Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Ruger Redhawks next to bear paw print, 2008
"Mommy, somebody has a gun."

My five-year-old called these words out to me before we'd even been at the playground for 2 minutes. 

My head snapped up and my eyes darted. I saw a furtive figure dart away from my son and across the playground, diving under the other set of equipment. 

My two-year-old was already on a a swing, calling for me to push her. 
There were three pre-teen girls laughing and playing some game out in the ball field. 

We had passed a woman walking her dogs when we came in, but there were no other adults. 

"Mommy, somebody has a gun." 

My dad instilled intense respect for guns into his children. I never had a toy gun, in part, because we were taught and able to use real guns for target practice and/or hunting. Guns are tools, not toys. 

My husband has deeper feelings about guns, if possible, than my dad did. Two large safes guard the weaponry of our house. Always. 

I've never been afraid of guns (other than the kickback of some calibers.)

Today I was frightened by someone with a gun. 

"Mommy, somebody has a gun." 

Gripping my phone, I edged to where I could see a baby-faced, nine or ten-year-old boy hiding from me. I glimpsed the orange caps of his toy rifle and pistol. I saw the curved edges of two fake daggers stuck, blades down, in the pea gravel. He obviously didn't want me to see him or his arsenal. He watched me out of the corner of his eye while he moved the gravel around to create a high wall between him and me. Yes, today I watched a white child build a bunker to hide in with his weaponry. 

We only stayed a few minutes at the playground before I told the kids we just had to go. 

All I could think was: 

1. Kid, you have no idea how privileged you are. No one is calling the cops about you, running around with toy guns (God rest Tamir Rice) and with no parent in sight (God bless Debra Harrell). 

2. Who taught you to hide with guns? To stockpile an arsenal and eye those around you. I think a nine-year-old is a little young for the hardcore "in case of government overthrow". 

3. What will you grow up to think you are owed? Is anyone, anywhere talking to you about the black and brown bodies in your very city- their worth, their dreams, their realities? 

4. What game are you playing with these guns? You're not pretending to hunt. You're not playing war. You're not pretending to skeet shoot or be at the fair. And why are you hiding? 

5. What would I have done if I had been armed, as I often am (literally, loaded for bear)? Would I have approached this child, with a hand on my .357? I can imagine many people I know (and love) saying, "What if it hadn't been a child? Wouldn't it have been better to have your gun with you and stopped something?" 

Sure, but that's not approaching from positive gun control. That's reactive gun control. 

I want the adults in this child's life to say, "These are tools, not toys. Here's what we use guns for." 

I want them to say, "Find a friend and go to the playground together." 

I want them to say, "This city is full of black, brown, tan, and white bodies. They matter as much as we do. Here are the stories of our family and stories of their families." 

I recently told my pastoral intern that I'd be glad to take her to the range to show her how to shoot. I am and I will. We'll do the same, eventually, for our children. We'll always have a sidearm at the river or on camping trips. All of this goes hand-in-hand with the messages above- over and over and over. 

That's the only way to change the automatic reaction that comes locked and loaded with "Mommy, somebody has a gun." 


Martin Eldred said...

Great thoughts.

Janet Watrous said...

Julia, thank you for such a thoughtful, heartfelt, and informed record of your thoughts as actions as you heard those frightening words. Your dad forwarded them to me and I am thankful. Janet Watrous

Unknown said...

Thoughtful words, thank you.