When I was a kid I loved everything about going to elk camp—the campfires, the crisp mornings, the star-blanketed night skies. Usually I was the only kid, and my mom was often the only woman along with my father and his friends.
One of my earliest memories is from elk camp. I remember in vivid fragments, a child’s view. On a hill. Yellow aspens, the burn of their leaves, their rustling talk. All of us quiet, watching, waiting, listening, hoping. And then we see her—a cow elk below us and far away. A hushed thrill races through us. The adults raise their rifles. I hold my breath and cover my ears.
One by one the men take aim and shoot and miss. The elk is running now. She’s almost gone. My mother squints through the sight on her rifle. My ears are still covered. She pulls the trigger.
The elk falls silently. Maybe we are all holding our breath.
The men congratulate my mom, rubbing their necks and tucking their chins. And then we hiked down to the still warm animal, I watch my mother field dress it. She’s never done this before. My dad tells her where to place the knife and how to cut. He shows me the heart, the lungs, the liver. I am fascinated. My mother does every single step herself. I’ve never been so proud of anyone. This is my mother. She can do anything. The elk feeds us all winter.
I am no longer a child. We no longer go to elk camp. But that memory of my mother sticks and sparkles. I’m a biologist, maybe because of that still-warm anatomy lesson. I’m a mother, who has lost a child. I’m the mother of two still-living children. We are environmentalists. We are progressives. We are gun owners. My children know how to safely handle and shoot a gun. We own a safe. They do not know the combination.
This Friday, on June 2nd, I will wear orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
I will wear orange because over 20,000 Americans commit suicide with guns every year.
I will wear orange because dozens of American toddlers find guns and kill people with them every year.
I will wear orange because hundreds of thousands of women are threatened, injured and killed by husbands, fathers, boyfriends, and sons with guns.
I will wear orange because I am a grieving mother and I know the pain of the parents whose children have died from gun violence.
I will wear orange because the gun industry puts profits far above people.
I will wear orange because the NRA has blocked the collection of data on gun violence.
I will wear orange because no moral society allows the fear and greed of some to result in the death of so many.
I will wear orange because we expect proficiency and safety from drivers, from food handlers, from the operators of heavy machinery, and from members of the military but not from a person who owns a gun.
I will wear orange because gun homicides in the US are six times higher than in any other Western country.
I will wear orange because honoring the Second Amendment does not mean that you have a right to amass a personal arsenal capable of mass destruction.
I will wear orange because there is a not a single piece of proposed gun safety legislation that would prevent you from taking your daughter to elk camp and teaching her to hunt.
I will wear orange.