Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Parenting In A Trigger Happy Country

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 (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

Sometimes, when my phone rings or I get a text during the school day, my heart stops for a minute.


At my first high school football game, four people were shot. My parents were horrified and scared. They tried to find a way for me to switch schools. I didn’t want to. I loved my school and I was proud of it, in spite of it’s tarnished reputation. My senior year, a former student was shot and killed at the entrance to our school.

My parents put our house up for sale soon after that.

You see, my school was in a rough neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood that saw violence and crime on a daily basis. As soon as they could afford it, my parents moved so my younger brother could go to a school without the threat of gun fire. They found a smaller town with less crime and a safe place to live.

That was in 1991.

Now, no one’s safe.

No neighborhood or town is immune to stray bullets or bullets aiming to kill.

Guns are in angry, itchy hands. Guns are stockpiled and guns are wielded over the slightest offense. And sometimes guns are in the hands of well meaning people who make mistakes.

Now, school shootings are common place.

As a parent, I’m not sure how to process that. Sometimes I’m scared to send my kids to school. I have fleeting thoughts as I’m saying good bye to them in the morning. This is a day just like any other day. I bet that’s what the parents at Sandy Hook thought. What are the odds that it would happen here, in our town? I bet that’s what the parents thought when their kids went to class at Umpqua Community College. 

I received a text last week. I was mindlessly doing something else and didn’t rush to check the message. But then I had a thought… what if it’s my daughter crouched in a hiding spot, texting me to tell me about a shooter? 

These thoughts pop into my head every now and then. How could they not? Since 2013 there have been more than 149 school shootings in America. My kids come home and tell me about Active Shooter Drills. My daughter tells me about trying to find the best hiding spot because it’s the one she’s supposed to use in the case of a real threat.

We are teaching our kids how to hide from an armed intruder in school. We refuse to take action, to have the hard conversations. We go about our days, sipping our lattes and shopping at Target. But we are ok with our kids practicing scenarios of death and carnage. We don’t demand that law makers finally do something, meanwhile a sick version of doomsday prepping has become a mainstay in our schools.

The method by which we safe guard ourselves and our children against the inevitable when guns are considered a right instead of a privilege? It’s no more than crossing our fingers, wishing on a star and pinky promises.

We are hoping that people will be responsible with their guns.

We are hoping they won’t pull out a gun in a fit of road rage.

We are hoping that they won’t fire on a shop-lifter in a crowded parking lot.

We are hoping that they will not leave them loaded and within arms reach of young children. Or anyone.

We are hoping that guns won’t end up in the hands of people with violent pasts and violent tendencies. We are living on a wing and a prayer that the people with guns actually know how to use them and when to use them.

We are basically using voodoo hocus pocus to keep our kids safe. To keep our country safe.

And it’s not working so well.

When I get the robo-call that my son’s school is on lockdown because a hunter wandered onto school grounds, I don’t feel safe. I feel terrified. Even after the police determine it was an honest mistake and not a threat, I’m still scared. What about the next hunter? Will he be careful? Will he make sure that when he aims his gun it’s not pointed in the direction of the school? I cross my fingers and hope.

When the people that own the land behind me target practice or hunt or walk right by our property line with big guns strapped to their back, I’m scared. Are they sane? Are they responsible? Are they making sure they aren’t aiming in the direction of my back yard? Is anyone who lives in their home suffering from delusions or severe anger? Are their guns kept under lock and key or fingerprint scanner? I have no way of knowing. When I hear gun shots ring out in rapid fire, I call my kids inside. And I say a little prayer.

When a neighbor gets held up at gun point down the street? My heart seizes up. My son and his friends had been on that very street within minutes of the robbery. They had been walking home to play video games. Should I not allow my high school age son to walk the streets of my neighborhood? Should I keep all my kids home out of fear and not let them ride their bikes or play in the woods behind my house? Should I try to wish away the problem?

No. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Common sense laws. Ones that require safety courses and universal background checks and close loopholes. These are some of the things that will help. Why is this so hard to swallow? Our kids hiding under a desk in fear is easier to consider? Kids being killed accidentally by siblings or in road rage incidents is preferable to legislation and enforcement?

