My children don’t remember 9/11. My youngest hadn’t been born; her siblings were 3 years old and 17 months old. They know what that date signifies, have seen the footage and visited the site, but they don’t know what it means. They cannot fathom the devastating cultural dislocation that occurred in those moments.

My children do not believe in the seemingly impossible. In a country where mass shootings have become routine, nothing seems impossible.

For them, the symbol of terror and terrorism is not Osama bin Laden, or even ISIS. For them, the symbol of terror and terrorism is a fellow American — almost always a man, almost always white — shooting a bunch of people he does not know. In a theater, a school, an office. At a mall, a concert, a restaurant, a festival, a Walmart.

Not a shock

These events do not shock them or wrench their belief about American culture. Mass shootings are part of what they know to be American culture. As is the fact that no one seems to care enough to do anything to prevent them.

Yes, many protest and march and write outraged think pieces like this one. But since the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, any attempt to prevent mass shootings, or even curtail their increasing frequency and deadliness, has been largely a matter of rhetoric.

For better and worse, the United States did plenty of things to prevent another 9/11. In addition to the military actions, agencies were established, a commission was formed, formal inquiries were made by the FBI and Congress, victim compensation acts were passed, additional security measures were taken at government buildings and, of course, airports.

After this weekend’s twin massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, most government officials responded with what many young people deride as “thoughts and prayers” tweets or equally familiar calls for increased gun control.

My children do not wonder what meaningful actions will be taken to address our country’s acceptance of mass shootings as a way of life. They wonder when it will be their turn to either run, duck or fall.

Not if. When.

I have spent years giving them advice about what to do when a shooter appears in their classroom/club/store/church, most of which involves being aware of, and never far from, the exits — and remembering that while you can get hurt jumping through a window to safety, it probably won’t kill you like a bullet will.

Advice that is probably useless.

I end virtually every day with the prayer that when the shooter comes, it is to the place I am, rather than where my children are.

Not afraid of bombs

It is to the credit of our government’s post-9/11 response that my children, who do not remember a time when you could take a full-sized tube of toothpaste on an airplane, are not afraid of bombs.

Instead, thanks in very great part to that same government, they are afraid of … I was about to write guns, but that is not true.

My kids are not afraid of “guns.” They are afraid of assault weapons.

You know, the ones that were banned until 2004. This is the part where lots of people say that mass shootings have increased 200% since the ban expired, and lots of people say that it’s not true.

This is the part where people start yelling about mental health.

And while we’re all doing that, someone somewhere is wondering when it would be a good idea to go to your local school/grocery store/library/amusement park and shoot as many people as he can before the police get to him. Not if. When.

— Mary McNamara writes for the Los Angeles Times.


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