It was a gruesome introduction to the reign of the gun.
Six adults and 20 children – children who were probably still shedding baby teeth and believing in Santa Claus – were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week in Newtown, Conn.
They were killed by a mentally ill guy whose tormented mind told him that he should assert himself by picking up an assault rifle and shooting his way through a school in the same way that a soldier shoots his way through enemy territory.
Except that this wasn’t enemy territory. It was an elementary school. A school full of children whose parents, by the very act of moving to a suburban enclave like Newtown, had hoped to get them educated while preserving their safety and innocence at the same time.
Yet on Dec. 14, 20 children’s lives ended just as the promise of a new school day began. And I worry about the children who survived the attack in the same way that I worry about black children who survive the same kind of carnage in poor, urban areas.
These are children who, on a daily basis, encounter gun violence. These are children who grow up learning how to dodge bullets and to recognize serum from the blood that they see spilled on streets. These are children who have never had the luxury of being able to hang on to their innocence.
These are children who have to learn the three R’s while wrestling with trauma.
This has been happening for some time now.
Back in 1989, during the height of the violence in South Central Los Angeles, a Los Angeles Times magazine article quoted children struggling to cope.
Said one: “They shoot somebody every day. I go in and get under the bed and come out after the shooting stops.”
Said another: “It’s like the violence is coming down a little closer. We don’t come outside a lot now.”
Said another: “My uncle got shot in a fight – there was a bucket of his blood. And I had two aunties killed and one of them was pushed onto the freeway and there were maggots on her.”
Fast forward to Chicago of 2012.
There have been more than 500 gun-related deaths in that city this year, and around 150 of those killed have been children and youth, according to CROSSwalk Chicago, a faith-based organization engaged in mobilizing people to stop the escalating violence there.
A number of children have seen siblings and friends gunned down. And the killings have generated concerns about how many black children will wind up having to battle post-traumatic stress disorders.
That’s why I worry about the child survivors of the Newtown massacre – and why I know that the solutions being barfed up by gun zealots won’t do a thing to spare children from this kind of trauma.
Require teachers and administrators to carry guns? That’ll only invite more open gun battles and put children at risk of being hit by random gunfire.
Black children in crime-plagued areas already have to deal with enough of that. I can’t imagine that suburban children would handle it any better.
In fact, the whole idea of turning schools into armed camps and arming everyone to prevent another Newtown tragedy has been tried – in housing projects. There’s no shortage of guns there.
At the same time, there’s no shortage of children growing up in fear; of being drilled on how to hide under a bed when they hear gunfire, or on how to avoid taking certain violence-plagued routes. Of children fearing they won’t grow up. Of children seeing the world as a place of danger and not promise.
The only route toward stopping more Newtown tragedies is the same one toward stopping the violence in South Central and Chicago – and that’s through smarter gun control laws. Congress could start by renewing the ban on assault weapons; the kind of weapon that the crazed Newtown killer used to gun down children and the kind that sane gang-bangers use to gun down rivals – and sometimes catch kids in the crossfire.
That’s a start toward stopping the spread of the reign of the gun. And preserving the lives – and the innocence – of our children.
No matter where they happen to live.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.