Parenting and Gun Violence: A Conversation With Kate Kile
I was introduced to Kate Kile when she was interviewed by Rob Bell on The RobCast. Kate talked to Rob about her path to becoming a leader in Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that fights for gun sense, and I loved what she had to say. She’s a thoughtful, articulate, and passionate activist, and she was kind enough to chat with me about raising children at a time when gun violence is so pervasive throughout the country.
Hi, Kate! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk. It’s great to know people like you are working hard to try to prevent gun violence. As a new parent (my wife and I have a one-year-old), I’m already thinking about how the current state of things will affect the way we'll feel when we send our son to school in a few years. Based on what you’ve seen, do you feel like there’s enough momentum at this point to create long-term positive change?
Congrats to you on your growing family! I miss those chubby little 1 year old legs. :)
I do feel the momentum shifting in a huge way right now. Moms Demand Action was founded 5 years ago (December 2013) right after the Sandy Hook School Shooting. Groups started popping up state by state and city by city and now we have chapters in all 50 states. While I don't have a total group count now for the whole country, in Florida alone we have 31 local groups!
Our strategy shifted a few years ago from advocating for legislation at the federal level to the state level. This has been incredibly effective and we have been racking up legislative victories in statehouses across the country year after year. What feels really different in 2018 in particular is the student movement behind us demanding change. The Parkland shooting on Valentine's Day really shifted the ground and the national conversation.
How have you talked to your kids about gun violence? Is there any difference between what you think and what you say to them?
As they were growing up, I didn't find myself talking to my kids too much about gun violence as the events seemed very isolated and far from home. As they grew older and school shootings became more frequent I guess we started talking more about it but not in too much detail. It's important to remember their age, maturity and ability to absorb news like this.
I never wanted to create an environment of fear for my children about going to school, or church, or the movies, and while there is a terrifying randomness to where/when these mass shootings happen I certainly always try to avoid instilling fear in them. We might answer questions they came to us with when they would hear or see events on the news. (Our family still reads the local newspaper every day and I think this is a great way to talk to your kids about all sorts of topics and express your values and morals and talk through complicated issues - of course always remembering age appropriateness.)
There are lots of things I think about that I don't always express to my kids - I have a great support network that includes my spouse, friends, family and neighbors to talk with about my own fears and worries.
To what extent does your spirituality influence the work you do with Moms Demand Action?
Oh it's 100% my faith that started me down this path of activism. I have always been deeply disturbed by the violence in our society - particularly towards women and children and was never satisfied with the weak "thoughts and prayers" solution offered by politicians. James 2:14-17 hangs over my desk at work and pretty much sums it up for me:
My faith compels me to work HERE and NOW to bring about God's peace on earth. When I saw the direction our country turned after the 2016 election, I sat down and made a list of the things that troubled me and thought about where I could channel my energy and passion for action. Gun violence was the issue that troubled me the most so that was that! I researched, learned about issue (it's incredibly complex) and found an organization that I felt was most impactful.
I particularly like how rational and evidence-based Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are.
Do you think of gun violence as a spiritual issue?
I do in that I think gun violence occurs often when there is a major disconnect between people and God, love, energy, source - however you prefer to define the divine. We know that more than half of the lives lost everyday to gun violence are suicides.
We also know that domestic violence plays a large role and that women and children must be protected from dangerous abusers who have easy access to weapons in this country. Children and teenagers are dying every week when they unintentionally shoot themselves with loaded, unlocked weapons they find in homes and vehicles of their family, neighbors or caregivers. Stand your ground laws that originated in Florida and spread across the country, lead to increased homicide rates, particularly for minority victims.
Hatred, bigotry, fear, mental illness - all of these problems require creative solutions but what I believe is also necessary first and foremost is love and peace. Too many people are completely cutoff from that love and it leads to terrible outcomes for them and for the innocent victims caught up in senseless violence.
I’m a teacher and my school has done a really good job over the years of communicating with students and parents about shootings at other schools. We’ve provided resources and given students time and space to share their feelings. However, with all the shootings in the last year or so, I’m starting to get the sense that many of us—teachers, students, and parents—are accepting this as a new normal. Do you have any thoughts about how to avoid this line of thinking?
Yeah, this is a troubling new trend I see. Kindergarten classes singing songs to prepare them for lock-down situations, discussions about arming teachers, bullet-proof backpacks, turning our schools into fortresses - as if these are the only solutions available. I see this as a total moral failing on our part. It's like we sigh and say "oh well, you just can't end it so you might as well arm yourself against it." There's a total lack of creativity in this mindset and a ceding of power to the forces telling us (wrongly) that only guns will keep us safe. If that were true, we would be the safest country on earth! But instead, Americans are 25x more likely to be killed by a gun than in any other developed nation.
What is something readers can do right now to help?
If this is something you care a lot about and feel like we are heading in the wrong direction (more guns for more people in more places) than learn about the laws in the state where you live. Find out who your elected leaders are at the State level and National level and find out their policy positions. Speak out - often! Make phone calls, send emails. Demand change! Moms Demand Action is in every state - text the word READY to 644-33 to find the group closest to you. You don't have to re-create the wheel or do it alone, we will be there with you every step of the way. I love this tribe of fierce and determined men and women fighting to change the culture, conversation and laws around guns in the US.
Oh, an important note - you don't have to be a mom to join us! Or even a parent. All are welcome. And this isn't about political parties - it's about the common sense solutions (universal criminal background checks, disarming domestic abusers, waiting periods, red flag laws) that will reduce the number of people dying every day. (Currently estimated at 96. Every day.)
"I always like to remind myself that above all of the labels that describe me, I am a beloved child of God. But that describes everyone, so I'll try to be more specific! I've been married to my college sweetheart for 24 years and am a 47 year old mom of 3 amazing kids: 19 yrs, 14 yrs & 11 yrs (that's middle school, high school and university for those keeping score at home!) I am a lifelong Presbyterian who works in a downtown Episcopal Church in Tallahassee FL - a medium sized state capital city home to 3 universities. I've been all over the map spiritually, close to God and far away and after all of that, I've ended up right back where I started at the church of my childhood but I do enjoy all houses and style of worship.
In addition to my full-time work (Director of Finance & Stewardship) I am the local group leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America here in Tallahassee. We are a nationwide, non-partisan grassroots organization of volunteers working for common-sense solutions to the escalating problem of gun violence in our country."
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