This is how we live… and innocents die.

by Teri Carter, Kentucky Lantern
March 28, 2023

LAWRENCEBURG — About the same time a woman opened fire inside The Covenant School, a Christian elementary and preschool in Nashville, Tennessee, killing three nine-year-old children and three adults, I was sitting at a stoplight behind a blue Chevy truck with a bumper sticker that read, “No airbags. We die like real men.” 

That’s a new one. Mostly what I see around these parts are Trump 2024, Three Percenter logos — the one with the skull — and little stick figure families on the bottom corner of SUV windows, one of which depicts an AR-15 style gun for the dad, a rifle for the mom, and handguns for the kids.

A day earlier, I was at church for the 8:45 a.m. service. I go to “the gay church,” as locals who disapprove call it, because it remains the only church in Anderson County that not only supports but welcomes the LGBTQ community. All are welcome at our table, we say, and we mean it. This also makes us a target.

 I did not sit in my normal pew this week, which is close to the side door, as I’d been wandering around talking with folks before the service started. About ten minutes in, I heard someone open the big doors in the back vestibule and my head spun around. My first thought was not, I wonder who’s here; my first thought was, I should have sat by the side door. Because as our pastor reminds us, “If you ever see me start running down the center aisle, get down or get out.” 

This is how we live.

On the ground in Nashville, reporter Anita Wadhwani tweeted Monday at 1:16 p.m., “This is awful – I’m working while tuning into Channel 4, where the reporter standing outside Covenant School is describing how difficult this is for her to cover because she herself is a survivor of a school shooting in 8th grade.”

This is how we live.

In September 2021, a man named Richard Cook openly wore a 9mm Smith and Wesson on his belt to an Anderson County school board meeting. I was there. He was removed before the meeting started, put his gun in his vehicle in the parking lot, and returned for the meeting. Not long after this, our state senator began working to make our schools, when students are not present, gun-welcome zones. 

“Senate Bill 31, from Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, would also repeal gun-free zones at colleges and local government buildings but would allow K-12 schools to continue gun limitations if they display a sign at their entrances.” The bill did not become law (this time).

This is how we live.

I was walking my dogs in town when I ran into a friend who described how the men’s fellowship at his church was told to bring guns to a weekend outing. “They call it Shootin’ with the Savior,” he said. “I’m 70 years old! And I am not going to march into the woods with a Bible and a gun, and line up for target practice. It’s pure nonsense is what it is.” 

We had stopped to talk on the County Park trail. He belongs to one of the biggest churches here. And though he has been an active member in this church for decades, he was still unsure, post-Covid, whether he would go back. “Remember that church shooting they had down in Texas a few years back?” he said as we stepped aside for two women to pass. “It wasn’t two weeks ’til we had the whole church strung up with security cameras and men carrying guns inside and outside Sunday service. But the virus? The one that could actually kill me and my wife? Our pastor hardly mentions it.”

This is how we live.

In a story for The Washington Post last summer, after a gunman opened fire from a rooftop on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois., killing seven parade-goers and wounding more, I wrote that “the (now former) editor of our weekly newspaper regularly voices his full-throated support for guns. On June 14, 2022 he wrote, “Even in a nation so thoroughly divided by the 2nd Amendment, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t think schools need to be protected by trained professionals with guns and hardened as well as possible against intruders.”And “in the previous week’s newspaper, the same editor wrote that when we reelected our county attorney “in last month’s primary, there isn’t a question that his pro-gun campaign messaging had something to do with it.” 

This is how we live.

When I got home from church on Sunday, my husband had saved a recording of CBS Sunday Morning for me. There was a David Sedaris segment he wanted me to see. I watched the Sedaris commentary, but before I could turn it off, the TV screen flashed with “Gun Related Deaths 2023” at the top. 

Mass Shootings: 122. 

Children killed by guns (17 and under): 388. 

I keep thinking about the bumper sticker I saw around the same time as the Nashville shooting, pasted proudly on that blue Chevy truck, “No airbags. We die like real men.” From Newtown to Uvalde to Nashville, our kids are dying like real kids, gunned down, with their teachers, in their classrooms, with AR-15 style rifles. 

This is what we call living?

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kentucky Lantern maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jamie Lucke for questions: Follow Kentucky Lantern on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: AR-15-style rifles like the ones used in many recent mass murders come in many sizes and have many options, depending on the manufacturer. The part shown bottom center is the lower receiver without the receiver extension, rear takedown pin, and buttstock.