Of all the hurtful things befalling kids in childhood — which we can no longer justifiably call “the age of innocence” — from a skinned knee to the sting of friendship drama, being terrorized or murdered by gunfire at school shouldn’t even be within the realm of possibility.
Yet here we are again. This time, the gun violence against our kids took place right here in Seattle.
There can be no such thing as unspoiled childhood innocence in a country where the leading cause of fatalities in youths is death by firearms. Firearm-related deaths among children and adolescents increased by almost 30 percent from 2019 to 2020. The massacre of 19 young lives at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year brought the number of children murdered in 2022 to a tally surpassing the number of law enforcement officers killed by gunfire in the line of duty.
Math is not everyone’s strong suit, but when we “do the numbers” related to gun violence in the United States, it becomes an even more loathed subject — and makes for a really poor report card.
The tallying of gun-related statistics goes beyond the victims when you consider the devastating radial trauma of school shootings on survivors, witnesses and crisis responders. The Washington Post has tabulated the number of students who have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine shootings (that was in 1999, folks) — the number has risen to more than 320,000 students in 340 U.S. schools.
As parents and citizens, these senseless tragedies leave us reeling. We wonder what to do with the fear, the hopelessness, the anger, the outrage that overwhelm us.
Living in constant fear keeps us anxiously alert; outrage and anger galvanize righteous action — these are uncomfortable, unbearable feelings, but not without value when it comes to being protectors who must respond to calamity and threats to our children. But after too many such tragedies, the overwhelming Pandora’s box feeling that should concern us most is the hopelessness part. Right now, hopelessness is the enemy, because hopelessness can breed a particularly soul-draining paralysis.
To paraphrase a sentiment from “Game of Thrones,” “There is only one thing we say to death: ‘Not today.’” How about, “Never again”?
So, here’s what we have to do, moms and dads. We’re going to confront these emotions, this immobilizing fear, head on — because the threat to our children’s lives is scary-real. We’re going to follow some really good advice from a fellow Seattle parent: We’re going to keep our minds in the present and make a to-do list that will help us take action to secure a safer future — it can be short, it can be simple (and we’ve made a list below from which you can cherry-pick ideas that work for you and your family). We will start with one thing today, because, as she explains, “The act of physically doing something — attending a meeting, writing a letter, hosting a prayer group — helps chip away at the fear that threatens to take root in [your] heart. Because even something small can add to the slowly growing avalanche of change.”
Doing so, she goes on to say, will make a surprisingly big change in your own feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
17 ways to take action against gun violence today
We grieve, we condemn the repetitive cycle of gun deaths in America. Don’t let these strong emotions immobilize you into hopeless inaction: Make the time to do your research, ask questions, connect with others, use your voice, use your money, demand answers, decry inaction, wield your power to vote, raise a damn ruckus. Start today. Now would be good.
Demand answers — Find out what your school is doing to keep your child safe at school. Attend PTA meetings, contact your school leadership and superintendent to voice your concerns and share your ideas.
Educate yourself about the current research and policies related to America’s gun violence history and current spiraling crisis.
Write to your elected representatives — Represent, represent! Our elected officials at local, state and U.S. levels represent us and we represent our children. This handy tip sheet from the ACLU will help you craft a letter that packs a no-apologies punch.
Stay in the know — While you’re there boning up on your letter-writing skills, sign up to receive action alerts to stay informed on issues you care about.
Donate to help end gun violence — Grassroots contributions to volunteer-driven orgs such as Moms Demand Action and Everytown fund the critical work of saving lives and creating a future free from gun violence. There are so many worthy organizations that can benefit from your financial support — here is a good starter list to consider.
Sign your name — Sandy Hook Promise maintains a list of current action petitions related to lifesaving gun legislation. Add your name to the MomsRising vow to hold elected leaders who are failing to protect our children accountable in future elections.
Spread the word — Start conversations about gun violence prevention and legislation efforts with friends and family. Learn how to debunk some of the gun lobby’s favorite talking points (*cough, myths*) for your next cocktail party friendly debate.
Gun legislation can only change if gun-responsible candidates are in office, so voting is vital! Sign up with Postcards to Voters to write and send reminder postcards to likely Democratic voters across the country, reminding them to get out there and vote, vote, vote! This is also a great way to involve family, friends and kids.
Encourage the teens in your life to register to vote. Some of the most effective gun responsibility advocates are teens.
Join and support an organization working to keep communities free of gun violence. A few rise to the top in Washington state, so acquaint yourself with their missions: Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, Washington CeaseFire, Washington State Firearm Tragedy Prevention Network.
Closer to home, join a parent-led, anti-gun-violence Facebook group in your school district, or hitch onto the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America FB group.
Go next-level and become an organizer in your community. Here’s where/how you can get started.
Make a school safety plan with your child — Work together to identify a trusted adult or two in your school community to whom your child can turn if they feel threatened at school. Make sure your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of a crisis during the school day.
If you are a gun owner, safeguard your children by using “triple safe” storage practices.
Check in with your kids — These are senseless, baffling, existentially terrifying realities, almost impossible to process as an adult. Remember that your little pitchers have big ears and are likely hearing about school shootings and gun violence from various sources. Here are some great suggestions for how to sensitively discuss such tragic events with your child.
Watch for the warning signs — These situations leave us all gutted by grief, and wondering, “How could this have been prevented?” Educate yourself about the signs that may indicate a teen you know could be suffering a mental health crisis.
Check in with yourself — Sitting with despairing emotions takes a heavy toll on your ability to cope effectively. Take the time to take care of yourself. A walk out in nature with your best little buddies will do wonders.
Hug your children with all your might. Our hearts are broken for families, students, teachers and communities gutted by this senseless violence.
Additional resources for taking action
Make your voice heard
Resources for parents
Editor’s note: This article was first published earlier this year and just updated in November 2022. May we never have to update it again.