It was 2 am. My husband had
safely navigated through the traffic around New York City, then pulled
over, exhausted. Our three-year-old had long since fallen asleep in
his car seat in the back. I took over the driving and finally stopped
at a Motel 6 outside of New Haven, Conn.
I sleepily asked for a room,
and answered the night clerk's queries. "Non-smoking, if you have
it ... Downstairs, please." Then the clerk glanced at the button
still pinned to my dress which said, "Million Mom March. Sensible
Gun Laws. Safe Kids."
"Were you in Washington
for that March?" he asked.
I nodded. He looked at me,
brow furrowed. "Do you think you got the message through? I mean,
do you think they heard you?" He was what my father would have
called a "mensch," a regular guy, about 40. It surprised me
to find him speaking to me this way, so intently, through the thick,
bullet-proof glass of the motel’s night window.
I passed my credit card to
him through the slot under the window. I knew what he meant.
"I hope so," was
all I could muster.
"You know," he
said, "Another kid got shot today. They had it on the news. Why
do they have to have guns?" He shook his head. "Why haven't
they done something sooner?"
At that moment, I saw in
his eyes an emotion which I recognized. I knew then why he felt that
I, a total stranger with a short haircut and a ring in her nose, was
somehow a kindred spirit.
His was the same emotion
that led me to drag my family to the nation’s capital last weekend.
It was the same emotion I found on the face of every mother in the crowd
there. It was the same emotion, almost too painful to speak of, that
blared through the Mall as speaker after speaker recounted their own
personal tragedy bought about by gun violence.
Indeed, why haven't we done
something sooner? We have all heard the shameful statistics. Twelve
children are shot each day in the United States. Gun homicide is the
second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15
and 24. American children are many times more likely to die from gunfire
than in any other industrialized nation. We have heard the terrifying
accounts of gun violence in schools across the country. Why have we
been so remiss in the defense of our children?
Clearly, we have been living
in the belief that it could not happen to us, it could not happen here.
We think our neighbors seem
like such nice people, they couldn't possibly keep loaded guns. We think
our community is so closely knit that none of our children could ever
feel compelled to solve a dispute with gunfire. The press coverage following
the tragedy at Columbine High School last year reported shock and disbelief
among the people of Littleton, Colo., that this could happen in their
town, in their school. Similarly, it is easy on our little Island off
of America to feel that we are somehow insulated from the social ills
of the rest of the nation, and yet murder and drug-related violence
have touched us even here.
I heard about an incident
in March that shocked me out of my complacency. One of my most promising
students at Cape Cod Community College was held at gun point by police
on the quiet streets of Wellfleet when he reached into his pocket to
turn off his Walkman. The officer had been trained to expect a gun at
any turn. I was deeply shaken. I thought, "Enough is enough,"
and I began to get involved.
Sunday’s Million Mom
March showed clearly that America’s communities are waking up
to the facts. An estimated three-quarters of a million moms, family
members, and supporters came to Washington, D.C., to voice their outrage
and grief and to commit to fighting for American children. But the momentum
must not stop there.
The Million Mom March organizers
advocate sensible federal gun control legislation, including licensing
and gun safety education of all gun owners, gun registration, trigger
locks, and waiting periods for gun purchases. Legislators must be urged
to move such legislation forward in spite of the protestations of the
National Rifle Association and their lobbyists. Even more important
than these legislative efforts, however, is communication. We must learn
to speak of the unspeakable and promote dialogue about guns and violence
in our community. Parents and teachers need to speak openly and frankly
with children about guns and violence and help them learn to settle
disputes with words. We must teach them the value of life and give them
the tools to protect it. Their safety depends on it, even here on the
We left Motel 6 refreshed
Monday morning and made the 2:45 ferry back to the Island. On my way
home, I stopped by Leslie’s Pharmacy on Main Street in Vineyard
Haven to refill a prescription. I do not know the name of the woman
who works behind the counter in the back, but I see her often at Leslie’s
or around the Island. I perused the newspaper for accounts of the Million
Mom March and mentioned to her that I had just returned from Washington.
"Good for you,"
she said. Then she got a familiar, sad look in her eye. "Why do
they have to have guns?" she said, and shook her head. "Why
do they have to have guns?"
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