I don’t want to know.

I don’t want to know his name and age and what type of house he grew up in. I want to hear about the victims. About the children we lost, what they loved to do and dreamed of being; the songs they danced to and shows they watched. The stories of the teachers who tried to protect them, why they started teaching and what kept them going.

Maya Haasz

I don’t want to know that he was bullied or sad, that this was “why” he went on a rampage. Most people with mental health issues are not violent and never harm anyone, and this mentality stigmatizes an already alienated population.

I want to know how we, as a country, allow such a thing to happen. How an 18-year-old can purchase an AR-15 days after his 18th birthday. How we so callously and repeatedly allow innocent lives to be lost in the pursuit of unfettered access to firearms. How those in Congress refuse to enact laws, such as universal background checks, that are supported by most Americans and would decrease the mounting death toll of firearm violence.

It did not happen here this time, but as Coloradans we are not strangers to gun violence or mass shootings. The most lethal mass shooting in our state was at Columbine, where 13 people were killed and another 24 injured. Since 1993, however, there have been 52 deaths and 125 injuries in nine mass shootings in our state, giving us the dubious distinction of ranking of 5th in the country for mass shooting deaths.

While these tend to garner broader media attention than suicides and homicides, they are only the tip of the iceberg, accounting for less than 1% of all firearm deaths both locally and nationally.

What about our children? Elizabeth Stone, a teacher and author, said that “making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”. These words precisely capture my feelings as a mother, that our children are vulnerable and that it is our job to protect them when we can. 

This week I hung on my daughter’s every knock-knock joke and on my son’s wild tales of space. I tried to ignore the intrusive thoughts felt by many parents across the country. The reality that other parents were planning their 10-year-old’s funerals in tiny, Superman-themed caskets. That other parents, unknowingly, had hugged their children for the last time before sending them to what was supposed to be their safe place.

The solution isn’t to further barricade them in, turning their schools into fortresses, or to arm their teachers. Yes, we need to improve security around schools. But to count on fences and armed guards while ignoring the root causes of firearm violence in our country is as preposterous as it is futile. After premature birth and congenital conditions, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents – bulletproof glass is not going to reverse this unspeakable trend.  

So what will? There is no single law that will put an end to all firearm deaths, but research shows that states with stronger firearm laws have fewer firearm deaths.

This isn’t about restricting access to guns for everyone. It is about waiting two or three more days to get your firearm so the next school shooter can’t get his. It is about giving authorities the ability to confiscate a firearm if a person is found to be at risk to himself or others. It is about ensuring that firearms in the home are kept in such a way that young children cannot access them, cannot accidentally shoot a sibling or friend.

We have made some of these changes on the state level, but there is still so much that can be done to safeguard our children in Colorado and on the national scene.

I don’t want to know more about the shooter. I want to know what we are going to do differently. It is most assuredly not time for empty “thoughts and prayers.” It is time we fill this empty space with demands and questions. Why hasn’t Congress moved reasonable gun-safety measures? How many more schoolchildren are they willing to sacrifice for an unrestricted freedom to bear arms?

No, it is past time for thoughts and prayers. It is time to demand, and to expect, more.

Maya Haasz lives in Denver.

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