There’s a lot of heart-wrenching public health data that point to the devastating effects of gun violence inflicted upon our children. Since 2017, the most common cause of death from injury among children is firearm-related injuries. As of 2020, Tennessee ranks eighth in the nation in the number of school shootings since 1970, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security reports.
Earlier this year, we lost six precious lives in the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. With every act of gun violence perpetrated against our children, we also lose our sense of security. Our anxieties flare as we question the best way forward. We barely have a chance to recover before yet another wave of violence assaults our senses. Again, we are struggling to find the best path out of the grief. In these moments of sorrow, we reach out to find strength and comfort in our loved ones who remain with us still.
I cling to my own children. In the weeks after the Covenant school shooting, I drove my children to school and counted 133 bows, 33 signs, and six crosses in addition to passing the Covenant school itself.
This past spring my daughter experienced her first lockdown at her PreK program in the wake of the tragedy in our neighborhood. She was in the oldest group of children, and the teachers put on their brave and happy faces to try to keep the day normal except for avoiding outside play. So, in some ways, we lived in ignorant bliss. But, she noticed the sirens, the crowds, and the bows and crosses. I struggled to help my 5-year-old child understand these emblems of suffering and remembrance.
In one of those maternal moments of half truths, I told her that these bows and crosses represented Easter, a time of intense mixed emotions for Christians. We are sad that Jesus died, and then we are happy that Jesus came back alive. So, it’s just a complicated time, and we need to love one another through it. She accepted the Easter explanation. At that point she couldn’t read too well, so I didn’t have to explain the signs. We bought ourselves a little more time to keep her protected from the harsh truths of the world.
Thinking of the shooting at Nashville’s Covenant Schools, I’m reminded the meaning of “covenant” is an agreement. We should agree to value our children and that we all believe that no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or what school they attend, all children deserve to live free from the fear of gun violence at school
She started kindergarten recently, and I am learning about security measures and protocols — as we also ponder the best purchases for supplies and dress code clothing and wonder about the lunch room offerings.
Growing up in Pulaski, Tenn., I didn’t practice active shooter drills — even though we did lose lives to gun violence at the Richland School shooting in 1995. Now, my daughter will eventually be trained on how to act to protect herself as best she can in the event of an active shooter at her school. How do I help her navigate the resulting anxiety? How do I explain to her why we do these drills?
And, my overachieving daughter can now read, so I do have to explain the signs stating, “I Stand with Covenant.” Do I tell her exactly what happened just down the street from our home and church? When is it time for more than maternal half truths? How do I protect her?
I’m reminded that the meaning of “covenant” is an agreement. And my latest creative answer is that “I Stand with Covenant” on the signs means that we agree to value our children and that we all believe that no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or what school they attend, all children deserve to live free from the fear of gun violence at school.
So as this school year is beginning, I hope our Tennessee General Assembly and all American elected leaders will honor this sacred covenant that we make as a society to protect our children. I hope more of our citizens will take action to demand that our public policy reflect our values that our children should be cherished and protected from gun violence.
By coming together, we can elect leaders who know our children’s worth and are willing to prove it by passing legislation to save their lives. Allowing massacres of our kids is a choice we don’t need to keep making. We need to start thinking critically at the ballot box rather than alphabetically. Bipartisanship should be grounded in the reasonable protections of our rights with enforcement of individual responsibility. And, above all, we should create a world where our children — all children — feel safe and respected not just at school, but at the park, at a movie theater, parade, and everywhere they go.
Failing to help our children thrive robs us all of the more perfect Union our founders intended for every American to try to find. We are not there yet. And, I call on the General Assembly to enact legislation that protects our communities and moves us closer to a better future for our children.