Last night the reality of gun violence in this country became even more personal when, Nate, the father of two little girls who mean the world to me was injured in the line of duty. The girls are 5 and 8 years old, live in Clinton, Missouri and are the grandchildren of my Aunt Vicky, who was like a sister to me and my best friend. She died suddenly in 2003 and I made a promise to her that I would look after her two daughters (then 13 and 18) like they are my own. I’ve tried to keep that promise and have thus been blessed with being involved in the lives of my two young cousins as they matured into women, and now with their three amazing children. Both of them ended up falling in love with men who have chosen careers in law enforcement. I’ve often comforted myself knowing that at least they live in a small town where a police officer hadn’t been killed in 50 years.
That ended seven months ago, and then again yesterday. In a town with just 9000 people, you know your police officers by first name. The first incident happened during a routine traffic stop that ended with a police officer being gunned down. The entire town felt the loss deeply. None more so than the fellow officers who considered him a friend. These officers face danger on a regular basis, often with gallows humor to mask their underlying fears. So, when one of their own is killed, the reality of the perils of the job become abundantly clear, to themselves and to their family. Grieving takes time, sometimes a long time. Everyone copes in different ways. Nate opted to have the fallen officers’ image tattooed on his right arm.
When I got the call last night I was struck with how my outrage about the prevalence of gun violence in this country turned to profound sorrow as I zeroed in on one very specific thing: what it was going to be like to have to tell a 5 and 8-year-old that their father had been shot. They had gone to bed with an innocence that was going to change the next morning over Cheerio’s. My worries then turned to the husband of my other cousin, who has a 4-year-old boy whose favorite thing to do is dress up in police gear, just like his daddy. We got on the phone as she cried, worried because her husband was now part of the force called in to surround the house where an active shooter was barricaded inside. Just after midnight we breathed a collective sigh of relief when she got word that he was ok, and the suspect was dead.
Nate is going to survive his injuries, two bullets into and through his right arm, one had ironically exited through the face of his new tattoo. Three officers had responded to what sounded like a domestic violence call and as they entered the house, the shooter suddenly appeared and began pulling the trigger of his military grade assault rifle, hitting all three men who were there to protect and to serve. The newest member of the force was hit several times including in the chest, a wound that would take his life. He had been hired to replace the fallen officer from 7 months prior and had his same employee number. The third officer suffered minor injuries.
Even as I write the word injury, I’m struck with how definitive that is. Daddy has a booboo and it’s going to get better. The only thing that’s going to get better is the bodily harm, hopefully without permanent damage. But what of the damage that you can’t see? The damage that will manifest itself for the rest of their lives? The damage will be felt within my family, within a small-town community and within our nation for decades to come?
I’m going to give myself a day or two to feel the sorrow that is similar to what I felt just a few weeks ago when high school students were gunned down in Florida. But this time it’s personal and resonates in a way I haven’t felt before. Each time these shootings occur I launch into fix it mode. This time I have a new, ‘insider’ perspective. Where you can look at people you love and care about and wonder about the toll this tragedy is going to take on them.
Now before you dismiss me as a liberal, which I proudly am, let me clarify that I am not trying to take away anyone’s guns. That is an NRA propagated fear and it is a bald-faced lie. I got my first gun, a .22, at age 12. I’ve been bird and deer hunting with my family and to this day I play first person shooter games on my Xbox One. In fact, my wife Naomi has been duck hunting with the man lying in the hospital bed, post-surgery from bullet wounds he sustained. The guest room we used to stay in had the gun cabinet that held his guns. We used to play first person shooter games online together. He’s a police officer and guns are part of his everyday life. He’s a trained professional.
I am not going to compare a mass shooter with this incident. Alas, the shooter last night is a serial criminal with felony convictions and had apparently been preparing to sell meth when the officers arrived. I won’t try to make an argument that with gun controls in place, this wouldn’t have happened. Because I know that even with gun control in place, sometimes bad things happen.
However, my conviction to make it harder for people to get their hands on guns via licensing and background checks and to ban assault weapons will go on unabated. Other countries have proven that fewer guns in the mass population leads to fewer deaths by guns. I will continue to do what I can to diminish the power of the NRA and their greedy fear mongering that is based on lies and deception, all the while filling their coffers. Their divisive tactics continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
The more we can do to curb this violence, the better off we will all be. For the doubters, you’ve been in charge for a very long time. It’s the other side’s turn to test our theories around what it will take to protect our loved ones. It’s high time to do something to protect and serve those who put their lives on the line every time they don their uniform. It’s high time we do something to protect all Americans as best we can. It’s time to act from a place of conviction to make things better. Enough is enough. We can, and must, do better.
If you are looking for a way to help, you can support the Parkland survivors and their March for Our Lives by marching in the street with them on March 24 at one of the over 725 marches taking place worldwide. If you are unable to attend, you can also donate or sign the petition.
Each tally in our cover image represents a gun violence death in 2018. As of publishing, the total is 2792.