One Nation, Under Guns*

A couple of weeks after a gunman murdered 10 people in a grocery store near me, I threw on flip flops to pick a few things up at the grocery store. When I got there, all I could think was – why did I wear flip flops? I can’t run in these.

We are One Nation, Under Guns.

In restaurants, I always take the seat where I can have my back to the wall. I never sit with my back to the door.

Because we are One Nation, Under Guns.

In public places, I scan everyone. To see if they are carrying a gun. Especially at movie theaters. I once left a movie because a 20-something male entered, alone, with a large backpack.

I almost never honk my horn anymore. Not even when someone’s about to hit me. Not even if the person in front of me at the stoplight is so absorbed in their cell phone that they miss the green light. Because in our One Nation, Under Guns, 44 people are shot and killed or wounded every month in a road rage incident.

When I kiss my kids goodbye and send them off to school, I worry. My son is 10 and in 4th grade. Just like the kids at Uvalde, whose beds are now empty. Whose parents awake at night screaming, helpless, devastated. The nightmare they will never wake up from.

My friends are buying backpacks with bulletproof lining for their children.

We are One Nation, Under Guns.

In this country, before I send my kids to anyone’s home to hang out with their kids, I ask the parent if they have guns. If they do, I ask them if they are stored unloaded and locked separately from the ammunition. So many parents store guns in a shoebox under the bed. Or “hiding” in the closet. They claim their kids don’t know where they are. But the kids almost always do. They pull them out to show them to their friends. Because they look cool. And then, a child dies.

The truth is, One Nation, Under Guns.*

Guns are now the leading cause of death for children in this country. We teach our kids to hide under their desks, to be perfectly still, perfectly quiet. We do drills to practice hiding from an intruder. Because this is the price of freedom.

One Nation, Under Guns.

I don’t enjoy concerts any more, or large gatherings. I don’t feel safe. I used to love parties and clubs and concerts and losing myself in loud music on the dance floor. But then, Pulse. Las Vegas. And the random fights that break out every day in public places where someone brought a gun, because they made the decision that in the event of any conflict, they are willing to escalate that conflict to the ultimate end point: death. They made that decision for the rest of us, and the rest of us, if we are lucky, will live with it.

We are One Nation, Under Guns.

I go to protests and marches. I see angry men, openly carrying weapons that don’t belong on a city street in the hands of a civilian. I meet their eyes, trying to understand what could create a man who thinks this behavior is acceptable. They stare at me in hatred. Trying to scare me, put me in my place. Telling me in no uncertain terms that no death toll is too high, they love their guns more.

This isn’t freedom.

I’ve been ridiculed for my fear. By people who love their guns, who believe they are “protecting” their home and family. Yet – why is violence the only method of protection they are willing to provide? And while they’ve been conditioned to believe that a gun is required to fulfill their manly duty, the truth is that gun makes it 2X more likely that someone in their home will be murdered with the gun, and 3X more likely that someone in their home will use it to complete suicide.

One Nation. Under Guns.

Why shouldn’t I be scared? We have more mass shootings here than days each year. We are 26X more likely to be murdered by gun than we would be if we lived in any of our peer countries.

I bet those countries don’t consider us a “peer.” My French family and friends look at us with both confusion and horror. We are rich with money and resources. But we are not civilized.

110 people die by gun every day. Four years ago, when I began my volunteer work as a gun violence prevention advocate, our informational handouts said “96 deaths by gun each day.” I keep having to edit that number.

We are One Nation, Under Guns.

I watch as the rest of the world tightens gun laws in response to horrific mass shootings, domestic violence, and murders. I watch as these laws work. I watch in shame as they point to us as a cautionary tale.

I watch as our right-wing politicians block any and every meaningful legislation. Even the most basic – background checks. They point to everything but the guns and the loose gun laws: mental health, declining religion, Covid restrictions, non-traditional family structures, video games. Every country has these things, and at the same rates as we do. But only in America do we live like this and die like this. These same politicians point to “evil.” They claim it is not a “gun” problem, but a “sin” problem. I ask those politicians, who claim to love America and to be the only party of patriotism: Do you believe Americans are inherently more evil than people in any other country? Do you believe that we are more “sinful?”

I don’t. And I bet these “true patriots” will never claim that, either. So then, the obvious conclusion is to look at the only changing variable: The fucking guns.

Or perhaps we are more evil. How depraved is our society when we allow a man to murder an unarmed black teenager and walk away, and then auction the gun he used in the murder for $250,000?

They say: the answer is, we need more guns. More police officers with guns in our communities. More security officers with guns in our schools, churches, grocery stores. More “patriots” with guns patrolling our communities. It’s a dangerous world, so go out and buy a gun to protect your family. No one else is going to do it.

So more guns are sold. Gun laws are loosened. The gun crime rate skyrockets. The body count rises. And the people with pockets full of money from the gun industry say: We Need More Guns! “They” all have guns, and the only way you can protect yourself is by having a gun! Even more depraved: If you don’t have a gun, if you aren’t willing to buy into this arms race, if you don’t want to contribute to the danger and sickness that is our gun culture, clearly you have chosen to be a victim in waiting.

But we have no choice – we are at the mercy of whoever has decided to bring their guns into our shared spaces.

One Nation, Under Guns.

I ask this: When will we finally see this supposed guns-everywhere utopia? Where all these guns make us safe? We have 400,000,000 guns in this country. More guns than people. Will it be 500 million? A billion? When do we reach that magic number of guns where we stop dying at these rates?

Or maybe, we can look at the many, many examples around us – abroad and in states like Massachusetts. Gun. Laws. Work.

Areas where there are more guns and looser restrictions have more deaths by gun.

