What Do I Say To Her?

Talking to My Daughter About Mass Shootings and the Painful Reasons They Happen

Author’s Note: I wrote this in 2019. In light of yet another school shooting, this time in Michigan, just one of the 138 incidents, 28 of which have resulted in fatalities, we’ve had in 2021, I thought it a good idea to reissue this. Our country has become both inured to the horror of school shootings, all mass shootings in general, and resigned to the fact that nothing will change. Our political leaders have chosen the gun lobby over the lives of American citizens. They’ve been doing it for years and they show no signs of changing. It’s a sad reality, but as true today as it was in 2019. We all deserve better. Our country’s children should not have to lay down their lives to protect the rights of people who believe the Second Amendment gives them the right to own assault-style rifles that are manufactured for the sole purpose of killing large numbers of people in very short amounts of time.

“And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and do it gladly so.” 

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Earlier this year, to commemorate the first anniversary of their march on Washington, DC, the young people of March For Our Lives, the survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting, created a display for the Capitol grounds. It included a faceless student in a desk, the names of victims of mass shootings on signs made to resemble a cemetery and the words “Your Complacency Kills Us”.

2019 March For Our Lives display on the U.S. Capitol lawn. Photo taken by author.
2019 March For Our Lives display on the U.S. Capitol lawn. Photo taken by author.
2019 March For Our Lives display on the U.S. Capitol lawn. Photo taken by author.

I wanted to see it. I wanted my husband to see it. I struggled with whether I wanted our older daughter to see it (the younger one is too little to understand). Our big girl is smart, thoughtful and interested in everything. I knew that taking her to see this would be the start of a complicated conversation. Ultimately, we took the girls. It did spark a difficult, but necessary discussion. With our eight year old. About mass shootings and school shootings. What a depressing thought.

Today, we are all reeling after the third mass shooting in a week, two of them happening in less than 12 hours. Two white, single men with big guns and high capacity magazines, one in El Paso, TX and one in Dayton, OH, separated by distance but connected by anger, hatred and guns.

We spent the morning playing Legos, pasting happy smiles on our faces while my husband and I stole glances at our phones to read the news and whisper to one another. Whispering because we don’t know exactly what to tell our daughter about what has happened. Should we tell her at all? We want her to be aware, but also to protect her childhood, her innocence and to keep fear from taking over.

The author’s husband and daughters playing Legos.

As parents, we walk a fine line with our kids. They get older and more aware, but we still want to protect them. But how much? When does protection turn into overprotection?

The discussion would/will turn into the reasons why this keeps happening. It will evolve into a conversation about white supremacy, domestic terrorism, and xenophobia. It will be about our political leaders’ roles in stoking and inciting violence and their unwillingness to reform gun laws that allow these terrorists to obtain guns designed for nothing less than mass destruction. We will have to talk about hate and anger and mental health.

We have talked about most of those topics before. What other choice do we have? Actually, as a white, privileged family, we have way more choices about when these conversations take place than people of color have.

People of color have no choice but to have difficult conversations with their babies about racism and the wildly different expectations placed on them as compared to white kids of the same age. They have to make them understand their “otherness” in a way that I will probably never have to do with my kids. But, the irony is that, despite their perceived “otherness” by racists, people of color are NOT the ones committing these mass atrocities. These are angry white men.

But, man I wish I didn’t have to shatter her worldview, her innocence because of situations like this.

What do I say to her? What do we, as a society, say to our kids about all of this? How do we have the discussion without wanting to punch walls and use cuss words?