Gun Problem or Leadership Problem?

The views expressed are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Blue Mesa Review. 


On Wednesday afternoon, I was meeting with Blue Mesa Review advisor, Mark Sundeen, when he saw an alert on his laptop. He said there was another school shooting. Despite Parkland, FL being 2,000 miles from Albuquerque, I immediately checked my mental family schedule to place where my teenage son was at that moment. 3:15 PM, school was out, he was at tennis practice. We felt helpless to do anything, and within seconds we were back to work. This is America in 2018.

Thursday morning, I felt like vomiting as I heard the door close when my son left for school. We didn’t watch the news the night of the shooting and it rained the next morning, leaving the paper soaked and unreadable. He left the house without carrying the anxiety that left me feeling ill. I couldn’t have that conversation with him again. Ignorance was the only thing I was able to offer him. Having your child die in a classroom isn’t an abstract concept anywhere in America, including New Mexico. In December of 2017, two kids were killed in the small town of Aztec, NM. Anyone who promises a safe school anywhere in America is lying.

A few hours after my son walked out of the door, I received a text from the University of New Mexico advising that a man had pulled a gun on several people on campus and was still at-large. It was three hours before he was captured. UNM is not only the home of Blue Mesa Review, and where I teach and take classes, but it’s also where my daughter goes to school, and she was on campus at the time. Fear and nausea again washed over me. Thankfully, within minutes, she texted me with an invite to lunch. The risk didn’t openly phase her. She was born a year before Columbine, so this is the world she grew up in.

After Trump was elected, I wrote a blog post about a writer’s responsibility in difficult times. My message remains the same; we must use our skills and platform to speak out. So, I am. But I’m too angry to put a think-piece-instruction-manual-on-how-writers-should-act into the world, even if I were qualified. Writers know what they can and should do. Those who don’t know, or aren’t willing to act, are the elected leadership on both sides of the political aisle.

Both Republicans and Democrats are willfully leaving children to die in their own classrooms to placate the NRA or not ruffle their base. They’ll shake their heads in frustration and blame mental illness but conveniently forget they just pulled the individual mandate for healthcare and last year passed legislation making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns. You will see moist eyes and hear weighted words as they call the Parkland school shooting an “act of evil.” But they do this to place it in the unpreventable abstract, to absolve them from action. The implication being, we mere mortals have no power against the devil, but, of course, we still must arm ourselves in hopes of being the “good guy with the gun” while we learn to “get small” in public gatherings. The Thoughts and Prayers Playbook is well worn and predictable. And it works.

It feels like we are powerless, but we’re not. Our leadership just refuses to use the power we give to them. And if they don’t use it wisely, we must take it back. The callousness of Republicans on this issue is astounding, but I’ve come to expect it. They care more about the right to compile a military-grade arsenal in the suburbs than they do about kids getting shot in their classroom. This isn’t even a debate. Close the book. That’s who they are. However, the Democratic leadership with all their bluster and condemnation, if they choose to, can stop or disrupt the machine. We saw them shut the government down twice this year and once since the Marshall County shooting (do they even remember Marshal County?). Do they not see regular mass burials of murdered school children worthy of the same dramatic action? If our leadership believed gun violence to be the national crisis they proclaim it to be, they should let no legislation pass, allow no program to get funded, no plane to leave the ground, no troops moved, not even a Social Security check to Grandma should get issued without a fight and a roadblock until leaders on both sides of the aisle come to the table and present meaningful legislation to help stop the carnage in our schools. We cannot wait for the smell of gunpowder to leave the air. In America, the air is never clear.

In 1999, the death of 12 kids at Columbine put the country in a month-long coma. But the 17 victims and their families in Parkland will probably be forgotten in a week. I’m performing my duty as a writer, and as a father, to speak out. Our leaders must do their duty to act in memory of the kids in Parkland, Aztec, Rancho Tehama, Rockford, San Bernadino, and every other shooting victim during their term of leadership they vowed to protect. They must  stop this raging insanity or face the consequences of inaction. It is not the writer, the farmer, the accountant, or teacher who must act now. The only people who can make real change are sitting in Washington and in the 50 statehouses across the country. The role of rest of us is to hold them accountable, so I’m calling on our elected leaders to act now, or get the hell out. If not, we’ll be coming for you November like our children’s lives are on the line, because they are.

Steve Howe is the Editor-in-Chief of Blue Mesa Review

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Steve Howe