Once again, we find ourselves here. The timeline is all too familiar: a horrific shooting, shock, thoughts and prayers, distractions from the real issues, distortions about what gun reform truly is, then bids to get something passed by Congress, and fears of shootings happening again.
We have had many chances to change. Still, children are dying.
Twenty-three years ago, 12 students and a teacher were shot and killed at Columbine High School in Colorado. Ten years ago, 20 children and six school staff members were slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut. And just three weeks ago, 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
As a pediatrician and a father, I find that I simply cannot process that children no different from my own and the ones I treat as a pediatrician have come to such violent and horrific ends in places that should have been completely safe for them.
I cannot think what it must have been like for a fellow parent to perform the task of telling their surviving child that their sibling has died or to submit to a DNA swab because the remains of their child are so grotesquely destroyed by a close-range AR-15 round that other forms of identification are inadequate.
And so, I have retreated to a safer, more analytic place of repose. I go there to strip painful things of their emotions so that I can continue to do what people expect of me as a man, father, doctor and child advocate.
No one can deny that we in America reside in a culture that highly values guns and the near limitless ability to possess them. It is a value that is written into the DNA of our nation as the Second Amendment to our Constitution. And, through the years, the “right to bear arms” has been interpreted and exercised more absolutely than almost any other founding principle of our country.
Virtually any real or imagined check on the unconditional freedom to possess guns has been viewed as the most perilous slippery slope threatening what we have elevated as one our most cherished liberties.
So, whatever I think about guns must be reconciled with this reality.
But there is a reckoning that I think has not yet been properly articulated. There are consequences for the choices we, as citizens, make. The freedom to possess guns and ammunition of almost any destructive capacity with little infringement creates our current reality that must include tragedies of this sort from time to time. And when we resolve to defend this liberty, we must accept these consequences as well.
If we are to be truly honest with ourselves and true to this dearly held principle, we must say that we accept that some of our children will necessarily die to adhere to this principle.
It cannot be any other way. We will always have people in our society who are mentally ill, anti-social or simply evil, and they will have access to guns because that is the culture we have created. It is intellectually dishonest to think otherwise. And, it is preposterous to say that we have a mental health system that will take care of these people well enough to protect our innocents or that we have the will to create one with guns as accessible as they are.
In the 10 years since the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, many of our political leaders have conjured distractions from the real issues that affect our children. Many have chosen to focus their efforts on a rebranding of critical race theory and imagined threats from the care of transgender children as perennial problems with access to medical care including mental health care languish.
Our kids have suffered immeasurably from the pandemic and natural disasters while some of our political leaders gin up passions for electoral gain directed against those professionals who are there to support them. Librarians, teachers and school counselors stand accused of indoctrinating children and are threatened with criminal prosecution and lawsuits while our school libraries are scrubbed for potentially “obscene” books.
These last few years are very likely the prologue for what will follow in the next 10 years as we reflect on future tragedies.
So let us continue to say what we believe, only make sure that we say all of it. We will defend absolute gun freedom and accept that some of our children will die. And, when they do, we will be sorry and feel the pain once more, but also know that it was a planned loss.
Dr. Jason Terk is a pediatrician in Keller, Texas, and the chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition.