“I break Petunia’s spirit several times daily,” I remarked only half-jokingly to a couple of other moms at a 4-year-old’s birthday party over the weekend.

A friend had just recounted how she whispered gently, and guiltily, to her young son to stop — just stop — after he asked for the nth time if they had arrived at their destination. They were 50 minutes into a 16-hour road trip.

She looked at me with no small amount of horror when I in turn estimated roughly how many times each day I snap at my nearly 4-year-old daughter, which I realized out loud adds up to about 3.5 times hourly, give or take — and that’s just on non-road-trip days. But then she giggled because despite knowing that I was, in fact, not really exaggerating about how often I lose my temper, my heart clearly explodes with affection and adoration for my older daughter even more frequently.

It was that very same heart of mine on Friday that shattered into infinitesimal pieces for the family of another little girl following the spectacularly horrendous shootings in Aurora, Colo. in which 12 people were murdered and more than 50 others injured at the gun-wielding hands of a maniac. Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl.

As if the shootings weren’t ghastly enough, the gun crazies instantly scrambled out from the shadows to argue inanely that other people bearing weapons more evilly sophisticated and frighteningly deadly than the muskets that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was originally drafted to protect might have illogically made the movie-theater shootings less atrocious.

At the same time that the hazy facts about the Aurora, Colo. tragedy unfolded over the weekend, news outlets also reported on events related to another catastrophe farther east as Joe Paterno’s statue was removed from the Penn State campus.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, argued on the op-ed pages of The New York Times last week that letting the Paterno statue stand would mean we’re pointedly remembering the young boys who were sexually abused by a high-powered football coach while people in positions of power were aware but did nothing to stop it, thereby not allowing it to happen again.

But all the statue would have really done had it been allowed to stand is let us continue to idolize the seemingly kind face of a man famous — until nearly his death — solely for wanting the best for his boys. And what its presence would have helped us forget far too easily with the life-size image of his charmingly geeky glasses and triumphant pose are the much littler boys for whom no one with knowledge of the abuse was willing to stand up and stop the horror from happening to them.

Colorado, home to more ranchers and hunters than most other states, is the state that’s been my home for nearly nine years. I’ve never begrudged either lifestyle or livelihood. And yet I’ve never met anyone in either hobby or profession who needs a Smith & Wesson .223 with a drum magazine that holds as many as 100 rounds. Firing a shot at an elk or to scare off a mountain lion stalking livestock requires weaponry far less menacing.

How can any Second Amendment zealot with children say with a straight face and a pure heart that anyone else with a gun in that theater would have lessened the death toll in a crowded, dark box filled with poisonous gas and a bulletproof-vest-wearing madman and not added to it?

The Aurora, Colo. and Penn State cruelties were, to an extent, preventable save for the archaic beliefs of some that made them allowable. The life of a 6-year-old girl was taken entirely too soon allegedly because a neuroscience student legally got his dirty hands on an instrument of mass destruction. Young boys were raped of their childhood allegedly because some grown men were too ego-driven to let go of their pristine legacies.

Parents are smart folks. Our kids might irk us occasionally or often. But they’re not fooling us — as the alleged Aurora, Colo. gunman’s mother knew immediately. “You have the right person,” she replied when asked on the phone by a news crew if it was her son who was responsible for the tragedy. Our children get underfoot because they know and trust our love for them and feel instinctively that we will safeguard their lives, and their spirits, at every possible turn.

The shooter in Aurora, Colo. and the tight-lipped administrators at Penn State deserve the maximum punishments allowable. And they certainly don’t deserve statues, although perhaps their victims do.

In the end, whether through guns or silence, the Second Amendment extremists and the Penn State officials share in the blame for the young blood shed in Aurora, Colo., the irretrievably lost innocence in Happy Valley and all of the unnecessarily broken spirits along the way.

 

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