Better than Fiction (non fiction)
Does my Child Have a Right to Live?
Every term when I was in school, rain or shine, an alarm would ring in the halls and students would traipse from their books to line up on the cracked blacktop tennis courts. I would stand with Rob, Greg and Gavin in our white dress shirts, charcoal slacks and navy ties. We’d complain about the cold, or rain, or heat, or any of the things that teenage boys will moan about. Once I had a cake in the oven in Home-Ec and it burnt, nearly setting off a real fire alarm in the midst of a drill. That was it, nothing ever more perilous than that, apart from one memorable rugby tackle, for my entire fourteen year school career.
This past autumn my daughter went to school for the first time. To the best public school in our city. I couldn’t have been more proud, or more fearful. Instead of knowing that for the eight hours I was at work she was safe and sound with my amazing wife and our darling son, she would now be out in the world. Exposed to cliques at recess, boys, and having to navigate the social ocean and its many storms.
All that was well and good, sort of, at least it was par for the parental course. I had almost brought my fluttering heart back under control as I kissed her goodbye each morning. Then the note came home about their first drill. No longer a ringing bell and boredom on a tennis court. Now my perfect, beautiful, fragile baby was going to be taught what to do in a ‘lockdown drill’. How to listen to her teacher, how to stay calm, how to hide and run for her six year old life because of the possibility that someone with evil intent would enter her school with the ability to do fatal harm. The fact that this intruder would be armed was implicit. It is so ingrained into the American culture that bad guys have guns that it no longer needs to be said out loud. One day a gunman with any number of guns may enter the building where my daughter spends her days and open fire.
The knowledge that my baby had to prepare for the somehow acceptable truth that any person could march in from outside armed to the teeth shook me. That anyone could at any time start wandering the halls dealing out injury and death rocked me to my core.
On some fateful day my daughter is interrupted as she sounds out a four syllable word in her reading book. She trips over her untied shoelace as her class is herded into the gym. A rifle barrel pressed to the top of her dainty back to keep her in line. Made to kneel. Screamed at by the gunman when she starts sobbing. Forced with her friends and teachers to put their faces to the ground. The smell of the parquet floor only slightly stronger than the acrid stench of gun smoke wafting in from the halls. Terrified and now embarrassed as her bladder betrays her. A growing pool of urine and tears spreads across the floor. Sobs turn to screams as gunshots fill the air and pierce my daughter's body. The puddle on the floor turns red. The air is hazy with smoke. Spent bullet casings scatter the ravaged body of my baby. Now forever six years old.These are the things that demand ownership of my imagination. They visit me at night, assault me during the day. My mind does not have to stretch far into the unknown to present me with such a scene. I need merely remember Columbine, Virginia Tech, Roseburg, Sandy Hook. All of a sudden I am stood behind a police barricade amidst the parents of those lost children. We howl together in our grief as my child’s body is taken away from me forever. They hide her away from my love in a box under the dirt. She can no longer jump on the couch, tickle her brother, wake me up far too early on a weekend morning asking if she can watch Scooby-Doo. This is the weight I carry with me in my heart as I raise my children in a culture so blinded to the desperate need for new gun laws.
(See Disclaimer Below)
I didn't grow up in America, rather, I was raised in a quiet village in the south of England. I am from the very country that necessitated the addition of the second amendment into the constitution.
Two Hundred and Twenty years after the foundation of these United States there was a school shooting in my home land. I was twelve when the Dunblane School Massacre happened in 1996. Those harrowing reports and grainy news footage still fuel my imagination today.
I remember the next year, I had braces on my teeth, a terrible mid-nineties haircut, and a vague understanding that certain swathes of the population were up in arms about their guns being taken away.
Despite the frustration of many the politicians from both sides of the aisle came together and passed the Gun Control Act Amendments of 1997. Those British politicians put the safety and well being of the populous they were sworn to serve far above their desire to remain in office.
Both the British Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, and his Labor party successor, Tony Blair, successfully passed amendments to a previous Act of Parliament effectively banning the ownership of handguns. An almost unimaginable event, yet one we saw in both Britain and Australia in 1997.
Since that shooting in England and the gun control amendments passed in 1997 there has, at the time of writing, been one mass shooting in the United Kingdom (the Cambria Shootings in 2010). By comparison, there have been 199 school shootings alone in the US, including four in the state my family calls home. This doesn’t include the hundreds of other ‘spree’ shootings. Lone gunmen and terrorist shootings that happened at Oregon Malls, Orlando Nightclubs and Colorado Movie Theaters; to name a few of the locations where we the people are in no way safe from gun violence.
Since that shooting in England and the gun control amendments passed in 1997 there has, at the time of writing, been one mass shooting in the United Kingdom (the Cambria Shootings in 2010). By comparison, there have been 199 school shootings alone in the US, including four in the state my family calls home. This doesn’t include the hundreds of other ‘spree’ shootings. Lone gunmen and terrorist shootings that happened at Oregon Malls, Orlando Nightclubs and Colorado Movie Theaters; to name a few of the locations where “we the people” are in no way safe from gun violence.
I am from a country where gun control is proven to work. I am from a country where our police officers are routinely unarmed and there were only three fatal shootings of police officers from 2000-2011 (as opposed to the 166 just in 2011 in America). I am from a country where firearm related crime is on the decrease, where gun amnesties are offered and used by illegal gun owners. I am from a country where my daughter would only have to worry about lining up in the wet and cold on fire drill day, not be taught how to hide beneath her desk and make no noise so a shooter wouldn’t find and slaughter her. I would like to raise my children in a country like that, a country where they are as safe as they can be.
Matt Hughes, from Fair Oak, England, is married with three children and currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon.
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