Areas with fewer guns, and those with tighter safety laws, have fewer deaths by gun.

This is not hard to understand.

I’m exhausted by the people who are determined to keep us as One Nation, Under Guns.

*credit to poet Amanda Gorman, who wrote, “The truth is, one nation, under guns”


Before we left for San Diego this summer, I completed my first triathlon. Apparently, that’s what you must do to assimilate in Boulder. Either that or grow dreadlocks and walk around barefoot, maybe topless. I chose triathlon.

Time magazine recently published a “Healthiest Places to Live” issue. Winner of Best Place for Keeping Fit: Boulder, CO. I’ve lived in some athletic cities, but this place tops them all. Seriously: the guy next to me at Starbucks, right now as I work on this post, he’s on some app working on his Activity Log and totalling his Calorie Count. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a cyclist. Trails around town are covered with runners and mountain bikers. Olympic and professional athletes abound.

I’ve always been active, and for a long time toyed with the idea of trying a triathlon. Now that I’m living in triathlon central, I thought: why not? Naive, perhaps, as I gave up running years ago because of back pain, I just bought my first bike that didn’t have a basket or streamers on it, and the only swimming I do tends to be a snorkeling trip every few years. But I’m not one to be deterred by details.

The biggest hurdle for me, as it is for most people, was the swim. I took lessons, got up at 5:00 a.m. twice a week to go to a pool workout, and when the Boulder Aquatic Masters began their open water swim sessions at the Boulder Reservoir, I showed up thinking – I so totally have this.

Then I spent the first few sessions dog paddling around the short course, completely panicked, assuring the lifeguards that no, I don’t need a boat ride back to the shore, I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much (I can be a stubborn beast when I want to be. Sometimes even when I don’t want to be. I just can’t help myself). Eventually, with much help from the talented BAM coaches, I overcame my fear and got to a place where I felt relaxed, confident even, in the swim.

After one of the open water swim sessions, I stood on the shore watching the 150 or so swimmers and feeling like, well, an idiot for signing up for a triathlon and more than mildly embarrassed at how awkward I was in the water. A triathlete friend came over to me and said, “Carol, this is no ordinary open water swim. This is BOULDER. There are pros out there, even Olympians, plus experienced athletes who win their age groups in the big races. Don’t compare yourself to them.” She then asked me, “Do you know who that is? The coach you were talking to?” One of the coaches – Jane – had been giving me great and very calming advice after the swim. “That’s Jane Scott. One of the best swim coaches in the country. Her brother is Dave Scott.”

Dave Scott, of Ironman fame. Recognized as one of the top two triathletes of all time. Lives in, you guessed it, Boulder.

I love living in a place like this, where active, healthy lifestyles are so embraced. Where people think getting up at 5:00 am to get a workout in is a healthy choice, not a sign I should start seeing a psychotherapist. In comparison, it’s one of the aspects of French culture that is difficult for me. Exposed breasts aren’t given a second thought, but wearing running shorts in Paris (for a woman, anyway) is treated as an affront to civilized society. Many French people I know think that exercising more than a couple days a week is tantamount to an obsessive compulsive disorder. Walking here and there is exercise enough. As for French women? They don’t sweat. They don’t do things that might make them sweat. Exercise? Why bother, when you could just avoid eating? My most vivid memory of my super skinny host mom when I stayed in France is of her sitting at the breakfast table stirring, stirring, stirring a coffee mug half filled with Nestle chocolate milk, never eating or drinking, only stirring and always a cigarette clenched between her lips.

Here’s a picture I took in Nice a few years ago of athletes checking in for the next day’s Ironman. Notice anything missing?

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Yep. Women! Females made up less than 10% of that triathlon, which is the typical rate for Ironman events in Europe (in the US it’s 25% for Ironman and 30% for 70.3 events). Most of them were not French. Of course French female athletes do exist. It’s just not the norm, and not something French girls aspire to.

In Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, he talks about his experience trying to find a gym to join in Paris during the mid-1990s. He finds a “New York-style” gym, presented as a gym that would “bring the rigorous, uncompromising spirit of the New York health club to Paris: its discipline, its toughness, its regimental quality.” he describes the sales pitch given by a chic young woman in a red track suit: “They had organized a special ‘high-intensity’ program in which, for the annual sum of about two thousand francs (four hundred dollars), you could make an inexorable New York-style commitment to your physique and visit the gym as often as once a week.” When the author suggests that he might want to come more often and explained that it’s not unknown for New Yorkers to go to the gym almost daily, the chic saleswoman is perplexed and comments that it must be a “wearing regimen.”

I love being active and fit. I love the achy tingle of muscles pushed to their limits. I love that my kids cheered me on during my triathlon, ringing cowbells and shouting, “Go, Mommy!” I love that my daughter, after watching me, said, “Can I do a triathlon with you next time?” One of the big reasons we (and many others) choose to live in Colorado was for the active lifestyle we could have here, and so the norm for our kids, as my husband put it, is, “A girl riding her bike rather than walking around in stillettos.”

My husband didn’t grow up playing sports or participating in athletics. While most US high schools have sports teams of some kind, sports and school are completely dissociated in France. Kids who want to play a sport must join a private team. My husband, for the most part, has embraced the active lifestyle we’ve found first in San Diego, and now here. He doesn’t love getting out of bed early to get his exercise in, but he buys the idea that daily exercise is important to health. He even started riding his bike to work in addition to working out in the gym.

We’re becoming true Boulderites, both of us. All of us, really, with our kids hiking, climbing on rocks, and playing outside whenever they can. It’s a beautiful life, we think.

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Rock climbing kiddos

Rock climbing kiddos