by Kellen Squire
I woke up on early Wednesday afternoon, after a stretch of night shifts in the ER, grumbling. I’d gotten about three hours of sleep, having done an hour of making phone calls and paperwork when I got home at 8am.
I was wrestling with getting enough caffeine in me and stumbling bleary-eyed out the door when, unbeknownst to me, at a gun shop 1,150 miles away, an angry man was buying an AR-15 and ammunition, in a state where no background checks or training are required to openly carry firearms or for private sales
I was picking my oldest kiddo up from middle school when, unbeknownst to me, that same man went into a clinic hunting for a doctor, found the wrong one, killed her and her assistant, went looking for his doctor, killed a patient who was trying to hold the door closed to save others, found the doctor he was looking for, killed him, and then killed himself. Which was actually only one of several mass shootings playing out at exactly the same time, across the country.
A total of three hours elapsed. Three hours between when he purchased these weapons and killed five people, including himself.
When the first notifications scrolled across my cell phone, it was like ice dropping into the pit of my stomach. I haven’t been able to fully cope with the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde yet, and now this. Healthcare workers and patients joining elementary school kids and grocery store patrons in being hunted down and targeted with incredible ease, thanks to the effortless ability to purchase weapons of war.
Hospitals are safe spaces. They’re supposed to be; particularly the emergency department. Because when time is of the essence in saving someone’s life, we want to make sure everyone knows they can come to see us, that we’re here for them regardless of what else is going on.
This has already become uncomfortably close to being a reality in my job as it is. Just another thing to add to the pile – saving the country from an uncontrolled pandemic, keeping our community’s safety net intact, and being an easy, soft target for any patient with a grudge.
We have to worry about my kids being safe when they’re at school. We have to worry about being safe at work. My brothers and sisters of color have to be worried about being harassed and killed because of the color of their skin. But, as we’re told time and time again by the Republican Party, by the NRA, this is all the price we pay for “freedom”.
We have to constantly worry about our kid, our families, and ourselves being murdered in two of the safest places in our society, thanks to easy access to weapons of war that anyone can buy on a whim. Hell, you don’t even have to PAY for them – you can purchase an arsenal’s worth of guns and ammunition on nothing more than an IOU these days!
Tell me – what the hell kind of “freedom” is that?!
No, really. I want to know. I’ve heard for years and years that the price we pay for “freedom” is a classroom of elementary school students mowed down every once and awhile, that, golly, you know, we’d do something about it, but “freedom”, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I’m a gun owner. Hell, I know for a fact that I know more about guns and am a better marksman than most of the Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly building. And let me tell you, I don’t feel one pang of “freedom loss” at the thought that we literally do the bare minimum, as a society, to keep guns out of the hands of literally anyone who wants one at any time for any reason.
But let’s not kid ourselves. This isn’t about “freedom”. Quite the opposite. Just point out, for instance, that we’re quickly headed to a place where we eviscerate public schools because we’re chasing away talented educators and working families, who don’t feel safe or supported by our government, and you’ll quickly realize that’s not a bug in all of this – it’s a feature.
I think I speak for most of us here when I say that I feel the most free when I know that, to the greatest extent possible, my family is safe. That there is a well established and robust social safety net in case we fall. And that I can spend my excess free time worrying that my kids are growing up too damn fast – not worrying if they’ll grow up at all. Or if they’ll be the first generation in American history with a lower standing of living than we had. Or if they’ll even have a functioning democracy.
So you want to talk about freedom? Great! Let’s talk about the freedom of our kids to learn and grow in safety, the freedom that you can visit a doctor safely and privately, the freedom to be able to have your voice heard in Richmond or Washington. That. That is freedom.
And those are the stakes we need to lay out to the American people. We’ve let the Republicans screech “Freedom!!!” until their voices are hoarse – and look where that’s gotten us. We need to stand up, now, and make those delineations clear.
Or we may very soon have nothing left to stand up for.