give B: It won't happen again. Lesson B actually learned: Be prepared.
When B was reading before bed Saturday night, he heard that the President of the United States was coming to Sandy Hook. "Why? The president doesn't usually come to town when these things happen... Why is he coming here to our town?" The normalizing "mechanism" faltered for a moment because the president coming to Sandy Hook is something extraordinary, outside the scope of what B believed usually happens when shooter men go to schools. Of course it actually is normal for the president to pay a visit to communities who experience this kind of tragedy. And that may be the worst part -- that there is, in fact, anything normal at all about what has happened here.
If nothing changes school shootings will become more "normal" (as B, tragically, thinks they are), and more towns spread across more states will be permanently stained, ever aware of the empty spaces left by devastated communities. Praying and public outpourings of grief may be meaningful sources of support, but they are not instruments of change. Law and policy, when applied to gun control, can be instruments of change, and it is time to step up. I'm on the outside looking in here in Sandy Hook; I'm not a parent and I haven't suffered a loss. But, I am also a part of a family that is trying to come to terms with an event that has permanently changed our lives. This family would rather see the world talking about how to protect children going forward than have to close their blinds to media who, in an effort to get a story, are spreading false information.
I hope I'm wrong about the likelihood of change. I want to truthfully tell B that things will be different, that he will be safe because people won't have guns. But for now B's weapons are on the coffee table, still assembled and ready for when he might need them again.
Please note: the author is not related to shooting victim of the same last name.