We are not safe in our trigger happy country.

We have not created a safe environment. As parents and citizens, that’s our job. And we have failed. When you fail, you are supposed to change and adapt. You are supposed to fight your way back to a place that is beyond surviving. You are supposed to act, not cower with helplessness. You are supposed to do something beyond hoping and crossing your fingers or knocking on wood.

Our kids shouldn’t have to practice hiding from gunfire.

We shouldn’t be nervous when we send them to school. Or send them down the street. Or to a movie theatre or mall or anywhere.

We shouldn’t be complacent or repeat tired phrases and mantras that have been fed to us by wealthy men with big agendas that include making them money and have nothing to do with our best interests.

We shouldn’t be ok with the fact that death by gunfire has become common place.

When I send my kids off to school, or anywhere, I shouldn’t have to be afraid they’ll be next.


For more information on common sense gun laws and initiatives:





24 Responses

  1. So powerful, Gretchen. I don’t have kids yet, but I can’t even imagine feeling this way whenever I say goodbye to them. A good reminder for me as a Canadian and former American to check my privilege because shootings like this just don’t happen here.

    1. Thank you Carly. I try not to let these thoughts creep in too often. But then you hear of another shooting or states that are allowing concealed weapons on college campuses… it’s a scary world out there right now. I personally know some people who without a doubt should NOT own a gun.

  2. In this one regard I’m happy my kids are getting out of high school before what seems like the inevitable: our turn in the news. Of course, it is not like college campuses are safe, either.

    That said, my wife is a teacher–she and her students endured an unscheduled lockdown for over an hour last year, all of them crouched down and hiding in the dark, with no contact from the main office, which turned out to be the administration cooperating with police to bring in drug-sniffing dogs to inspect all the student’s lockers for contraband. The lockdown drill was just a convenient excuse to keep everyone out of the way, lest someone guilty sneak out and destroy evidence or get in the way.

    1. That is awful, keeping them under lockdown for an hour??? How scary! There is so much wrong with that, seems they could have done their drug search without traumatizing the teachers and students!

      And yeah, I don’t feel any more safe about college. I know some college professors who are very nervous about the trend towards conceal and carry on campus. It makes no sense at all. And I have nothing against guns in general. It’s the lack of common sense and the refusal to regulate that infuriates me…

  3. All of this. Seriously. We require more paperwork and testing to drive a car than to own a gun. And yes, I know there are more car owners than gun owners and car accidents, but still…knowing the laws and proving some level of responsibility is the point of it all.

    Yes, I am uber-liberal, and yes I grew up with loaded guns in the house (that I knew how to shoot, and pretty darn well too). But some types of guns don’t need to be in the hands of everyone. Sorry, they just don’t. I am Ok with those who have basic guns to hunt, defend, etc. but the more this argument goes on the more I can see why some think it has to be all or nothing at this point.

    I don’t think I am at the all/nothing point yet, but the arguments I see against it always bring up the Constiution…which makes me want to point out amendments have had to be added to allow rights to certain citizens over the years; it is not an imperfect document.

    We’ll never own a gun, because I have bad depression, as does M. I worry more about us doing harm to ourselves before anyone else…which is all the more reason why we probably shouldn’t be able to have access to just anything and everything.

    (disclaimer: I live in what can be described as a very pro-NRA state and our laws for ownership and registration tend to reflect that)

    1. Yes, I live in very pro-gun South. And I personally have no problem with guns. I let my son go to a shooting range with my StepDad. But you’re point about the DMV? That’s the insanity of it all! I mean, we regulate the sales of allergy medicine! I have to show an ID and can only buy so much Allegra D, but you can buy unlimited guns and ammo???

      There are too many stupid and angry people with guns. That’s a huge part of the problem. Just a few miles from my house was the case last week of the toddler who found the gun in the back seat and shot his Grandma. If you put a loaded gun in the backseat pocket, you should not be allowed to ever own a gun again. And you should be prosecuted for not securing it properly.

      And suicides by gun often get left out of the conversation. And that is tragic in itself.

