One May afternoon, my son Evio and I played with a red rubber ball in the public park at Russell Sage College. We kicked the ball toward one another over the spring green grass. At some point, I kicked the ball too hard and it rolled past him, stopping at the foot of the park’s war memorial. With his two-year-old trot, Evio chased the ball and, just before retrieving it, glanced up at the monument. High on a granite pedestal stood the bronze soldier, holding a rifle low across his hips. On our previous visits to this park, I had invited Evio to view, not this one, but the grounds’ other statue: a woman sitting in an armchair and holding a book. As I approached Evio, who was now staring at the statue, I regretted my careless kick.
When he noticed me behind him, Evio pointed up and asked exactly what I feared he might. He wanted to know what it was the man held. Real guns had remained invisible to Evio, made easy by living in an environment mostly free of unconcealed guns, war, and gang rivalry. We’d be exposed to a pistol only occasionally, holstered against the hip of a police officer. And in these instances, Evio would express interest in the officers’ hats or vehicles. He never seemed to notice the gun. Even though the statue’s rifle wasn’t real, I didn’t want to talk about guns with my child, not when he was so young, and not when I knew more than I would wish to share.
For eight years I had studied armed conflicts, gunrunning, and the prevalence of firearms after war. Even before starting this research, I felt outraged by armed violence as it obstructed peace and security for so many people across the world. As I gathered data over time, outrage settled into despondency. And then I became pregnant. When almost nine months into expecting Evio, my body could no longer carry the weight of both a growing baby and firearms research. As my attention shifted to mothering, I wished I could erase the many images that my research had imprinted on my mind, images that represented the opposite of love and nurture. Famished child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Mayan children coerced by army soldiers to watch the execution of their parents. And closer to home, numerous children caught in the cross fire of gang violence. I wanted to keep those images far away from the experiences of my child. Before giving birth, I boxed my books and data, and I said goodbye forever to the topic of guns.
Or so I thought. More… “I Would be Scared, Too”