When the horrific details of the Newtown school shooting started leaking out on Friday, I hunkered down in my cubicle and I cried. I cried for the 20 dead children, the teachers, and the parents. And I don’t know about any of you, but as each new picture of a murdered 6-year-old appeared online, I saw the same thing — my son.
After all, Newtown is only a couple of hours away from me. I, too, live in a quaint New England town that is by and large a sleepy little cocoon, tucked away from a major city where all the “real crime” is committed. The Sandy Hook Elementary School might as well be the Solmonese School where I’ll send my son next year to kindergarten. Usually when tragedy strikes it seems a world away, and you can protect yourself with the “Well, that would never happen here” argument.
But not this time. Not when it’s so close. And not when it takes place in a town that is, for all intents and purposes, a facsimile of my own. Which is why it was so easy to imagine the following scenario:
The phone rings and it’s my wife. She’s screaming about something happening at Will’s school. She got a call from another parent who talked to another parent who was there and said someone had a gun. I immediately swallow my heart in that half-second of frozen terror that can only take hold of you when the person you love most is in mortal danger.
I’m out of my mind but trying to stay on the road as I drive home from work. She calls me again when she’s at the school. Mass chaos. The cops are here but they’re scattered all around. They look as confused as everyone else. And scared. There are other parents there but they won’t let anyone in. The SWAT team just pulled up. Someone’s running out of the school screaming. Is it a teacher? A kid? Is that blood. Oh my God I think it’s blood. One parent said she was in the school when she heard gunshots. She stepped over a body on the way out. There are some kids over there, but they’re older. Some other kids are over there but that’s not our son’s class. Oh my God.
By the time I get there it’s a scene from out of a movie. Emergency crews everywhere. Scrambling parents crying — some out of relief and others out of desperation and fear. No one knows what actually happened, but we know there was a shooting and people are dead. Rumor is kids are dead. Parents still searching for their kids start to recognize each other from past birthday parties and school events. And they also recognize that their kids are all in the same class — and that class is the one that’s missing.
Panic grips tight as does the grim realization that the worst has happened. And in that moment — amongst other parent-kid reunions and cops that won’t give you information but look down in horror as you ask them if your kid is safe — you are hit with the fact that your son is dead. That your little boy, who went to school reciting his ABCs so he could work on his Christmas list for Santa, was one of the 19 other poor souls whose little bodies were torn apart by multiple bullets fired from a military assault weapon. That life as you knew it, will never be the same.
I know it’s graphic, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about every single day since Friday. When I’m not hugging my son in quiet gratitude that he’s still with me, all I can think about are those kids and the parents who lost them. I can’t fall asleep for hours, because I’m wondering how in hell those parents and the survivors will ever sleep again. I’ve never had a panic attack before, but I’m pretty sure I had one over the weekend as story after story after story came about these kids. Each one with a picture. A picture that inevitably morphed into my son’s smiling face.
I’m telling you this because I bet I’m not alone. I bet most parents thought of something similar. Hell, you don’t even have to be a parent to be physically ill about this. I’m sure most people have wondered what it was like when the shooter first appeared, what they would’ve done, what those poor little kids must’ve been thinking, and how grotesque and sickening it must’ve been while that sick sonofabitch was firing 30+ rounds at a time into the most innocent of victims.
It is literally the most disgusting and terrifying thought that’s ever been in my head. I can’t imagine anything scarier being in ANYONE’S head.
Which is why I’m so fucking disgusted by this news story.
This is not going to be a diatribe on gun control. What I want to talk about is much more fundamental. You see, part of my day job is public relations. And any PR person will tell you crisis management is often the toughest part of the job. If one of your products, or someone in your company, does something horrible then you’ve got your work cut out for you.
When an airline company suffers a deadly crash due to pilot negligence, you’ll likely see a loss of business because people are justifiably scared and don’t trust you. If you manufacture food or items like baby formula, you might have to deal with a recall if a dangerous chemical poisons a batch and makes someone ill. Chances are parents will run screaming from that brand because they feel it represents a danger to their kids, and most of them will never buy from you again under any circumstances. That is a completely understandable and natural reaction to a product deemed harmful to you and yours.
Which is why I can’t understand the decision by tens of thousands of people to go out and buy the exact same gun used to viciously murder 20 children less than 24 hours before.
Seriously. What the fuck is wrong with us as a country that our first reaction to 20 dead children killed by a military grade assault weapon is “Aw shit. Now Obama’s gonna take our guns. Quick, get to the Wal-mart so we can pick that baby up before it’s too late!” Because that’s EXACTLY what happened.
This gun was involved in the most unspeakable act of horror anyone can conjure up. Dead children. It doesn’t get any worse than dead children shot multiple times in the head. If you manufacture a product that is in the news for viciously slaughtering kindergarten children, there should be no earthly spin you can put on the situation that will make people look favorably on it. But as it turns out, spinning this isn’t even necessary for the gun companies. Before the gun companies could say a word, people took it upon themselves to go purchase the very instrument that killed these kids. They flocked to stores in hordes, tripping over one another, to bring the very same assault rifle into their homes.
That’s a problem folks. That’s a big friggin problem that should make you angry. It’s saying that people think their right to own an AR-15 and fill it with extended ammo clips that hold 30+ bullets is more of a pressing issue than the carnage it just left behind. It’s saying that instead of taking a long, hard look at the availability of certain kinds of weapons and ammo, it’s more important to buy that one last gun for their collections.
The most telling (and chilling) post-Newtown quote I saw wasn’t from one of the Jesus freaks who thinks godlessness and lack of prayer in school caused this killing. And not even the despicable Westboro Baptist Church morons who plan on picketing childrens’ funerals. It came from a 19-year-old Connecticut man who was quoted in a Yahoo! article:
“Personally, I feel safer where there’s guns,” 19-year-old Peter Griffin, an apprentice cabinetmaker who owns three guns, told Reuters while shopping in the hunting section of a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Danbury. “I don’t want to go to any gun-free zones any more.” (emphasis mine, not his)
That the gun lobby and groups like the NRA have somehow managed to convince us that MORE guns will bring about LESS violence, is the most troubling component at work here. When people falsely believe that a gun-free zone is a negative, while arming teachers is the right path, it’s a sign that we’ve gone horribly astray.
I’m a nobody with no power. But I’ve already signed White House petitions and I’ll be writing letters to my congressional delegates. Will it do any good? Who knows. But whether or not change ultimately comes out of Newtown, we should at least be able to have the discussion and put all the cards on the table. No more “this isn’t the time” bullshit. There are 20 very small graves being dug two hours south of me, and the very least they deserve is a frank discussion about making changes that could save lives.
In the meantime, hug ‘em if you got ‘em.