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On Second Thought

A conversation worth having
Thursday, July 14, 2022
On Second Thought

I get that sometimes it’s hard to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but we should listen. We should all listen to each other, and especially to people whose journey we have an opinion on but have not lived. There is wisdom in experience.

Several years ago at an Erma Bombeck writer’s workshop I met a woman who’s been a friend since, and lives in Newtown, CT. Kate is a humor writer who booked her first trip to that conference because after the school shooting there, she couldn’t “write funny” anymore. She wasn’t at the school at the time and didn’t have a child in the school, but she was deeply affected as was the entire community. Luckily for us all, Kate found her funny and she is among the best humor writers I’ve read.

Kate and I have talked about gun reform, and if memory serves she put her money where her mouth is and went to Washington DC to testify on gun reform. She was the first person I met who was closely affected by a mass shooting. Ever since the Newtown school massacre, there have been so many mass shootings I should have known the day would come I would actually meet someone who was in one.

That happened Saturday morning at sunrise in Albuquerque as I sat on a bench in front of the hotel, drinking coffee and watching the sun come up over the mountains.

Jessica pulled up in her wheelchair and said good morning to me. She had short hair and wore a baseball cap and looked to be in her late 20s or early 30s. She’s from Colorado, she told me, and was in Albuquerque for work. She was in her car in the parking lot at Wal-Mart the day before, she said, and while she was sitting there, a shootout took place – right behind her car. Then she showed me the bullet hole in the back of her car.

As I was telling her how sorry I was, she said, “Yeah, it was bad. I was in a mass shooting in Colorado in 2012. I still have shrapnel in my leg.” She was speaking of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting at the movie theatre during a screening of “The Dark Knight” where 12 people were killed, and she was one of the 70 injured. She told me that while she was in her car the day before, she remembered from 2012 that the ones who ran were more likely to get killed, so she stayed put and kept her head down.

We talked about the school shooting in Uvalde, and the more recent one in Illinois and what the answer could possibly be. She had a lot of ideas that some people will agree with and some people will not – none of them radical – but she and others like her deserve to be heard.

She told me upfront that her parents are gun owners, and agree with her, so there is likely more common ground in this than we know. Jessica believes that in order to own and carry a weapon a person should have to pass mental health checks as well as qualify with gun safety and proficiency annually; that liability insurance should be required for gun owners; and finally, that AR-15s be restricted to military use.

I know much of this thought process is unpopular around here, but I agree with her.

I was telling this story to my nephew, who just got home from a vacation in several beautiful European countries. After I finished, he said that every time they got in a cab or had a conversation with a local and told them they were from Texas, the first question every time was, “you have guns?”, with a smattering of “how many times have you had to use it? “

It is time to have these conversations with the highest form of civil discourse in play, and work this out. That we’re known abroad for guns here in my native state doesn’t make me proud, and I’ve been a gun owner my entire adult life.

Halfway through this year, our country has already seen 309 mass shootings. That’s an average of more than 11 a week – that cannot be okay with anyone. That cannot be an acceptable price to pay. The cause of death among children age one to 18 in 2020 was firearms, surpassing motor vehicle accidents.

People with no business around firearms are allowed in this state to come unchecked to our schools, our parades, our churches, our concerts, our theaters, our Wal-Marts and our supermarkets. It’s worth talking about, it’s worth listening and it’s worth urgent attention.

Before one more person has to have their child identified by DNA, please be open to the conversation.