“What’s my job?” I have asked my kids, 1,435,872 times by now.
“To keep me safe,” they have answered, each and every time.
From their perspective, at their ages, this is what I want them to believe. I want them to believe that their safety and security in this world is assured by the efforts and vigilance of me and their dad or another adult who is caring for them. I want them to develop a sense of trust in the invisible safety net around them, so they are free to grow and explore in the ways they should at their ages.
What they don’t know, and what is out of our control as parents, is that so much of their safety is left up to people they will never see or meet or even hear about. I am in control of whether their bath water is too hot and whether they are appropriately supervised in the tub, but I have to leave the cleanliness of that water up to others: the legislators who pass laws about levels of chemicals and bacteria in our water supply, the people who build the systems who monitor those levels, and the humans who read the data are all responsible for helping to keep my children safe as they practice blowing bubbles underwater in the tub and brush their teeth.
I am in control of choosing to feed my kids healthy foods, prepared and served appropriately according to age and ability. But I have to trust that the laws and regulations passed by the USDA and the FDA on down, and the workers who must abide by those laws, are ensuring that cleanliness standards are upheld and that dangerous shortcuts aren’t taken. Cooking things well and cutting them up small is only part of the safety net that I need to rely on at the dinner table.
You can go through your day with your kids and see this in a million different ways. I use car seats that are installed correctly and buckled correctly every time, that’s on me. But were the seats tested appropriately before being sold? Did the manufacturer take a shortcut and use a cheaper material than is allowed? I am a cautious driver and keep my car in good working order. But how can I be sure that other drivers are qualified to be on the road, and that unsafe vehicles are identified and fixed?
The answer is that I have trust in the systems that surround me. Are they perfect? No. That’s why I don’t eat unwashed fruit and why communities like Flint, Michigan have had to fight for clean drinking water for far too long. However, a generation ago we all had lead paint in our homes, BPA in our plastic, chlorofluorocarbons in our spray cans, loose to nonexistent drunk driving laws, and barely anyone wore a seat belt or had a child in a car seat past infancy. When we know better, we do better — and we force our legislators to take action to ensure that there are standards to adhere to in the interest of public health and safety.
Except for one, huge, glaring blind spot: guns. Yup, sorry to have let you get this far without making the point of this post clear. This is one area where our legislators have been failing us in their duty to keep our kids safe and for some reason the area where sometimes we as parents forget that this one is not all on us.
Yes, it is my job to ask about guns in the homes where my children visit and make our choices accordingly. Yes, it is my job to teach them to never, ever touch a gun if they see one, and to tell an adult immediately. But I can’t make sure that people who shouldn’t have guns can’t easily buy one. I can’t make sure that the background check system is functioning properly with timely information that is shared between states. I can’t make sure that every gun sale requires a background check, and that people in states with stricter laws can’t just go to a neighboring state with looser laws to buy one instead. I can’t do population-level research on the root causes of gun violence to inform new laws like the CDC should be allowed to do once again. I can’t impose regulations on gun manufacturers to enhance and add safety feature like we have with the automobile manufacturers and cars.
What I can do is support my state and federal legislators who are proposing legislation to make our children safer. Legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, for one. Legislation that enhances cooperation between states for background checks, for another. The myth that this fight is hopeless is just not true. Local action from groups like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has steadily made progress in these areas on a local, grassroots level. Polling shows that support for gun safety measures is at its highest ever, an overwhelming majority.
As parents, we have never just sat back and allowed drunk or distracted drivers to keep harming our kids. We have fought for cleaner and safer air and water for the world they will inherit from us. We have fought for schools and food labeling systems that are safe for our kids with food allergies. We have fought for modifications on toys and products that have proven to be a risk to our kids. This is no different. Keeping our kids safe from gun violence is not something any of us can do alone, and we shouldn’t have to.