‘Who Are the Bad Guys?’

Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It is once again time to try to explain to our children the world we have made. How do we do it? Maybe you have a script at this point — you’ve certainly had ample opportunities to craft one.

Here is mine if you’re interested. I’ve noticed that many kids are eager to make sense of the world by a process of sorting. What do bad guys look like? What are some signs by which we might identify them? The kids all want to know, “Are there a lot of them? Are they close to where we live?”

My children are 8 and 11, and they are very much at the age when “bad guys” make conceptual sense to them. This is something they share in common with the adults who belong to the gun rights movement. It’s part of my job as a parent to help them think beyond this. We don’t live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yesterday morning, I told them what happened in Uvalde, Texas, and about the 19 children who were killed there. They asked me who the bad guy was and why he did it, and I told them no one knew yet and that even when they found out, it still wouldn’t make sense. The kids were, unsurprisingly, unsatisfied with this answer.

There are places where I think it’s probably okay to encourage zero-sum hypervigilance on the part of children. Parking lots? Busy streets? These are minefields for people under five feet tall. Anything car-related, really, I’m willing to fearmonger about in order to keep my children safe, because their learned habits can actually protect them from harm. I’m fine with enforcing these “common sense” rules for the safety of children. Rampant gun violence doesn’t fit into this matrix. Active-shooter drills, we know for certain, are not helping.

I’m fine with my kids thinking of parking lots as danger zones, because they’re discrete areas and it costs us nothing to be alert as we move through them. But it is unacceptable to me that kids should move through the world worrying about bad guys with guns. If middle-aged idiots get off on that kind of thing, that’s their problem. Our kids will not live in that world.

Who the shooter is — he turned out to be an 18-year-old named Salvador Ramos — doesn’t really matter, I told my kids. There will always be miserable people with violent intentions, and it’s our job as decent citizens not to fear them but to hope they can be steered away from danger and violence. Most of the time, the people who undertake these barbaric acts look pretty ordinary.

They pressed on: So who is the bad guy? Here’s my answer: The bad guys are the ones who profit from the sale of firearms and the moral cowards who slobber and grovel over money from the gun lobby. Here are the bad guys: Senator Joe Manchin, who stands in the way of the vote on HR 8, which would require background checks on all gun sales; senators Mitt Romney, Richard Burr, Roy Blunt, and Thom Tillis who top the Brady Campaign’s list of most NRA-funded politicians — unrepentant villains, moral cowards, absolute cretinous trash. Gun cucks.

The gun rights movement and the politicians that enable its worldview wish to keep us locked in a fantasy in which constant lurking danger is repeatedly vanquished by heroic vigilance. They have created the conditions for a sick drama to slowly unfold in this country so that they can then rush in and pantomime heroism — or, at the very least, talk about how heroism could, theoretically, take place somewhere. The elected officials who are complicit in this disgraceful charade put their political careers, and the financial interests of their close associates, ahead of the safety of children.

Maybe the gun lovers are right: Maybe America is a Marvel movie. It’s just got the sides reversed. This is a form of villainy our kids can understand. Tell it to them straight.

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‘Who Are the Bad Guys?’