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Weapons and armament seized on June 20, 2020, by Denver Police at a protest from boogaloo boy Chevy McGee and his friend. Courtesy 9news.

“Use your words,” we tell frustrated four-year-olds in preschool who have just hit the kid next to them over the head with a toy car or plastic dinosaur because the other kid took the sandbox shovel.  “Use your words and tell us what you’re so upset about.”

Over the past week, the nation has progressed from mass shootings at schools, movie theaters, and grocery stores to indiscriminate shootings by vigilante-type men with distorted views of the threat that children and youth represented to them. These men responded with hair-trigger reactions of violence, hate, and misplaced fear — using guns instead of words.

As of this morning four children — children! — have been shot in the U.S. this week — one killed — for simply making the kinds of mistakes that kids make. A 16-year-old Black teen went to the wrong address to pick up his twin younger siblings. A 20-year-old white young woman was a passenger in a car that turned up the wrong driveway and for that, she was killed. A six-year-old was shot after her ball rolled into the neighbor’s yard. A high school cheerleader in her cheer uniform was so tired after a long cheerleading competition practice that she opened the door of the wrong car in the parking lot of a grocery store. The driver shot her and a fellow cheerleader.

Just young people who made simple mistakes.

None of this happened in Colorado, but it impacts us just the same. This is what runaway gun sales and the stripping of common-sense gun laws does. It arms those whose judgment and worldview have been so skewed by a combination of a ravenous gun lobby and the non-stop dishing of fear and a “them against us” rhetoric from right-wing media masquerading as real news. So filled with misplaced fear and hatred, so many of them can no longer think straight — or at least honorably or morally.

Those so armed believe that they have not just the right, but the urgency to fire first, and never ask questions.  Questions like — who are you and what do you want? Can I help you find the address you’re looking for? Do you know you’re at the wrong car? Can I help you get your ball back?

As far as we know, the shooters didn’t utter any words. They asked no questions. They chose not to treat these children and youth as fellow human beings. Instead, their hair-trigger response to everything was and is a gun. The old saying applies: if you see every challenge as a nail – then you address everything with a hammer.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in a family of deer hunters. I know farmers and ranchers have to have firearms on them when checking their line fence and the herd. But carrying a rifle with you when there is the possibility that between predators, or cattle tangled up in barbed wire, or your horse stepping in a hole and breaking a leg, you’re going to need that rifle.

This is not the same. These kids were just doing what kids do – they get things wrong and they make mistakes. But they shouldn’t have to fear that their lives are at stake for ringing a doorbell, retrieving a ball, standing in a parking lot or sitting in the back seat of a car.

I am not anti-gun.  I am anti the narrative that you need to apply guns to any and all challenges in the course of daily life. In case readers haven’t noticed, gun violence is being normalized in America and it feels like it’s on purpose. Nowhere else in the world is there a culture where violence and guns appear to be so “worshipped and glorified” (religious alteration intentional) and it is killing our children.

In a book I wrote several years ago, I said:

“I believe that as a nation and as a world, we do not value our children. We say we do. We give lip service to that notion. But so much of what our families, our lives, our businesses, and our governments are about, does not do what our lips say. Activities and actions that do not take into account the long-term effect on the next generation take up so much of our time and attention. When we look beyond today, much of what we do as a nation does not take into account the impact on the next generation, let alone the generations that will follow them — if they get the chance.”

The children know. The youth are asking for sensible gun laws. They are using their words and voices.

The question is — when will adults put down their guns and listen?