Commentary: Why won’t we save our kids?

August 23, 2021 5:50 am
Children hold signs protesting gun violence

Children participate in a March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018, in Round Rock, Texas. (Scott Olson | Getty Images)

What wouldn’t we do for our kids?

It’s such an easy question that it’s a cliché. We’d do anything for them. Uproot ourselves, spend nearly every penny we have to give them a better shot at opportunity than we had ourselves. We’d take on an attacker, steal if we had to. We’d sacrifice our own lives if it came to that. 

If our kids were threatened, we’d do anything to save them, wouldn’t we? Then why aren’t we doing everything we can in the face of multiple threats to protect them right now?

I’m not just talking about the pandemic, although that’s a fine place to begin. As I write this, children around the country are becoming ill with COVID-19, a serious, often debilitating illness. Some are dying. We have the ability to prevent almost all of it, yet power-hungry politicians and others whose ambitions exceed their humanity are working hard to convince parents that available preventative measures are worse than the disease. Lies and misinformation about the efficacy of the slightly uncomfortable masks and the safety of the vaccine flow through communities and get twisted and misshapen along the way. In the end, our children are among those who needlessly pay the price of our societal refusal to cooperate with the facts. 

Even as we grapple with COVID, the public health crisis of gun violence continues. Eight years ago, 20 6- and 7-year-olds – as well as six adults – were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In response to this horrific event, federal lawmakers addressed our national scourge of gun violence by doing . . . nothing. Since then, more mass shootings have transpired with even greater death tolls, and America’s unique and terrible gun violence problem has continued unabated. Approximately 40,000 people are killed via firearms each year; over 1,300 of them children or teens. Today’s children grow up practicing lockdown and/or active shooter drills as early as kindergarten; parents have the option to purchase bulletproof backpacks for our kids.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Congress and state legislatures, in partnership with caring governors (some states have acted already), can enact measures to greatly reduce the bloodshed. Examples include universal background checks, brief waiting periods between purchase and delivery of a firearm, banning guns in schools as well as military-style assault weapons that have no legitimate civilian use, extreme risk protection orders, child-safety locks and other safe-storage measures, banning untraceable guns, etc. Contrary to what those on the side of the pro-gun manufacturers’ lobby will tell you, these measures do not violate the Second Amendment. That amendment is neither absolute nor superior to any other portion of the Constitution, and nothing bars anyone from protecting kids’ lives because of it.

Yet we continue to prize our guns over our children, and so our kids keep dying.

Then there’s the elephant in the room (if she can survive): the climate crisis.

We shouldn’t need a new warning like the one issued recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to tell us that we humans are rapidly baking the planet. The evidence is everywhere for anyone willing to see it. The floods, fires, droughts, heat waves, glacier melts, reef bleachings, superstorms, and more are just the beginning. 

According to the IPCC report, humans have already heated the planet by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Farenheit). Given our failure thus far to mitigate our actions, we’re locked into a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades even if we start now to drastically cut fossil fuel emissions. At that point, the climate effects we’re already experiencing will get much, much worse.

And if we don’t take drastic action? The warming will continue to 2, 3, or even 4 degrees Celsius. Imagine the effects of this destruction on human habitation: on coastal cities, forests, and farmland. Consider how many people will become climate refugees, how many borders will become unstable, how many resources will become scarce or unattainable. Consider how many places will simply become unlivable.

This is the world we will hand over to our children unless we take immediate, drastic action to cut fossil fuel emissions, which means a radical change to some aspects of our lifestyle. This is not a possibility, but a certainty. Their lives will not resemble ours; they will be much more difficult. Yet we refuse to take the steps required to save our kids’ world.

These are three real and grave threats to our children – the ones we’d do anything to save. And yet . . . it really doesn’t seem like we’re backing up that pledge with necessary actions.

Here’s the common denominator regarding these three threats: none of them – the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence, or the climate crisis – can be solved by individual action. Individuals have very important roles to play, but to really cut down the crises, collective action is called for. Masks and vaccines protect not only those wearing the masks and carrying immunity, but those around them who can’t avail themselves of those protections. Gun violence prevention measures keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them and ensure safety in use and traceability in case of a crime, thus protecting individuals as well as those in their community and the communities in which guns might be trafficked. And individuals can recycle, etc., but individual action alone will not make enough of a difference to stop the overheating of our planet.

This is why governments exist: to address problems that cannot be solved by individuals acting alone. Governments’ job is to keep communities safe, to amass resources and distribute them in response to large and/or complicated problems and to work with other governments when necessary to create structures and solve current and future problems. Individuals can’t build interstate highway systems, draw up treaties to end wars, or set up judicial systems to resolve conflicts. Governments must do these things. Yes, governments are flawed, and they get things wrong, but the same can be said of individuals and individuals lack governments’ resources and organizational capacity. To those who are saying that the government has no business mandating vaccines or masks, imposing firearm restrictions, or imposing environmental restrictions on businesses, I say that they are entirely missing the point. Governments are exactly how we solve massive collective action problems.

This, then, appears to be our limit in what we Americans will do to save our kids: We will not permit collective action through our government even when it will save our children’s lives. 

So when you say, “I’d do anything for my kids,” what do you really mean? Take another look at the crises we all face today, and tomorrow. Consider not only yourself, but the reality that your kids live in a larger society and are inheriting a world on fire. Ask yourself truthfully what type of actions these crises require not just today, for a single person, but really to conquer the problems. 

Make sure the answers you find are ones your kids can live with.

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Tracy Hahn-Burkett
Tracy Hahn-Burkett

Tracy Hahn-Burkett is a writer and public policy advocate. Her website is, and you can find her on Twitter at