Over the weekend, there was a tragedy involving a gun. Two tragedies, actually, further compounded by the fact that it seems we were just writing something to that effect just a few weekends ago. It’s a phrase we’re getting tired of and used to writing on Monday mornings.
This time, there were five victims total: Christie Sheats and her two daughters, and the 4-year-old son of Itiyanah Spruill, who was shot and killed by his brother, 5, who is himself a victim of this tragedy. Here’s what everyone is talking about in the cases of both Sheats and Spruill — how both mothers were outspoken gun advocates. There is talk about their Facebook posts, their tattoos.
Here’s what no one seems to be talking about — their children.
Sheats’ case is getting the most publicity, as a blond Texas mom who raised two blond Texas daughters — Madison, 17, and Taylor, 22 — and then shot them at a family dinner when an argument turned into a shoot-out on the street outside of their suburban Houston home.
Spruill, a New Jersey woman, did not have custody of her sons, 4- and 5-year-old-boys, when the older shot the younger with his mother’s handgun.
Sheats was fatally shot by a police officer on the scene, and Spruill has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child. A lot of internet ink has been devoted to talking about Sheats’ pro-gun Facebook posts and memes. More has been devoted to Spruill’s “Never Stand Down!” neck tattoo.
Very little has been spent on Madison, Taylor and the two little boys in this weekend’s incidents.
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Neither woman deserves to be the subject of less scrutiny, it’s true, but there’s something that’s more than a little stomach churning to the way that people latch on to these details. The knee-jerk “responsible gun owner” diatribes that online gun rights advocates always want to trot out. The gleeful sort of hand-rubbing and whispers of “karma” from people who would like to see more gun control.
That karma you’re loving so much? That’s three innocent young lives gone and one forever altered. That’s two young women and two boys barely out of training pants. That’s every single person who has ever loved them. That’s the cost.
There is a time and a place to talk about the toxic love affair people have with guns in this country. About how a constitutional right has morphed into an out-and-out fetish. About how easy it is to get guns and keep guns and shoot guns into children’s bodies.
But right after a tragedy like this one happens? When a bereft father was so traumatized by witnessing the murder of his daughters that he had to be hospitalized, and a little boy will live with the burden of knowing he took his brother’s life by accident? That’s the time to honor the victims of this violence. To remember three lives that were taken way too soon and the wreckage that violence has left in its wake.
We don’t know much about Taylor and Madison Sheats. We don’t know much about Spruill’s two boys. Three of them are minors, and all of them deserve privacy and dignity. But we don’t need to know their life stories to mourn them. We don’t need to know which aspirations they had that they’ll never realize to understand just how utterly fucked up that fact is alone. We just need to acknowledge it. We need to take the spotlight off of two women who acted in malice or apathy and ended their children’s lives directly or by proxy, give their children more than a passing thought and confront the hideousness of the weekend’s events.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that their mothers were gun advocates. We wish it did. We wish it was relevant enough to make a difference. But people aren’t dissecting Sheats’ Facebook posts or Spruill’s tattoo in order to make a change. They’re doing it because it’s entertainment. It’s an “I told you so” and a little sleight of hand. It’s a made-for-TV movie in which the children who lost their lives are little more than a plot point, and the media game of “how could this happen?” fallout is the petty, self-soothing denouement.
Next Monday, or the one after that, we’ll be writing up the next one.
Focusing on Sheats and Spruill right now only serves to pay a kind of homage to two selfish women. We should be building monuments to their children instead.
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