Many of the first graders who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are sophomores at my son’s high school now. As a freshman, he is on a soccer team with some of them. Most afternoons, mastering their short passes and one-touch shots, they seem far past that day. Then casually, in conversation, a mother or father will mention a detail from their early childhoods—which elementary school they went to in town—and we’ll all quietly remember.
Nearly a decade on, standing by the soccer pitch, I am still hearing new stories from that day.
That’s the part I would not have the heart to tell the people of Uvalde, Texas, if I could be with them as they process their new reality: Gun violence has a long tail. There will be days when your town, your children, every part of this living you are doing, every corner of your imagination, will feel like it belongs only to the tragedy you experienced.
As I wrote that last sentence, I got a text from our school district here in Newtown, Connecticut: “Please read the email from the superintendent.” Once again, she has “sad news” to share, news I already knew, this time from Texas, this time eerily similar to our story here: so far, 19 children and two educators dead at an elementary school. In December 2012, a gunman walked into a place of learning and killed 20 children and six adults. Nearly 10 years later, nothing has changed to stop it from happening again. We’re back in the same place: children dead in the very building where they were sent to learn and grow.
The superintendent’s email warns us about the pain this will bring up for our community. She mentions counselors, and the “abundance of caution” that warrants “enhanced police presence” at school.
School. I take a breath at the thought of sending my son there. Then I remember that he is probably no less—and no more—safe walking into school today than he was yesterday. Everything changes when a shooting happens, and yet nothing ever truly changes. Gun violence is with us to stay because we allow it to be. Our leaders allow guns to enter the shared spaces of our everyday lives. This week a school, two weeks ago a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. Our answers—lockdown drills, bleed-control kits in classrooms and hallways, endless rounds of thoughts and prayers—show us only that we are willing to tolerate a level of gun violence unimaginable in much of the rest of the world. To the question of what it would take to actually change something, we refuse an answer.
We’ve heard from mourning mothers and fathers—my neighbors—imploring us to take a commonsense approach to regulating guns. Some of my neighbors have won a long, hard legal battle against a gun manufacturer, and stood up to the man who said Sandy Hook was a hoax, and who made their lives a living hell even after the worst had already happened.
I’m proud of every one of those victories. But they didn’t protect those people in Buffalo or those kids in Texas. And they won’t protect the people in the towns where this hasn’t happened yet.
The under-17 spring soccer league in Newtown has been training hard. Before news of the shooting reached us, in late-afternoon sunshine, they were lacing up their cleats, taking another lap or a last stretch. Imagine these kids, my son and his teammates—then pan out to the jazz-band noodlers, ceramicists at their wheels, gamers on Discord getting one more level in, kids headed to the pond to drop in a line. All the freedom of being young, all the beauty of small-town America. But beauty like that, every Newtown child knows, is all too easily shattered.
And that’s the second thing crushing me on behalf of the people of Uvalde: I wish I could tell them that they will be the last mourners, the last ones to suffer.
But they won’t, because our country has chosen to put even its youngest children at risk of death. And so Uvalde joins our list of towns.