Opinions

OPINION: I’ve waited five years to feel safe enough to send my son to kindergarten

Pioneer Peak Elementary, Pioneer Peak Elementary School, msbsd, palmer

I grew up shooting guns. We had family safety classes and strict gun rules. I went on hunts. I practiced shooting a .22 and a .410 and pistols. There were guns under my mom and stepdad’s bed in my childhood home. They were propped against the wall next to the wood stove during caribou, sheep, moose and trapping seasons. There was always a case of bullet casings to be refilled on the kitchen table. There were rifles behind Carhartt shirts in the closet. Since my grandfather’s passing, my family is still parceling out guns that have been in my family for generations.

I understand guns and I dearly love people who have them -- in their trucks ready to hunt a spruce grouse at a moment’s notice. In their gun safes. In their homes.

I’ve also spent a lot of time away from my hometown of Palmer. I’ve traveled the Tube in London before and after the bombings on July 7, 2005. I dined in the Leopold Café and wandered through the Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai a few months before the bombing and hostage crisis. I regularly visit Belfast, where my husband grew up during the violence of the Troubles, including current periodic flashpoints.

And never have I felt more terrified to be in public and private spaces than in my own home country. I live two doors down from a home where a mother and two of her young children were shot and murdered in their beds.

My son starts kindergarten in August. You know what my top consideration is for choosing a school? It isn’t the kindness of his teachers or the diversity of his peers, it isn’t whether he’ll like the playground equipment or the gym teacher or what after school programs are available or their homework philosophy. It’s that the doors are always locked.

Gun violence is a public health emergency. Not a mental health one. Not a constitutional crisis. A public one that maims, terrorizes, and slaughters our hopes, loves, and flesh.

As much as I don’t want to lose the babies my body grew, stretched, bled, tore, enveloped and nourished, I also don’t want to lose my neighbors or my children’s friends or my college friend’s toddler or my nephew’s teacher or the kid we sometimes see at the park.

To live here, in this community that raised me, I feel like I have to gamble with my children’s lives.

I don’t want to be terrified to drop my son off at school in a few months. I don’t want to feel resigned that eventually the next mass shooting will take people I love.

To my gun-owning and supporting loved ones and community, step up. Assault weapons like AR-15s are weapons. They’re not tools. If I shot a moose with one, I would be ridiculed for unsportsmanlike hunting and charged with a firearms offense and for wanton waste of big-game meat, punishable by up to $10,000 and a year in jail. Assault weapons are designed to tear through flesh, human flesh. They’re designed to kill — people.

Want to experience shooting an assault weapon? Great, gun ranges would be an ideal place to rent one to try at the range. But keeping them in our homes? They’re only there for one purpose.

To our Alaska lawmakers: I want you to imagine my children’s shoes; scuffed, grass-stained, and saturated with glacial silt. I want you to imagine them at your front door. I want you to trip over them. I want you to curse. I want you to feel uncomfortable. I want you to feel the terror that snakes through my gut, crawls up my spine, and crushes my children to my chest.

And I want you to choose to shuffle, skip, and run in those small, so very small shoes.

Kenni Linden was born and raised in Palmer, where she is often found eating berries out of her backyard with her husband and two little mischief makers.

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