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How To Talk To Children About Gun Violence

It's difficult to stomach the subject even as adults...so how do we discuss it with our kids, or should we at all?
Image Credit: Jenny Jimenez

Image Credit: Jenny Jimenez

“What’s the NRA, mom?”

The red light shined back at me through the windshield, putting my delayed answer into clear perspective.

“Why do you ask?” I questioned to the backseat.

My 10-year-old daughter’s reflection was perched in my rear view mirror. She was glancing at the truck in the lane to the left of us. She stared at the sticker in the back window. She read its bold acronym with innocent eyes, pure curiosity and a sense of wonder.

It was about a month after Las Vegas.

Only days after Sutherland Springs.

Almost 20 years after Columbine.

She doesn’t know what the NRA is for a few reasons. First, she is 10. And I don’t believe that any 10-year-old needs to know about guns and gun control and gun violence. I believe that my job is to shield my kids from this subject for as long as I can. So, I don’t talk about it in front of them, I don’t watch the news with them nearby, I don’t talk about it with friends when they are around, and I don’t let them mindlessly search random topics on my laptop that might lead them down that path.

Second, we are not gun owners. We don’t know much about guns, we don’t care to know much about them, and we firmly believe they have no place in our home (or in most homes across the country, for that matter).

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But when the light turned green, I realized it was time to start talking. To explain and to educate and to try to enlighten as much as we possibly could. I had been hiding behind a cloak of silence for many years, naïve in my suburban shelter where what happens behind closed doors stays there and school lockdown drills always feel like an extraordinary precaution because that could “never happen here”…until it does.

“They are gun lovers,” I replied simply.

And that’s all I said about the NRA. That’s all I plan to say about the NRA for now. And I won’t talk about Las Vegas, either. Or Sandy Hook. Or the school down the street in my sweet little suburb where a mentally ill transient man shot into a schoolyard full of children seven years ago in the middle of the day and thankfully missed them all.

Instead, I will talk to my kids about the laws in this country. About how we believe they should change. About what the laws look like in other parts of the world, where stickers in the back of truck windows don’t cause me to worry about the potential dangers within.

I will talk to them about the real power of these seemingly simple weapons – a symbol of play to so many kids today. About why we don’t play with them and we never have, and about why we believe they should be left in the hands of those who understand their true power, innately.

I will talk to them about mental illness. About its effect on the human mind and conscience and actions.

And I will talk to them about instincts. Their own. For dangerous situations, for circumstances that don’t feel right, for people who don’t put them at ease. I will talk to them about believing in their instincts and in the pit in their stomachs and in their ability to act on them, with or without me by their sides.

We won’t talk about Sutherland Springs. I won’t paint a picture in their young minds of music lovers and churchgoers and innocent children being shot to death in mass shooting after mass shooting. I won’t tell them that every time I hear an ambulance siren shriek by in the direction of their school in the middle of the day, my mind jumps to the worst conclusion. I won’t lead them down a path of fear and insecurity for the sake of a sticker in the back window of a truck and the illusion of power that comes along with it.

I will explain. And educate. And enlighten. I will tell them what I believe they need to know for their own personal safety. Not for the sake of politics or constitutional amendments or someone else’s personal hobby. But for their safety. As children. Riding in backseats. Looking at the world with wonder in their eyes. 

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