Dear President Obama:
It's late afternoon and I have a busy day today, preparing for a job interview, getting dinner prepped before I pick up my son from child care. But I have been unable to focus because of the intense sadness I feel about the killings in Sandy Hook, Conn.
When I put my toddler to bed every night, I feel awe and wonder, and hope what every parent hopes -- that this bright being grows up well, that I and we all work harder to make the world we're giving him a safe place to live. My heart is heavy because I feel that we're failing this nation's kids and ourselves when it comes to protecting ourselves from gun violence. We've failed to do the most basic kinds of regulation that can keep us safe, like registering guns and having a national database of who owns them; like enforcing the laws we have and actually trying to craft laws that do work.
I know something about gun violence, about how quickly it can happen. Twenty two years ago, at the school a few blocks from where I live now, a girl I had thought of as my friend threatened a group of us on the playground. We were sixth-graders. It was recess. She got her backpack, she pulled out the gun, and she turned it on us. It was heavy silver. I remember its barrel.
We held still. The girl had been one of us -- perhaps this was a game. Then we saw her skinny sixth grade hands grip the gun. We all stood while she yelled at us, threatening to shoot. One of my friends slunk behind her and got a teacher. Somehow the girl was gotten, quickly, firmly off the play yard. I still remember her being taken away, being marched off the yard and out of our lives.
We left the field safely that day, and my friends have grown up, to have careers or children of our own. I am a lecturer in writing at UC Berkeley. My first book of poems is coming out this fall. One of my friends is a lawyer, another works in the wine industry, another writes cookbooks. We have gone on to have blessed, joyful lives.
All these years later, I still grieve for the girl who brought the gun. She wasn't a bad person, she was a kid like us, good at kickball, sometimes full of laughter, sometimes sassy. We both hated long division.
I still wonder what led her to feel that she needed to bring a gun to school and why she had access to such a gun in the first place. I wonder why that gun got into her hands. Without knowing anything about where she has ended up, I hope for her, even now. I pray that her life stabilized, that she has been spared violence, that she has been able to grow up well.
Yet the violence she brought to school is too close to each of us. In the weeks since Sandy Hook, a teenager was shot for his shoes a mile from where I live. I could tell you I live in a solidly middle class neighborhood, but that should not matter, at all. And it doesn't: Gun violence is shattering all of our communities, each of our lives.
Gun violence is so common that in many cities local shootings don"t even make the papers. How can we live in a country where the shooting of one teenager by another is commonplace? How can we tolerate becoming this nation? I can no longer tolerate it.
Unfortunately, I come from a generation that has watched this terror erupt our whole lives. The girl I mentioned turned her gun on me in 1988. The Stockton Massacre was in 1989, and kids were shot down on a play yard miles north of here. I walked off the field that day, but children in a town nearby me were not so lucky. They never went home. The teenager who was shot for his shoes in January only went home after days in the hospital.
I am now 35. My son is just learning to say "ball" and "orange." I am hurt to offer him this dangerous world. I know that as the president, you must be tired of mourning these young victims. You must be tired of going to funerals.
We must do better. We simply must. You have done challenging things as president, you have fought hard battles. And that is why you must keep fighting for us no matter what it takes. You must put aside politics and fear of obstruction and sheer nonsense of blatherers and lobbyists, and work for gun control. You must get these weapons out of the hands of kids. You must get a working assault-weapons ban passed. You must get the most dangerous weapons off the street, entirely. You must find ways to slow the tide of everyday violence. You must work to provide alternatives for communities that need them -- the impoverished, the mentally unstable. This is your last term as president, and I know you can put it all on the line for us, Mr. Obama. Make us safer. Make our children safer.
I'm interviewing tomorrow for a job I've worked for my whole life. You must know what it is like to feel that you have dared to dream big dreams and you have had the sheer good luck to realize some of them. By sheer luck or by the grace of God, I was able to walk off that field 24 years ago and lucky enough to grow. In a moment, I'll return to those individual hopes of mine. But I can't think of it until I finish this letter to you.
Mr. President, keep putting everything you've got into getting guns out of our schools and out of the lives of our children. Of the 23 richest nations in the world, we have 87 percent of the gun violence, and 87 percent of children killed by guns are killed here. This is absurd. We can do better, and we must. There is no other acceptable path.
Every child deserves to grow up to live their dream. I want you to know how much we want you to change the laws, and how hard we'll work to support you as you do. Don't let us down. You have the fervent prayers of parents everywhere behind you.
Come on, Barack. Yes we must. Yes we can.