The gun crisis in America is so severe that people would actually have a child elsewhere with solid gun regulations, just not here.
TW: this article contains descriptions of murder and gun violence.
On October 28, 2000, I was with a dear friend when we were held at gunpoint during a robbery. The assailant shot my friend point blank in the head, and she died in my arms. My life jumped off the rails as I went down a dark path, battling post-traumatic stress disorder that haunts me to this day. Every time there is news of a new bout of gun violence I am newly traumatized and remember that horrifying day like it was yesterday, not almost 18 years ago. And since there is a shooting virtually every day now, I am struggling daily to cope with the impact that gun violence has wrought upon my life, my friend’s family, and everyone who loves us.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting that took place just 13 miles from my home (and during which the daughter of my husband’s colleague was murdered), my husband and I were never more certain about our choice to not have children. Being a gun crime survivor, the trauma of surviving that event has never fully left me and one of the biggest side-effects was my decision to not have children because of America’s absurd obsession with guns.
I wondered if there were others out there who had similarly decided the gun threat in this country was too big a risk when it came to having their own children. It wasn’t hard to find a group of people who feel the same.
Donya Johnson is a flight attendant based out of Minnesota, and a lifelong childfree-by-choicer, who tells me, “Since gun violence has become the norm in public schools, it further validates my decision not to have children. Schools should be a safe-haven to learn and explore life, not a place to meet your maker.”
Wisconsin-based journalist Jennifer Billock made her decision to not have children far more recently, in just the past year. “I wanted kids,” Jennifer says. “But I don’t think I can happily bring a child into this world when guns are such a major issue… I’m a naturally anxious person, and the idea that I’d have to worry about sending my kid to school because they may or may not get shot is not something I think I could handle. I already have mini panic attacks when I’m going to the movies.”
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Her response particularly resonates with me as a gun crime survivor in the wake of the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Movies used to be one of my favorite past-times. Now, I have to be more cautious because the experience is too stressful to see everything I’d like. And I figure, if I’m frightened to go to the cinema because of gun violence, how could I bring a child into this world and expect myself—or them—to be okay?
Marcellus Lewis is an educator and composer in Colorado for whom gun violence isn’t the impetus, but has grown into the reason he will not have children in America. “I could imagine having children in certain other developed countries. So if I stay in the US for the rest of my life and end up never having children, I may feel as though I’ve missed out on something that could be wonderful…Having kids in a developed country where there are sensible gun laws is still a consideration for me.”
The gun crisis in America is so severe that people would actually have a child elsewhere with solid gun regulations, just not here. That notion is staggering.
Austin writer Neysa Joseph-Orr has suffered the ravages of gun violence since she was a child, losing many family members to its wake of carnage. From an early age she knew that guns would be a huge reason why she chose not to bring children into the world. “I was raised by a mother who knew we were going to die, some sooner rather than later. I have a lot of memories of her telling me how terrifying being a parent is, and now that I’m older I think I see why she did so much more clearly. She and her siblings had been brutalized, and the severity of their experiences were definitely amplified by the presence of guns. Needless to say, we are not gun owners now, my mother and I.” But in the meantime, Joseph-Orr has also survived a number of gun-related incidents threatening her own life that have caused severe emotional distress related to PTSD. This has only strengthened her resolve to remain childfree.
When asked how this decision makes them feel, the interviewees describe a wide range of emotions.
Lewis says, “A bit sad, a bit lonely, a bit resolute, a bit invigorated, a bit logical, a bit uncertain, a bit stable-minded…a bit of everything.”
Joseph-Orr tells me, “This decision makes me feel relieved and grateful that I was able to have the latitude and clarity to even make it in the first place. Also, it makes me scared of getting pregnant.”
Johnson’s take is more enthusiastic and positive when she says, “[I feel] just fine. I like my life. As a flight attendant, and single, I like being able to choose where in the world I want to go and just go. Or sleep in because I can. Or eat whatever I want for dinner.”
Reproductive choices are always going to be a key human rights issue, and especially now that we have a new supreme court justice who will likely overturn reproductive health access such as abortion. I can only imagine that gun control will only loosen further as the Trump regime’s various power grabs consolidate, with the financial backing of the NRA and its rabid supporters.
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While this has been suggested before, guns as a public health issue extends far beyond just Second Amendment rights. People’s lives are ending because of guns. Survivors’ lives are fragmenting because of guns. And this is such a big problem now that some are refusing to procreate because of potential future violence. Gun control now takes on a new role as an all-encompassing social, cultural, and reproductive justice issue.
All of the childfree-by-choice because of gun violence interviewees agreed that the world we live in appears to be systematically worsening. That trend continues with each terrible daily news cycle, and no end to it in sight.
When asked if sensible gun laws would change her mind Billock tells me, “Yes, definitely. But my idea of sensible gun laws is getting rid of all the guns. So I don’t know how possible that is.”
Lewis disagrees, “Probably not, simply because sensible gun laws, in my opinion, are not enough. There are too many regular citizens in the US with too many guns for reasons very deeply rooted in a place laws can’t reach.”
Joseph-Orr falls somewhere in the middle, “I doubt sensible gun legislation would alter my decision at this point. I’m 40 this year, and I don’t have any plans of reversing my stance on kids. However, I’d be a lot happier for my own health and well-being, as well as for the safety and futures of all of my friends’ children, and the futures of the country’s children as a whole. They don’t have to be my kids for me to care for and love them.”
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