There was a rally in Montpelier today. The purpose of the rally was:
*To encourage state legislators to introduce a bill in Vermont banning assault weapons
*To support Vermont bill H124
*To express support for federal efforts, including Senator Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban of 2013
*To reduce gun violence and create safer communities for our children
There had been some movement in VT on gun control efforts but a rally of folks who opposed regulations on arms seemed to squelch forward progress. Today’s event was put together by people who wanted to stand up and push gun violence back on the Vermont agenda. I planned to go. I had thought to leave the kids at home but since they were up and eager to get out and about, I decided I would bring them and we would do a walk-by. I was a bit concerned about the substance of the speeches (we haven’t gone into details on Newtown) so I thought we could see if it felt like a place where it was OK for kids to be.
About 2 blocks from the capitol (in front of the movie theater) Jie-jie stopped in her tracks. Someone had just parked at the meter we were passing. He got out of his car, walked to the passenger side, removed a rifle (no, I don’t know anything about it), slung it over his shoulder, and started walking toward the rally. We were slightly ahead of him. She said, “Mom. That person has a gun. It isn’t safe here. I want to go home. What if the people at the rally are disagreeing and he decides to start shooting people?”
I didn’t know what to do but really felt that I had to do something.
“Excuse me,” I said to the man with the gun as he walked past and Jie-jie cowered behind me. “I wonder if you might help me. My 7-year-old daughter sees that you have a gun and that makes her feel very unsafe. I wonder if you have anything to say that might make her feel OK about you being here with a gun.”
“I feel unsafe because you people are trying to take our guns” he replied.
“Look,” I said, “I’m talking about my daughter, right here. Isn’t there anything you can say to address her concerns?”
“My grandpa has a gun for hunting,” Mei-mei, who seemed unaffected by this whole thing, chimed in, “but sometimes people use guns to hurt other people. What do you use your gun for?”
“You can use it to hunt. You can use it for protection. That is what daddies are for,” he said and continued on his way.
We watched him walk toward the rally. Jie-jie was still cowering behind me. We sat on the bench in front of the movie theater. “It isn’t safe here,” she said, and began to cry. I explained how we are just as safe today as we were yesterday and that it does make us uncomfortable when people are walking around with guns and that is what the rally is about. We don’t have to go to the rally, I said, but let’s walk a little closer to see if the police, who are supposed to keep us safe, stop that guy with the gun. Let’s get close enough to see how many other people are there to say that they don’t want guns slung over the shoulder of people walking around our downtown. We got close enough to see that the police did stop the man with the gun:
They detained him for quite a while, checking his ID and, I assume, making sure he was legal to carry his gun. Ultimately they left him alone but they did not allow him to approach the rally.
We got close enough to see many of our friends, young and old, saying enough is enough. And that was enough for us.We ran some errands downtown. As we went into one shop Jie-jie said, “It is good to come into the store. Guns aren’t allowed in stores.”
“No, Jie-jie,” I replied, “guns are allowed in stores.”
“But people in Montpelier don’t usually have guns.”
“Well, we really don’t know how many people have guns because they might be concealed. That means they might carry the guns so you can’t see them.”
“Why do they do that?”
“I really don’t know.”
We revisited the subject many times as Jie-jie raised it throughout the day. I tried to keep things normal (e.g. we stayed downtown for a while and did our normal rounds) so she would process this as a preexisting facet of life – new awareness, not new conditions. I did my best to balance my assertions that my children are as safe today as they were yesterday and are surrounded by people who seek to keep them safe (parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, etc), and discussed the fact that our poor gun regulations mean that we are not as safe as we could be.
In my own thoughts I keep coming back to that guy with the gun. From where I am standing, he did use that gun today although he did not shoot it. When people brandish their weapons they quiet the rest of us. I was naive not to assume that people would come with their guns. Because of the fear and uncertainty that weapon created, we did not join the rally. Our voices were not heard. How many likeminded but wiser people anticipated the scene and stayed home? That gun was a visual indicator of his power over me and others he disagrees with – his ability to hurt and to inflict great harm from a distance. Would I have felt more comfortable if I had a gun, too? Of course not. The ability to return fire does nothing to eliminate the fear that I or my children will be fired upon.
If you look back over the nature of the conversation we’ve been having in the US since Newtown, you will see it again and again. Calls for sensible gun control countered and silenced by threats of violence from the very people who want to claim that guns make us safer.
Guns do not belong on our streets. They do not belong in our shops, schools, restaurants and parks. But, even beyond that, guns in the hands of ordinary people in ordinary places stifle healthy debate and derail the democratic process.
My 7-year-old sees it all as plain as day.
When will our legislators see it, too, and make her freedom and security their priority?