Features and Occasionals

A Defining Moment

By Amy Irvine

In this era of white, homegrown terrorism, it’s time to step into the fray—that messy, alchemical place where hard conversations happen and new levels of action are executed.

I am a mother and a teacher and I own guns. With them, I have hunted game for the dinner table, put down a wounded animal, and taken aim at two predatory men. It feels important to note that the men were white.

When I was a girl, while camping with my family in the Utah wilds, a man entered our friends’ nearby tent, and held a knife to the mother’s throat while her husband and three children begged for her life. My father rose from his sleeping bag, took his pistol out from underneath his pillow, and left our tent in his Duofold long johns. He went to the other tent and escorted the guy out of it. Then he sat up all night, by a stoked-up fire, and kept the man who circled, yelling expletives and threats, at bay. This man, too, was white.

Years later, my father, who at that point was out of a job, depressed and alcoholic, shot himself through the heart. It feels important to note that he used, of all his firearms, his grandmother’s hunting rifle.

So guns are a part of my life. I have been glad for them and I have been devastated by them. Meaning my relationship to guns is complicated.

But after all of the mass shootings in my country, two things are simple, and clear: 1) Certain guns should not get into certain hands. 2) For our kids and teachers, this transcends politics and money. For them, it’s a matter of physical and psychic safety.

And yet when I contacted my daughter’s school, a very white, and privileged school, to suggest that we help the kids get involved, if only to support other kids across the nation as they take a stand—a school administrator basically dodged the bullet (this painful pun, intended), by saying she didn’t want this “devolving into a face-off of irreconcilable opinions.”

I countered that this was a defining moment. In this new era of white, homegrown terrorism, the students have the chance to actually change the horrific version of the world that they are inheriting from us, and we must not retreat into our delusion that we are somehow separate from it all.

She then challenged me to find someone who could do her job better.

This happened in Colorado, where many of the nation’s mass shootings have occurred. This happened in an elite ski town, where there’s enough wealth, influence and imagination to change the world.

I’d gladly give up my firearms—though they’re not the kind used in mass shootings—if that’s part of the trade-off. Anything, to ensure as much as I can that my kid stays alive, and that she feels safe enough in school to stay focused on the joy and necessity of learning—our only real insurance against tyranny.

But her school, the community of us, must stand with all the other school communities—which means stepping into the fray—that messy, alchemical place where hard conversations happen and new levels of action are executed. It means we should not only write letters to our elected officials—these days, they hardly help anyway. This means we should participate in the National Walk-Out, and with fanfare. This means we should inform and empower both students and teachers to express the kind of outrage and defiance that Emma Gonzalez has dared to express. Our kids are facing a future in which an active and informed citizenry will matter far more than test scores and getting into good colleges. The students of Parkland, Florida get this—albeit at such a heartbreaking price. So now, must we.

Amy Irvine is a sixth-generation Utahn and award-winning author. She divides her time between Moab and a remote mesa in southwest Colorado.

This article was originally published on February 27, 2018.