Tackling the Rampaging Elephant in the (Class)room
By Scott Beller
Daddying blog Editor
This isn’t the post I planned to write this week.
For some reason, I wasn’t expecting another mass murder of elementary school kids in Uvalde, TX, to come so soon after the mass murder of elderly shoppers in Buffalo, NY, a week ago. So, today's post will carry a very different message than the one I hoped to deliver around my birthday. Although it feels apt to deliver it leading into Memorial Day Weekend.
Feel free to tune it out, as many elected officials beholden to the National Rifle Association have tuned out gun violence data and calls for common-sense solutions for the past half-century.
After Columbine (April 20, 1999), I didn't know I’d have to write about the same kind of tragic event 23 years later. I couldn’t conceive that there’d be a lack of meaningful action to prevent more nightmares like that from happening again. And again. And again.
After 32 students and faculty members at my alma mater Virginia Tech were slaughtered in Blacksburg, VA, on April 16, 2007, as wax dripped onto my fingers at a candlelight vigil on the Old Town Alexandria, VA, courthouse square, I thought, surely, 15 years later, I wouldn’t be writing about how this uniquely-American, gun-violence epidemic continues to ravage every walk of life in this country. Specifically, in the classrooms, hallways, and campuses where our children should feel safe to go to build friendships and brighter futures for themselves.
That was the last mass-murder event I witnessed before I became a dad. But sadly – infuriatingly – those Hokie families wouldn’t be the last ones gutted and Blacksburg wouldn’t be the last community shattered by our country’s chronic gun madness.
Because, though one side of the legislative aisle mobilized to push for universal background checks, close gun-show loopholes, and establish more comprehensive assault-weapons and high-capacity magazine bans, the other side – the one backed by NRA blood money – stood in the way.
Thanks to this one-sided, irrational allegiance to the gun lobby, the massacres continued.
After Sandy Hook (December 14, 2012), where 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 and six adults were shot dead in their classrooms, I thought this would finally break the NRA/GOP stranglehold on sensible gun legislation championed by the vast majority of Americans, including more than 80 percent of gun owners and more than 70 percent of NRA members.
How could it not?
Babies had been slaughtered by weapons no adult should own, much less some disturbed kid. I couldn't imagine American parents could witness such horror and accept that their leaders would do nothing but continue taking dirty money from and catering to an industry still creating weapons designed only to kill large numbers of other humans quickly. And giving anyone who wanted one not only unfettered access to those killing machines but also permission to take them anywhere.
My girls were 5 and 3 at that time. When our oldest daughter was not yet 2, we had to take her to the doctor for a CT scan. Because she was so young, they put her under to keep her comfortable and still during the procedure. I held her as the nurse administered the anesthesia. I felt her small body go limp in my arms.
So little weight. A normal procedure. Yes. And we had every reason to believe she'd be fine and her little eyes would open again. But just the thought of losing her absolutely crushed me.
When Newtown happened, that feeling came back. It was merely a fraction of what those Sandy Hook parents must've felt. I couldn’t help but try to put myself in the shoes of those other dads and moms, who were faced with the unimaginable.
I still can’t.
After Newtown, a few other parents in my neighborhood and I met to bounce around ideas for what we as parents could do. We live just a few miles outside our nation's capital so, rather than confining our shared anger and sense of helplessness to social media and a few kitchen table meetings, my friend Jennifer and I scheduled a meeting with our congressman at the time, Rep. Jim Moran, at his office on Capitol Hill.
From that meeting, Jenn, a devoted mom, brilliant communications strategist, and passionate advocate for sensible gun laws, was able to take her involved parenting to another level. She soon left her job to join forces with Shannon Watts and her newly-formed organization Moms Demand Action.
On March 24, 2018, after more gun violence ripped 17 Stoneman Douglas High School Students away from their families in Parkland, FL, I joined millions of other Americans for the March for Our Lives. My wife and I made a point to bring our daughters with us to the event on the National Mall in DC because we believe their voices and the voices of other children nationwide are as important to hear in this maddening "debate" as our own, if not more so.
This week in the aftermath of the Robb Elementary tragedy in Uvalde, one father tweeted:
The unimaginable has become commonplace. For our kids' sake, we must listen closely to what they have to say, and then we must all do better. We can't allow this to become our kids' "normal." We must continue to amplify their voices because most of them can't yet vote. They shouldn't have to live this way. And they certainly don't have to die this way.
Late Tuesday night, after reading all the coverage and the gut-punch of seeing photos of 10-year-old Xavier, the first child identified from the Uvalde shooting, I posted this to Facebook:
Xavier was my child. He was your child. We must see him that way and hold those who represent us accountable for the safety of all our children. They continue to fail. For money. For power.
We need more leaders who will act in the best interests of our families.
Xavier and at least 18 more of his young classmates were shredded today by weapons of war in the hands of a civilian - barely an adult - bought with no training, no license, no questions asked.
One greedy party failed those kids and too many others taken from their families by senseless, brutal, mostly-preventable gun violence.
Xavier and his classmates deserved better. Our children deserve so much better.
I knew then that I would have to continue my thoughts here on the Daddying blog. A small act to help raise awareness and, hopefully, direct some of our readers' positive energy toward the solutions that have so far eluded at least half of the country's elected officials. Honestly, I needed a more constructive outlet for my ongoing outrage about the out-of-control GOP "elephant" that's been trampling civil rights, public health, and environmental protections for most of my life. All in the name of greed.
As I'm writing this, I realize now that the opening to my Facebook post above echoes a blog DCG founder Allan Shedlin wrote recently about kids and families suffering during the crisis in Ukraine. The situations are shockingly similar in that they include terrorized families essentially fighting for survival in war zones created by authoritarian greed and violence.
Only the war zone American families are experiencing has spilled into every unfairly gerrymandered corner of our country. An elementary school in Uvalde, TX, just happens to be this week's hot spot in which parents are mourning children who went to school and will never come home.
With voter apathy and GOP inaction, we're doing it to ourselves. And it is heartbreaking.
These massacres aren’t inevitable. They are mostly avoidable. There are proven, research-based means to stem the tide of gun violence. And it's important for us parents to do something – anything – of substance to pressure our elected officials, push comprehensive public safety efforts, and protect our kids:
Please vote in EVERY local, state, and federal election cycle for candidates with your family's best interests in mind.
Reach out to your local and federal elected representatives to voice concerns about gun violence...and voting rights
Speak out and fill the streets to march for our children's and neighbors' lives, whenever necessary; and
Donate to gun violence research and prevention groups, regularly, if able.
The good news is that, since Newtown and the rise of Moms Demand Action, there has been much progress, although it doesn't always grab as many headlines as violence does. Here are some of the legislative wins for Moms Demand and its national network of common-sense gun law advocates. Of course, there is still so much work to be done.
If you are as outraged as I am. If you want to do something to support safer schools and public places for our children and families. If you can’t imagine one more parent having to be swabbed for DNA so that their child can be identified after another mass shooting, then please consider your votes carefully and vote in every local and federal election (not just for President) and in every election year (not just Presidential election years).
Thank you for tuning in. Please share this post with other parents, if you feel compelled. Don't forget to hug your kids and daddy on.
Watch Ellie's video here.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, former soccer coach, a gunsense voter, Editor of the Daddying blog, and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.