The debate in the US about gun control can be narrowed down to a single question: should a child's right to life be trumped by the right to own a gun?
Its 3 AM, in Karachi, Pakistan. I wake up to shadows dancing in the hallway. At first I giggle under my breath, thinking my cousins were up to no good again. I resolve to not let them scare me. Then I see a pair of eyes that reveal the stranger hidden under the cloth that cloaked my face. I heard my own scream crashing through me as the butt of the gun beat my face down into my pillow. A bed once scattered with playful thoughts became a battleground. I was not prepared to face this face.
It was a simple burglary and I never saw their faces. When I stared down the dark void of that gun, I heard nothing—there were no shots fired.
I am not Malala. I am scared of being shot.
I grew up in Pakistan but the Taliban never held me back. God was present in every discourse but God was not holding the helm. In Pakistan, I was never stopped from going to school I was not taught to hide when I heard gunshots. But I never heard gunshots at school.
The children in Parkland, Florida heard shots, and saw their classmates die. They were hunted by those shots. My soul shivers to think of the frantic fear of that hunt and that senseless void, banging with terror.
Young children are mercilessly slaughtered in the US. Members of this community want individual responsibility over communal action. We are meant to be awed by the reductive slogan that "guns don’t kill people, people kill people".
We want God to correct our mistakes and we believe God's existence in the curriculum would magically bestow love and courage to all. Concepts like “God” or even of “Good,” don’t do good, people do good. But we, the people, do nothing.
We do nothing because we choose not to see what is happening as a problem bigger than an individual act.
In the US we’ve had 18 school shooting incidents since January. Terror is here, in our lives. We are quick to see it in Malala’s fight for freedom but not our own. Our children are fighting the same terror and as long as they are doing this, they are not free.
There are not enough guns in the world that would make them free of this terror. I am not afraid of guns. I understand that people kill people. Guns are inanimate objects that do not make ethical choices.
I also know that symbols are real and memories are real. Humans create and enact symbols. Our communal memory of the history of these symbols gives us our identity. It also gives us the illusion that these symbols are real beyond repair, that they are not malleable. Habits leave this stubborn stain on our thoughts and we no longer remember that we choose these symbols and that choice gives them power. Guns are a symbol and they are a part of the American identity.
It is time we revised this symbol and remember the terror that our communities have suffered because we cannot separate the idea of freedom from guns. It is when symbols stagnate in their evolution and do not keep up with recent memory, that they become dogmatic emblems that oppress in the name of an identity that in itself has stopped growing.
We need to take a step back. Look at what this commitment to arms has done. What can we change? Sure, we can teach people to value God. Let’s do that. We can teach them compassion and love. Let’s do that. We can also make it difficult for them to inflict pain on others. Why not do that?
It’s true that someone bent on causing harm will cause harm somehow. But, shouldn’t we at least make it harder for them to do?
We lock our doors even though we know that someone bent on burglarising our home will find a way to break in. What we are allowing, when allowing ready access to guns is worse than leaving our doors unlocked—it is akin to giving the masked evil a key to enter freely.
We can stop giving out this key in the name of freedom. Instead, we stall. Reeling from the horror we have allowed to happen.
We think we are better than those who have allowed the Taliban to take over their God. We are not. We do not have the Taliban dictating our violence, our terror has a different face. Our evil is much more intimate and unfathomable. It is our own children. There is no philosophy or cult at work. Yet, we are made inept all the same. We are unable to face our ineptitude. We hide in old symbols; we need new ones.
The children, they know better. They are speaking up in Florida and across the country, we are now fighting against their voice for their own freedom. We are essentially, holding down our own children and choosing to give power to a symbol. It is time for us to see clearly what we are choosing. Time to find a better symbol for freedom. The faces of hope and meaning our children bring, perhaps, can replace this sordid, rusty, tool.
We wave instead, the red, white and blue, and beat our chests calling for war. War against arming terrorists, war against “illegal” immigrants, war against shooting, killing fetuses.
Why not war against access to guns? Why is my child’s right to life trumped by a person’s right to carry a gun? It seems, the right to bear arms is for the young and free, but the right to sleep free of terrors, is not on the cards for them.
I am older now but I still go to school. I teach and am taught many lessons in turn. My children go to school with their disarming smiles and their precious faith in what is unimaginable to you or me.
They are not Malala. And they shouldn't have to be.
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