A 45,000 person problem.

How is it that we have a country-wide Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21, and we have a federal minimum age for sale of tobacco (Tobacco 21), but we don’t have anything analogous for purchasing guns?

Tobacco 21 doesn’t even have an exemption for military veterans age 18-20. You just can’t buy tobacco if you’re not 21. If we don’t consider 18 an advanced-enough age at which to buy your own liquor or tobacco, I’m stumped as to why we think 18 should be acceptable as a threshold for purchasing firearms, or why implementing an advanced age should be left to individual states.

Doesn’t the fact that we put alcohol, tobacco, and firearms under the same government agency tip the hand that similar treatment seems appropriate?

The ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) also regulates fireworks, but states and even municipalities seem to do a better job of restricting fireworks sales than they do of slowing inappropriate gun sales.

Many jurisdictions make a distinction between consumer or ground-level fireworks like sparklers, and display fireworks like the kind you gather to watch a professional set off. Anyone who’s travelled I-95 on the east coast passing by Pedro’s South of the Border knows that it’s easy enough to get around state-by-state restrictions if you’ve got wheels and enough gas. But at least there’s an attempt to put some reasonable guardrails up, resulting in fewer injuries and fatalities.

In Delaware, ground level fireworks like sparklers are legal for purchase only to those over 18 years of age and only between June 4 to July 4, and between December 1 to January 1, seasons where they’re typically used with innocent intentions. Many other types of fireworks can’t be sold at all, period. Its State Fire Marshall’s website offers, “Please leave fireworks in the hands of professionals”.

Could we expect that in the same jurisdiction they would restrict the purchase of firearms to hunting season? And instead of restricting only the purchase of semi-automatic or AR rifles to those over 21, could we expect it to restrict the sale of those types of products to general consumers entirely, as they do with bottle rockets and Roman candles? Nope.

But why not? I can’t find the answer in the statistics.

According to the American Safety and Health Institute, in 2019, an estimated 10,000 people went to emergency rooms for fireworks-related injuries. With that for context, consider that Pew Research Center found that the number of gun-related deaths – deaths – the following year was over 45,000. Of all murders in the U.S. in 2020, 79% involved a gun. Just over half of all suicides – over 24,000 – involved a gun.

Some will say that cars kill a lot of people, and that you don’t see anyone interfering in the purchase of those. True. But of the gun-related deaths in 2020, accidental deaths by firearm accounted for about 3% of those 45,000. The rest are deaths where guns were being used intentionally for murder and suicide. Unlike cars which are being used for transportation sometimes resulting in accidental deaths, guns are being used as killing machines.

To be transparent, I have generally found myself in the middle of the road when it comes to gun control. My godfather and grandfather were avid hunters, and I grew up believing responsible use, care, and storage of firearms didn’t pose a threat. I personally enjoyed shooting at gun ranges for a time as an adult in my 30s, and owned a gun when I did. Most of my concern was with assault weapons or semi-automatic rifles. But could my comfort with the accessibility of more mainstream weapons be undue?

Shouldn’t we expect restrictions to mirror the understanding of adult-decision-making capabilities demonstrated in those of alcohol and tobacco? I recognize that prohibiting the use of guns until the age of 21 would reshape the military and law enforcement, and could have other repercussions. So I would not necessarily expect to see that extensive a prohibition. But for those who have no demonstrable job-related need of a firearm, why would we not restrict purchasing power similarly to alcohol and tobacco?

In reading this post, and hearing me asking “why”, and “why not”, you may have been fuming, “It’s the gun lobby, idiot!”, or “It’s the NRA, you ignorant, uninformed [insert your favorite expletive]!” Well, I’m none of those things.

I think we’re still in this boat in these rough waters because we’ve allowed special interests to take the helm, and because many leaders lack the confidence and spines to make the trip without support of those special interests. And sure, Citizens United v. FEC didn’t do us any favors. But I think it’s helpful to ask whether we could get to any answers that made sense without seeing it through that lens.

I don’t think we can.

Take a look at Pew’s research in “What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S.” to understand just how badly we’re failing Americans by refusing to implement common sense measures that could save lives. These past weeks of May 2022 brought unspeakable heartbreak. We can’t think on it for long without wiping our eyes, grabbing for tissues, holding loved ones a little longer. And still, looking at the research suggests that the problem is even bigger.

It’s bigger than the stomach-turning mass shootings of defenseless children. It’s bigger than the people we have lost to heinous hate crimes. It’s not about whether people are acting in concert or as lone wolves.

The problem in 2020 was 45,000 people big. And for each of those 45,000 individuals, there were more who mourned their loss, and many who forever lost pieces of themselves alongside the obvious victims. Each year, the problem presented by easy access to guns unfolds all year long, not just when it’s big enough for the news to pick it up.

It’s a man-made problem, not a divine one. Let’s stop suggesting that thoughts and prayers alone are going to fix this.

Holding on to hugs and little hands.

I love seeing parents holding small children, guiding them across a parking lot with a hand on a shoulder or back, or holding a soft, tiny hand. My “boys”, while still teenagers, now look less like boys than men. As many moms warned, the years went quickly. Witnessing these families reminds me of the best everyday pleasures I used to experience with my own some years ago.

