OP-ED: 'Daddy, am I on the list of children to be shot?'
School shootings in America have become such a ghastly routine that reporting on them has turned a corner from “School shooting leaves (#) dead, adults do nothing to prevent future occurrences” to “Fewer dead in school shooting after kid sacrifices self to protect other kids.”
The recent shootings at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado are only the latest examples.
We adults have taught kids that we are not going to save them, and they are taking survival into their own hands. I fear this may be their best plan.
In March 2018, in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, a month earlier, my wife and I schlepped our four kids to the local “March for Our Lives” demonstration here in South Bend, Indiana. At the rally, one of the organizers read aloud a list of the names of those who had been killed in Parkland, together with those young people who had recently lost their lives to gun violence in our area. A somber silence settled on the crowd.
That night our then-6-year-old couldn’t get to sleep. “Daddy,” she asked, “is my name on that list?”
Puzzled, I tried to tease more from her: “What list, sweetheart?”
“The list of children to be shot.”
She had heard the names read aloud, but had not understood these children were already dead. We assured her that there was no such list, that she would be safe, and that we would protect her.
Still, the idea of a List of Children to be Shot haunts me.
As a scholar of ancient Judaism and Christianity, I can’t help calling to mind the old images of heavenly books with lists of those who will live and die. Although this is widespread in ancient apocalyptic literature, the most familiar example is found in the canonical Book of Revelation. There we find the recurrence of a “Book of Life” containing the names of the faithful.
The heavenly book contains the outcome of historical events, known in advance (“written from the foundation of the world”), and so assures the audience that, in spite of all appearances, events on earth are unfolding according to plan.
The List sounds to me like some perverse parody of the “Book of Life.” Rather than offering hope to a beleaguered minority in duress, as the invocation of a secret “Book of Life” was intended to do, the List conjures only a foreboding dread.
The ancient writers I study are not the only prophetic voices, however.
In 1970, in the aftermath of a decade that saw the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the historian Richard Hofstadter presciently remarked, “A nation that could not devise a system of gun control after its experiences of the 1960s, and at a moment of profound popular revulsion against guns, is not likely to get such a system in the calculable future. One must wonder how grave a domestic gun catastrophe would have to be in order to persuade us. How far must things go?”
The years since the 2012 shooting of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School have only underlined that haunting question. A recent study finds that in 2017, schoolchildren were far more likely to die from a firearm than police officers or active-duty military were likely to die in the line of duty. From 1999 to 2017, there were 38,942 gun-related fatalities among 5- to 18-year-olds.
I tried to comfort my daughter by assuring her there was no List. But as I send her off to school each morning, I have an uneasy sensation: Could her name be on such a list? Might she be next? I could wish that my dark suspicions were merely flights of apocalyptic imagination, a vision of some sinister angel writing children’s names in blood. In those terms, the List would be easier to dismiss. But it’s not curated by some fallen angel. It’s guarded, perpetuated, ensured and prolonged by a citizenry more concerned with private rights than public lives.
That our common history is unfolding according to The List of Children to be Shot is no cause for surprise; it is the awful, predictable consequence of our inaction, and we have only ourselves to blame. We are the sinister angels.
— David Lincicum is an associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.