My son is 7 years old. He is bright, funny, eager to please and kind. He loves baseball and basketball, performing with his sister in show choir, playing catch with is cousin Tommy and Beanie Boos with his cousin Maggie. He sings his heart out doing karaoke. He likes to run around outside with the Nerf guns passed down by a neighbor playing tag. He plays Wii, has built an intricate world on Minecraft, and readies for battle on Clash of Clans (both iPod apps.) He enjoys silent films (not kidding!), iCarly, and watching plays (also not kidding!) He also loves to play Black Ops with his dad. And here is where the inner argument lies. The thing that keeps me up on nights after a shooting like the one in Santa Barbara has taken place. Or the one much closer to home last year, where a 4 year old accidentally shot and killed his 6 year old neighbor in the head with his dad’s gun while playing war.
We have rules about Black Ops. 1. No volume. I don’t want him hearing what the other players are saying or talking about. 2. He can only play with his dad. Those are the rules. I’ll be washing the dishes when I hear him exclaim quite proudly “I got you in the butt!” I can’t bring myself to laugh. I had read an article in 1998 that stuck with me. This was pre-Columbine. The beginning of the “unthinkable” becoming the norm. The article interviewed instructors from West Point on desensitization of troops. It asked, how do you prepare young men and women for situations of war. Part of the response was video simulation. Basically playing a video game. When my spirited son shoots a bullet into the butt of his dad via Black Ops, I cannot smile or laugh. I worry. Will he be desensitized? Will he grow to be one of those young men who gets pissed off about something and decides snuffing out a bunch of lives would be easier and more fun? Witnesses in Santa Barbara say the shooter was smiling as he blasted people away.
I am not opposed to people owning firearms. Although I have never held a gun, I have family in the military, police, FBI and CIA. They all have weapons. I have friends who hunt. They have weapons. One such friend, a former cop, told her son Black Ops and games like it are off limits. If he wants to shoot things up she and her husband (also a former cop) will take him to learn how to shoot a real gun. Show him the damage it does. Teach him of the responsibility and the risk. But doing it through a game? No way. Doing it with an military style assault rifle? No way. This from a gun owner.
If I am not opposed to people owning firearms, what am I opposed to? I am opposed to any civilian owning firearms meant for war. Opposed to any person owning firearms more sophisticated than the local beat cop. I am opposed to it being easier to get a gun than it is a drivers license or prescription refill. I am opposed to insurance companies dropping people’s policies for putting a trampoline in their back yard, but not for leaving firearms unsecured in the house. I am opposed to the federal government determining gun laws (just as much as I’m opposed to the federal government running schools and my health care.) I am opposed to it being “okay” to not report a lost or stolen firearm.
So back to Black Ops. My mom says it’s the video games. That’s what all this violence is about. Really? A good friend who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who spent a year in Pakistan, he plays Black Ops. He’s been playing video games since he can remember. He owns some serious firearms. When my family and I stayed at his house I discovered the guest room night stands were gun safes. The hall closet, the size of a bathroom, packed with another, much bigger gun safe. The big one, he says, needs both keys and combination. He leaves the keys at his government office. I felt safe with my kids in the house. Not because the guns were there, but because none of us could get to them (have you seen my Irish temper?) He plays Black Ops for fun. Gets online with a bunch of his friends and they shoot each other up, laughing the whole time, chatting about life over their head sets. Clearly, the game is not real for him. It’s a game. He’s unaffected by it. What he is affected by is his time at war. He once said, as my son, 3 at the time, played legos on the floor, that he wasn’t used to being relaxed around kids. In Afghanistan and Pakistan he learned to fear kids the most. They could end your life easier than a grown man just because you trust that a child wouldn’t be strapped with explosives. Sometimes they are. And what seems like an innocent kid coming to a soldier for help is actually a live enemy weapon. 3 years of that can change your view of kids. Changing it back, getting comfortable again, was going to take some time. Perhaps I should be less worried about the video game and more worried about my son shipping out at 18.
After the shootings in Santa Barbara and the ensuing media storm that has followed, we haven’t played Black Ops in my house. My son reads the newspaper. He sees the picture of Richard Martinez on the cover with the quote “When do we say enough is enough?” and he asks me, “Did that man’s son die?” Yes. By some kid with semiautomatic weapons and a grudge. But that kid was once a 7 year old boy. That kid has parents. And throwing around descriptives like “Aspergers” and “loner” do nothing to ease my worry for our children. The dreaded “unthinkable” is the norm. The statistics are devastating. 86 people killed by guns everyday. Higher than any other developed country in the world. After Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Santa Barbara, Tucson, we still can’t have a real conversation about guns in this country. We’d rather let our kids die, be it as victims of the shooter, or as the villainous shooter himself, who many times takes his own life before the bloodshed ends. We let our politicians regress further into their partisan shells, bought off by the lobbies and corporations, refusing to speak to one another because doing so would mean less pay and fewer perks. The generation of people who changed the world with our technology and entrepreneurial spirit, our guts and willingness to work with those across the table, the generation who made nerds the most important people in the room, who refused to take no for an answer, the generation that aspires to do better and be better- we are sitting here letting the conversation stall and fall flat on its face. And we will suffer for it. We will lose kids to senseless violence. And we will wonder if we should have done more. We will ask ourselves if we should have forced the conversation. If that would have changed the outcome. We will be grasping for an easy answer: video games, mental health issues, social deviancy. And none of those easy answers will make us feel any better.
My son is 7 years old. He is a boy right now. Full of life and joy with scraped knees and a big bright smile. He likes to snuggle next to me as I read him Happy Fur Family and The Lorax. One day, I hope, he will be a man. I hope he will get through this life without experiencing a Newtown or Santa Barbara or Columbine. I hope he will not experience the realities of war. But the odds are against him. And they are stacking up higher with each moment I choose to let politicians, who do not have my son’s well being in mind, call the shots. It’s time to say enough is enough. To start talking. We all need to start talking.
Some Shooting Stats: 1994 – 2013