At the age of 17, I picked up a water gun for the first time. It was part of a town-wide game of summertime tag, and I had to be prepared to shoot the enemy of the week. We called the game “Assassins,” and it had been a tradition in the town for years.
My friend and teammate brought the water gun to my house to arm me on the first day of competition and my mother looked appalled. Neither my brother nor I had ever been given a water gun, a bubble gun, a toy soldier, or a video game that involved shooting anyone. As an anti-gun activist, my mom, backed by my dad, did not want us to ever think that aiming a gun-shaped object at another human was acceptable human interaction. Guns were not toys to play with; they were weapons that purposely — and accidentally — killed other humans.
But I was a teenager wanting to make my own decisions, so I took the water gun from my friend. I did not touch it for the rest of the summer. When the rest of my team was on vacation and I was the only one left in town, we forfeited and lost.
At the time, I was not yet mature enough to fully realize that for some kids my age, this game of “Assassins” was all too real — that’s why it felt wrong to be playing. It was supposed to be fun and bond our high school together, but I just couldn’t shake the words of my mom; I couldn’t shake the news I saw on television.
No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.
I have accidentally spilled coffee on the lap of a supervisor, blamed one person for the actions of another, and eaten a special dessert that my brother was trying to save.
A child pulling a trigger and killing a parent or sibling is tragic and horrible and out of the norm, but in a culture that loves guns and makes toys that look like them, I cannot call it an accident. When 10 Oscar nominations go to a film whose cover has a man cocking a gun as eight families mourn the loss of their children who have already been killed by guns in this new year, I cannot call any gun death an accident.
It is not an accident when people question the tears of a president who has given speech after speech condemning gun violence in the country as he comforts the families affected by it.
These statistics and stories and tears are not going to change without a change in our culture. We need to change the conversation to one of valuing life of all, not supposed safety of some.
Repeating the statistics over and over might change minds one person at a time. Calling elected officials to tell them we care about children’s lives — we refuse to see more than 100 children die because of guns in this next year, so let’s at least require safety locks on all guns so accidents can be reduced. Reading and praying over the names of the adults and the places of children’s deaths ensures those lives are not forgotten.
I am my mother’s daughter — that is my story about refusing to accept gun deaths and accidents or realities. What’s yours?