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“I cried … I was praying to God … I didn’t want to die … I want to live to be old like you.”

Guns and kids are tragically intertwined today in America. That shouldn’t be, but it is. From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Parkland and dozens more, we are haunted by the image of innocent young bodies brutally shattered and shredded by high-powered military weaponry.

We could talk about colleges, or churches, or places of entertainment, but public schools are where this epidemic of gun violence threatens the bodies and haunts the souls of our children and grandchildren. Even here in Montana.

These are “the times that torment children’s souls.” You need to listen to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbor kids. Shut out the cacophony of political argument to listen to the clear voices of the children whose message comes genuinely from their innocence.

Adult debates dwell on facts, figures, theories, abstractions. But, to our children, guns killing kids in schools is not an abstraction. That hit me like a lightning bolt just last week right here in Butte. Here, like elsewhere, school officials conduct school “lockdown” drills. It’s the responsible thing to do. To adults, that seems like an extension of “fire drills,” long a part of school life. But, with today’s communication, our children are well aware of why we need lockdown drills. And when the lockdown is real, those little kids feel sheer terror.

Last week, a young man paraded around the Butte hill “exercising his constitutional rights” — an assault rifle visibly strapped over his shoulder and a Second Amendment sign strapped to his back. He walked near several Butte grade schools, resulting in real lockdowns.

That wasn’t routine to the kids. One grade-school child told me they were locked down in a small room and instructed to protect themselves. Here are her exact chilling words: “I was really afraid. I cried the whole time. I was praying to God to not let me die. I didn’t want to die. I want to live to be old like you. I cried.”

Multiply by thousands and thousands of times the feelings of that single grade-school child to realize the immensity of the terror our children are feeling all across America. This is not acceptable.

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I have strong feelings about the political and policy issues surrounding the gun debate. But I have not previously written publicly about the National Rifle Association’s permanent tribal ritual of finding creative ways to defend the indefensible — the gun manufacturer lobby’s ritualistic advancement of diversionary tactics to avoid addressing the fear of weapons of war that daily confront our innocent children.

I was taught to shoot by my dad on a 22-short single-shot rifle. I learned to respect the Second Amendment and all the other amendments. Consider the 26th Amendment that ensures the right to vote to those 18 years of age. That amendment amplifies the voices of the young with votes of the young who are taking a stand against the atrocities of military-style gun violence on children in schools.

As we vote, Americans should focus on the fear of young students, on those words and thoughts: “I was really afraid. I cried the whole time. I was praying to God to not let me die. I didn’t want to die. I want to live to be old like you. I cried.”

That will be on the minds of hundreds of thousands who will descend on Washington on March 24, led by America’s schoolchildren. As America votes, it needs to be listening, first and foremost, to the children.

Evan Barrett, who lives in historic Uptown Butte, recently retired after 47 years at the top level of Montana economic development, government, politics and education. 


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