One of the best rituals was the greeting I’d get from my older son when I picked him up from daycare. He’d had a great time there, but would run from wherever he was in the room, arms wide to give a huge hug. He was so joyful, and his hugs so heartfelt. It was the best end to every work day. Even now, he gives the best hugs. Several months ago, he hugged me goodbye as I left for surgery. There was so much love and strength in it. You couldn’t mistake how he felt with a hug like that.

When he moved to elementary school, I found another favorite ritual, this time at the beginning of the day with my younger son. Taking him alone to daycare was one of the rare times in a day when I did not have both boys with me, and could focus entirely on one. Each day, as we held hands from car to building door to keep him safe, I would embrace how grateful I was to be holding that little hand. I knew that someday his hand would be bigger than mine. I felt honored to have this time to guide him. His hands are bigger than mine now, and he uses them to help me in all sorts of wonderful ways. But I will never forget how it felt to be there – for him and with him – in those early years.

When I talk to mothers who have small children, they say the days are so long. I remember that. They wonder if they’ll ever make it to the teenage years with their sanity intact. I remember that, too. It is true that the days are long, but the years are so short. My wish for all parents is that we appreciate the precious gems hidden in our everyday actions. Their comfort never goes away.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project (2009)

We put great efforts into holidays and big celebrations, as if those special days hold something more meaningful than others. Still, if I could go back in time to any day, I would pick an ordinary day. There would be no department store Santa or wee St. Patrick’s Day celebration, no graduation or birthday. It would be an Everyday.

Instead of sweat beading on my upper lip as I raced to get everyone ready, I would cherish picking out clothes for the day, and putting a sock gently on a tiny foot unlined by miles of walking and years of running. I would trace my finger along toes and smile at the tickled giggles. We would play with bath toys and bubbles until the water turned cold.

I wouldn’t be so worried about getting to work on time. The worrying never got me there quicker. I would be slow about breakfast, unconcerned with whether someone ate everything. I would cut apples sitting at the table with my children and hand them out as I sliced, instead of taking them out of packages and frantically plating them like a short-order cook. It would take the same amount of time, but we would experience it together. And my cellphone wouldn’t be on the table.

I would not pretend that I could work an 11-hour day during work hours, come home and take care of my family, and then return to checking emails and working for another few hours without giving up something. There’s actually not enough time in the day for that. I would make more informed choices. From experience I can say that my kids and my husband didn’t get the best of me, and neither did I.

When I started my own business in 2019, I realized that I lived my best life if I guarded against distractions equally in work and personal activities. We all won when I focused my time and spent less of it on work, not more. Clients got more value from me, I was far less stressed, and I was able to have a conversation with my kids when they came home from school. My quality of life soared. Better late than never, I guess!

We sacrifice so much in an effort to “get” time, and to “spend” it efficiently. The only way to get time is to pay attention to it in moments, instead of letting it slip away.

A mother and daughter laugh and enjoy each other in a tent made of sheets and twinkle lights

I want to support choice, but I love too much.

There was an underlying narrative in the first wave of the pandemic that the people hit hardest were those who had lived their lives as they wanted and made their own choices. Many victims were elderly. The narrative was that no one wanted to see them in pain or worse, but at least they’d led a long life and many were close to an end. Those who weren’t elderly often had co-morbidities. In some cases, the narrative went, these were brought on by choices to eat rich foods, not exercise, smoke, or otherwise enjoy the good life.

This wasn’t truly accurate, but it was a convenient sentiment that balanced support of personal choices, including the choice to remain unvaccinated. After all, weren’t they making what they believed to be a healthier choice for the long-term, based on their low-risk profile, or concern of complications from a less-than-ideally-tested vaccine? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to make that choice?

Now that Delta has arrived, that narrative is gone. In some states, over 99% of people over 64 years old are vaccinated, and those individuals aren’t dying. Children are getting sicker and dying. Some hospitals are stretched from helping adults who could have vaccinated but chose not to do it. Some hospitals are unable to continue giving non-COVID-related care to those who need it. Required – not elective – surgeries are being cancelled. There’s just not enough beds, rooms, or medical staff to accommodate everyone.

There are many people who don’t have a choice as to whether or not to vaccinate, including those with uncontrolled or unstable infections, and children. Children haven’t had a “long, rich” life. They did not make choices that increase their proclivity to contract or suffer from this illness.

To those who still choose not to vaccinate, I suggest thinking back to your child’s, godchild’s, niece’s, or nephew’s first grade school picture. See those big doe eyes and the little teeth in that smile. Someone who looks like that, and talks like that – who thinks like that and feels like that – is dying. They may be doing it amid a sea of strangers in a hospital hallway, without the comfort of even holding their mother’s hand, because hospital beds are filled with people who made a personal health choice.

This isn’t a personal health choice anymore. It’s a community health crisis. And it’s time to start caring beyond our own health profile. I wouldn’t support a friend who habitually drove drunk because they felt it was their right to take a chance that they’d get home safely or because they didn’t trust the Uber drivers. I wouldn’t do it because their actions put so many other innocent lives at risk. I would love them, but I wouldn’t support that choice. So now, at the risk of evoking the crackly voice of Sally Struthers talking about the price of a cup of coffee, I’ve got to say I feel it’s time to save the children. Get vaccinated.