Sunday, March 1, 2009

Toy Guns Not Child's Play

Brother to Brother Column

By John W. Fountain

My son Malik’s big brown eyes lit up as the woman, a distant relative, handed him a gift, still tightly packaged and glistening in the sun as children at our family reunion in Indianapolis, frolicked on a summer afternoon, their voices drifting on a breeze.

Malik tightly held the toy in his spidery fingers as she walked away. By the time we arrived most of the assortment of gifts annually given to children had been dispensed. My son’s face shone with glee. Mine twisted.

“Uh, I’m sorry Malik, but uh, you can’t have that.”

“Why not?” my son asked, staring up at me.

“Because…,” I said, “Because it’s a gun.”

“But it’s only a water gun, Daddy,” Malik responded, not loosening his grip. “What’s wrong with a water gun?”

“It’s a gun, Malik. You can’t have guns,” I said, though internally, I was at war: My angst over guns marked by my wife’s and my decision that our children should not have guns of any kind versus the innocence of a gift that only shoots water, given to a son to whom I would gladly give the world.

It is not as much opposition to guns as it is to gun violence, though some might say they are the same. As a former Chicago crime reporter, I have witnessed the toll of guns in the hands of young men with hair-trigger tempers and a moral void that enables them to kill and kill again.

I have witnessed a summer’s weekend carnage inside the Cook County coroner’s deepfreeze filled with cold, lifeless bodies of young black men wearing orange toe tags. I have stood at the edge of a pool of blood on a basketball court and looked into the aching eyes of mothers and fathers, written the public epitaphs of far more young victims of gun violence than I care to recollect.

Guns don’t shoot people—people do. I know, I know. But what I also came to know, growing up on the West Side, is that guns in the hands of young men who looked like me led to the premature demise of so many young men who looked like me. And as a man, I came to believe that unrestricted access to guns is one thing. But this is another: A culture of misogyny, self-hatred and the absence of moral lessons—chief among them, “Thou shalt not kill”—a culture that inevitably produces calloused young killers.

I am not anti-gun as much as I am pro-life—the lives of my son, and my daughter, and my neighbors’ sons and daughters. And our stance reflects a belief that no matter how much we as a people march, or call for stricter gun laws or more police—that unless we do something to change the culture, we can only expect more of the same. That our greatest threat is not the enemy from without but within. That ultimately we must heal ourselves.

We see our ban as one small step in raising a black boy who respects the sanctity of human life and grows up to be a black man.

Together, Malik and I walked over to a picnic table where I spotted the relative who had given him the gun.

“Something wrong?” she asked.

“Uh, yes,” I said, “It’s the gun. He can’t have a gun.”

I instructed Malik to hand it back. A few moments later, after rifling through a bag of leftover gifts, she emerged with a package of little lizards—perfect. Malik smiled.

Inside I still wondered whether I had done the right thing, until we returned home that evening and the television blared with news of more shootings, this time of three boys fatally shot while sitting in a car in Maywood. And I knew I had.

Living Water - Toy Gun - John W. Fountain

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