My son eats, sleeps, and drinks everything WWE.
He can name all current and past champions. He knows each wrestler's theme song, their finishing, and submission moves. If you want to hear the story behind each of Roman Reigns' tattoos, he'll tell you. If you don't want to hear the story behind each of Roman Reigns' tattoos, he'll still tell you. Not only did Randy Orton defeat Daniel Bryan--and survive three Suicide Dives--to win Hell in a Cell 2013, but Sean Michaels also guest-refereed the event!
At his age, I was a huge fan of the WWF, the promotion's previous incarnation. I watched Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Roddy Piper, The Missing Link, The Killer Bees, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo, Ted Dibiase, Junkyard Dog, and more perform at the Knight Center in Downtown Miami. After one match, Brutus Beefcake reached over me to shake the hand of an adoring fan and violently pulled him over the aisle.
My father used that as a teachable moment to inform me that professional wrestlers consumed steroids and other substances in the name of entertainment.
My teachable moment was slightly different, but wrestling was the common denominator.
My boys are 5 and 9, so we try to preserve their innocence, insulating them from the ugliness of humanity as much as we can. My older son knows about slavery, the Holocaust, Kim Jong Un, and Donald Trump. My 5-year-old knows that he gets consequences when he shoves toilet paper in his ass and unspools an entire roll by exiting his bathroom and parading his TP train around the house.
We don't discuss mass shootings with our 9-year-old unless he addresses them, which he hadn't until Las Vegas. My older son suffers from anxiety, and we didn't feel the need to A) tell him about the massacre and B) mention that Mom was flying there on business the very next morning and staying at the Mandalay Bay where the shooter perpetrated the act.
I was certain he'd come home a wreck, having learned about it at school. Instead, he walked in the door that afternoon happy and aloof, as he should have been.
Then he turned on the latest episode of WWE Monday Night RAW, which began with the entire roster standing together observing a moment of silence. My two immediate thoughts were 1) there's something comedically macabre about the 6'5'' Goldust, clad in his trademark sequins and black and gold face paint, bowing his head while remaining in character and 2) I had to explain mass shootings to my son.
"What happened?" He asked.
I led by assuring that Mom was safe.
I stuck to the basics: a bad man shot 500 people and killed 50.
"Why didn't anybody stop him?"
Nobody knew where he was.
"What happened to him?"
He shot himself.
"Did he die?"
"Why did he do it?"
Because he was a terrible person, and he was able to buy and own a lot of guns.
"Isn't that against the law?"
"Can Donald Trump make it illegal?"
No and nor would he if he could.
"Because he sucks?"
Yes, but these laws are made by many other politicians.
I gave a crash course on the makeup and function of Congress and state legislatures, and explained the power and influence of the gun lobby. I reinforced that we lived in a safe community where these incidents don't happen.
He grew bored and asked, "Can I just watch RAW?"
I was relieved and ashamed. I felt filthy framing it as an outlier when that was the furthest thing from the truth. I couldn't confront him with the unfathomable reality that on an average day 96 Americans are killed with guns, that one mass shooting occurs everyday, and that mass shootings are only one category of gun violence.
Another teachable moment awaited because of course it did.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglass shooting in Parkland was already the 18th school shooting of the year, and it was an incident large enough to garner another moment of silence at this week's Monday Night RAW. We didn't broach it with our son because it involved a school, and we didn't want to terrify him.
"Dad, what was the tragedy in Florida?"
"A school shooting where 17 students were killed", I said. "But your school it safe because these don't happen in our community," I promised knowing damn well I couldn't keep it.
"Okay," he said and un-paused.
While I and so many others lie to protect our children, Republican lawmakers lie to endanger them. They cynically claim time and again that shootings are inevitable, and that the problems are caused by everything else except guns, the very killing machines themselves. It's a cacophony of vile bullshit as ubiquitous as each mass shooting.