  4. Yes, yes, yes, yes and a big fucking YES!!! I cannot believe the power the NRA has over us. It’s SO wrong! I can’t stand it and I have been engaging with the everytown organization to make sure I can do SOMETHING!!! Great post.

    1. The power of the NRA is scary. And honestly, it’s only gotten worse. Ever since Citizen’s United, all of the big money lobbying groups have more and more control over our politicians. I hate to go full on political, but campaign financing is the root of so much evil and it has such far reaching effects. I am hopeful that things are changing. That’s what I love about social media, groups like EveryTown have more of a voice now.

      1. Good point about campaign financing Gretchen. I’m 100% with you on that even though I wish your article had been a bit broader about gender-based assumptions in general. I’m male FYI; I really loved this person’s comment:

        “Reading Andy and Dan’s comments and then Gretchen’s is really interesting. This back and forth really seems to highlight the fact that we are seeing this as a competition. It’s the “who’s more victimized: men or women?” contest, but what these comments really reveal is that both groups are falling prey to the same oppressive cultural framework that tells men and women they must behave a certain way in order to be accepted by society. Men must (as Andy describes) affirm the macho mentality in the presence of some other men else they be alienated, and women are threatened and victimized by the same dogmatic culture. It is because of this cultural norm that men feel uncomfortable behaving contrary to the norm and women are made into sexual targets. Perhaps if we see that this is not women versus men, but enlightened women and men versus an outdated and oppressive cultural ideology, then we can begin to support each other in ending this sort of behavior together? Divided we fall, my friends.”

  5. Totally feel your pain. I have been involved in debates about this with people who believe in open carry and the idea that the “good guys” should be armed. My response is always that it is impossible for anybody to know that the guy or girl walking down the street with a gun is a good guy. In fact, the logical assumption to me is that a citizen walking around with a gun is a bad guy. For me, that assumption will never change.

  6. I don’t have children and I live in a very small community in Canada. I can’t imagine having to cope with that fear every time you send your kids into a building that should be a safe environment. I can only society changes for the better and I hope your heart doesn’t jump every time your phone rings.

  7. I wasn’t sure how to come at this subject, as you’ve done here, so I went in a totally different direction. Well done though. Great job of proving the point. I feel relatively safe here in Canada, but you never know. It is a scary world out there, even for this admittedly sheltered girl.

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this. One of the things I’ve discussed with some of my friends with kids is this very issue. I can’t imagine. I don’t even know what I’ll do when I have kids. I truly hope this issue is resolved by then. I fear enough for my own life on a daily basis. I can’t imagine fearing for the lives of my children.
    I hate that we talk about active shooter drills. I hate that when I’m on a college campus that’s what I think every time I enter a room – where are the exits/windows/hiding spots. It’s wretched and horrible and this culture of fear needs to be stopped.
    Thank you friend – these words are brilliant.

  9. Tihis was great, Gretchen. The active shooter drill imagery is very powerful to me since I have three grade school aged kids.

    We’re letting big money run the country at the expense of our children’s safety and that’s just goddamned criminal.

  10. Yes. This. Now. The lack of urgency may be the scariest thing about this…..geezus what do we need to get motivated about sensible gun laws? Well written Gretchen will check out the website.

  11. I have been reading these powerful posts demanding stronger gun control laws, and all I can think is, “Man I hope someone higher-up sees these and makes the necessary changes.” This affects all of us. I’m Canadian, but a little girl who danced at my daughter’s dance studio had moved to Sandy Hook weeks before she was killed in the shooting. So yeah. It affects all of us. Good on you for such a poignant post. Please let this be seen!

  12. Perfect words. Because are we really REALLY supposed to just keep our kids home? Are they supposed to not explore their worlds, or ride their bikes to a friends the way that we did? Are we supposed to just be OKAY with the fact that our kids come home and tell us where the best hiding places are at school, away from the danger? I remember tornado drills, growing up in Denver. I don’t want my son to grow up knowing the best place to hide. You did SUCH a great job with this.

  13. I venture to say our children face the same societal ills as the children before them have. The only difference is now there are tons of media outlets begging for the consumers attention. To negate this I suggest teaching your kids to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. An environment that shelters kids from such things in the present leaves them ingnorant in the future

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