I was at home with my infant son, my first child, when the horror of the Columbine shooting unfolded on television in April 1999.
A little more than 20 years later, that son called me and spoke in a hushed tone from a locked office in a cupcake shop on Bathrow in Hot Springs, Ark., where he was hiding from gunfire.
As we spoke, police were giving the all-clear and he and his two friends, 20-year-olds from Germany, walked back onto the street. My son described in grisly detail the sight of a man, covered in blood, lying on a gurney being moved toward a waiting ambulance.
The man had been the subject of a call for help regarding a disorderly person with a gun in the popular tourist destination known for spa treatments and lazy lake living early on a Sunday afternoon in late July. When approached by a nearby officer, the man shot at police, sending the crowd in all directions, running for their lives. The suspect was gravely wounded by Hot Springs Police tasked with protecting the public.
My son said he and his friends, who just a few hours earlier had been sipping coffee at my kitchen table in Texarkana, Texas, had just gotten to Hot Springs when they entered the Fat Bottom Girl's Cupcake Shoppe for a snack. My son heard a loud bang, he said, before about six people ran into the store and a man warned, "That was a gun, get down."
A week after that, shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, rocked a nation divided by polar politics. There have been more mass shootings in 2019 than days, as of the El Paso and Dayton shootings.
And what about all the scenes of mass carnage between my son's infancy and transition into adulthood? Sandy Hook. Vegas. Orlando. Pittsburgh. And on, and on, and on.
My youngest child will start a new semester this month in a local public school. As I scan his school supply list I can't help but wonder if the day will come when required along with pencils, spiral notebooks and glue are bullet proof vests and armor-plated backpacks.
While shocking instances of mass violence grab headlines and dominate news cycles, there are every single day, in nearly every city in America, shootings and gun-play on the streets that we have accepted as commonplace. Guns are everywhere.
As the legal news reporter for this paper, I see crime scene photos on a tragically regular basis which show the result of gun proliferation. I hear the sobs of the victims' families as autopsy photos are flashed on a large screen for a jury. The unimaginable pain of loss mars their faces and hangs heavy in the air.
As a journalist, I try to give victims a voice but I know that in larger cities, that's just not possible. Shootings may get a soundbyte on the evening news and never be mentioned again because they happen all the time.
I pray and I cross my fingers hoping I will never be seated in a courtroom, looking at a photo of one of my own sons, no life left in his eyes and paper bags on his hands.
Whether the shootings are designed to kill indiscriminately, target a specific group or aimed at someone seen as an adversary in the moment, they steal the life of someone's child, someone's baby.
I don't have all the answers but I do know you don't need body armor and an assault rifle to hunt ducks and deer. Why do we need guns on our streets capable of killing dozens of people in less than a minute? We had a ban on those types of weapons in the past. Perhaps its time to bring that back.
I can't understand why my son needs a test and a license to drive a car but not to buy or own a gun. Both can be deadly and their misuse can kill innocent bystanders. Background check systems that do exist in some states are flawed and laws concerning gun sales contain loopholes that allow for circumvention of pre-purchase screenings.
Perhaps a uniform, nation-wide system and increased waiting periods would do a better job of halting the sale of firearms to people whose backgrounds include domestic violence, felony convictions or other indicators that give us pause. Red flag laws too may help curb suicides and emotional, in-the-moment gun violence.
I don't pretend to have all the answers and I don't believe stricter gun laws will prevent all future acts of gun violence. But I do know we have to try for our children. Even if we save just a few.
The Second Amendment is relied upon by those who believe laws restricting the types of guns a citizen can own and who can own them are unconstitutional. But is the right to bear arms superior to all other rights?
Do we have the right to expect our children will be safe from a surely-fatal round from a high-powered weapon while eating in a school cafeteria? Do we have the right to enjoy concerts, go shopping, worship and spend a Sunday afternoon walking down a busy street in a historic town without fear of being shot?
Whether you're a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a person of color, an immigrant, a native American, black, white, Mexican, Republican, Democrat, LGTBQ or other, we all share some things in common. We are all human beings. We are all someone's baby.
Gun control legislation. It's just common sense and it reminds me of something my mother used to annoy me with by saying: If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've already got.