PARIS — Two nights ago, there were sounds outside our apartment window that I was convinced were gunfire. It was 9 p.m., and my husband was 30 minutes late getting home. I sent a breathless text message right away, imagining him on the sidewalk with bullet holes through his chest. He was on the Metro.
Two hours ago, I received an email from the director at our boys' Franco-American school saying that Paris police had requested the school practice a mise en sécurité — a shelter exercise, or lockdown — in which the children would be asked to gather in the school's basement. She informed us that they would also be conducting another drill in which the students would be directed to get under their tables for five minutes, and that the school would be implementing a text-all system through WhatsApp.
This is the third year we've been at the school, we lived through the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but an email like that is an absolute first.
But when I spoke to my mom last night on the phone, the fear and violence was once again back on her side of the Atlantic. Watching reports of the 14 people killed in San Bernardino, I found myself thinking that the United States has become a consistently terrifying place, where gun violence has become so common and so deadly that it makes me question the wisdom of our eventual repatriation.
My kids, who are 6 and 8 years old, are over here crawling under desks in exercises to ensure a well-oiled protocol for a terror attack — which is plenty upsetting and scary — but I have no illusions that the United States is any kind of sanctuary. On the contrary, I wouldn't want my children in school there. The country has become a hotbed of violence and indiscriminate killing, and the evidence is arriving every day at morgues in cities large and small, on East Coast and West and points in between.
Gun control is no longer just the issue of know-it-all, turtleneck-clad bleeding hearts. I'm no knee-jerk liberal, or an elitist expat with an axe to grind against my country. I'm a proud patriot, my father had a carry permit, my brothers both have guns and hunt, I have voted Republican (though admittedly not lately), I hail from the American South.
No, I'm simply guided by facts.
We don't yet know whether the San Bernardino shooters were Islamic extremists, or whether they were just psychopaths who snapped (and happened to be Muslim). No matter what we learn about their motive, we would be statistically more likely to die on the wrong end of an assault weapon in the United States than here.
And time and again, the killers in the United States — the ones who have massacred children, cops, veterans and mothers — are overwhelmingly white and Christian.
Three weeks after what this city experienced, just blocks from my office, even I'm shocked to discover myself feeling this way. But, again, the facts: Between 2001 and 2013, 406,496 people died by firearms on U.S. soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same time period, the number of American citizens who were killed by terrorism, at home and abroad, was 3,380, according to the U.S. State Department. Yes, that includes 9/11.
Islamist terrorism is frightening, very real and something that has to be confronted. But innocent Americans are dying in massive numbers because of something else. It is largely allowed to happen in the name of some twisted interpretation of a Constitution that was written before assault rifles could even be imagined.
During a 1991 appearance on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger (who'd voted Republican himself) said that the Second Amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word "fraud," on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."
How many more bullet-riddled bodies is the United States willing to bury before it addresses the problem?
My boys ask me daily if what the bad guys did here on Nov. 13 is "over." All I can possibly muster is, "I hope so." I can't pretend that their young lives are unaffected by our violent world. But for now at least, I have no plans to expose them to the reality that San Bernardino represents.
*Indiana-born, Mississippi-raised, Liz Garrigan is a senior editor at Worldcrunch.