It's not a gun issue, but a mental health one, they say. Except Nikolas Cruz sought and received treatment at a mental health facility and still legally purchased an AR-15 with an abundance of ammunition. The Washington Post reports that there are now more guns than people in America. Meanwhile, 44 million American adults suffer from mental illness. Mental illness and gun violence are separate epidemics, and the only connection is that we make it easier for mentally ill people to legally buy firearms. 25% of adults in the United Kingdom have a form of mental illness, yet there have been exactly zero school shootings since 1996 because the UK banned handgun ownership following the Dunblane Massacre.
Following the Parkland shooting, President Trump tweeted, "We must tackle the difficult issue of mental health," but he rolled back legislation to make guns more accessible to Americans with mental illness. 70% of people with mental illness in Florida do not have access to treatment, 660,000 adults suffer from mental illness, ranking the state 49th in the nation for mental health programs.
Prioritizing mental health is clearly not in the state's purview.
The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is a gift-wrapped nonsensical talking point from Dana Loesch and the NRA. What does that even mean? That "good guys" armed with .223 SIG Sauer MCX's will possess the nerve, training, and wherewithal to neutralize an active shooter already engaged in a rampage? That multiple rifle-brandishing "good guys" won't confuse each other for the perpetrator, thus creating a greater bloodbath? That law enforcement arriving on the scene will easily discern "bad guy" killer from "good guy" white knight? That an already volatile situation won't devolve into worse chaos with more casualties?
Criminals will still find a way to obtain guns, they say, which is a convenient deflection because we've never had restrictive gun laws in place during the era of mass shootings. It's worth noting that states with the most gun laws have the fewest gun deaths, as reported by The National Journal.
Still, Republicans make gun violence easier every year by lessening restrictions via Executive Order and legislation. In addition to granting mentally ill people easier access to guns, Republicans have advocated for silencers and concealed carry reciprocity just in the last year. And Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Florida House of Representatives rejected a motion to simply hear a bill to ban assault weapons.
We want to protect the rights of gun owners, they say, which has always been the pretense for the most grotesque form of capitalism imaginable. The U.S. gun industry is worth $32 billion because gun transactions could not be any easier. Guns are sold at gun stores, pawn shops, gun shows, and privately among friends, relatives and neighbors, as well as online. The sobering data shows that:
- 98% of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a gun store
- In 33 states, private sellers are allowed to sell guns without performing any kind of background check — state or federal
- In Virginia you can buy a semi-automatic gun in 15 minutes
- It takes seven minutes to buy an AR-15 in Philadelphia
- Florida doesn't require fingerprints, a special permit, or even a waiting period to buy a gun
The preponderance of evidence proves that gun violence is a national health crisis, but Senator Marco Rubio, one of the largest beneficiaries of the NRA, responded to the shooting by invoking scripture in his tweets. I can't help but think of the lyric's to Pearl Jam's Worldwide Suicide:
It's the same every day
And the wave won't break
Tell you to pray while
The devil's on his shoulder
The malfeasance of the Marco Rubios, and the inability to move the needle on gun control after Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charelston, Orlando, and Las Vegas has disillusioned many, beating them into submitting to the normalization of 35,040 Americans killed by guns every year.
These kids, though.
I'm a cynic's cynic, but the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School--these fierce, beautiful warriors--are giving me hope like I've never felt before. Somehow in the throes of mind-boggling trauma and grief, they have mobilized. Barely able to process the most horrifying event of a thousand lifetimes and reckoning with the pulverization of their innocence, they beelined it to Tallahassee and D.C. to confront politicians and the President. The incredible Emma González, Delaney Tarr, Cameron Kasky, Alfonso Calderon and their fellow students faced down Rubio and Loesch, taking them to task last night on national T.V.
They're in it for the long haul, and they just might be the ones to effect change sooner than later.
Our kids will be safer, and my son can watch wrestling and worry only about the ridiculous story lines.
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