Maria Hanrahan helps a group from Hawaii attach index cards to a fence outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

At 37, I’ve been a journalist more than half my life.

While my work has followed a wide array of topics — from flying cars to a Ginger Baker documentary — I typically shy away from the controversial, instead writing pieces that focus on life’s upbeat or atypical aspects.

Since I had my daughter, Juniper, nearly 2½ years ago, my tendency to “play it safe” grew.

There was always a reason.

During the Women’s March in January 2017, I was frantically weaning Juniper two months later than expected — while moving for the second time in less than two years. When debate raged last summer over Confederate monuments, I opted not to pitch a story idea — in which I’d photograph daily happenings at Confederate statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue — thinking I’d put myself, now a mom, at unnecessary risk.

Family came first.

Yet something changed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Hearing the news, I sighed sadly. The worst part? No shock. Normality.

Instead of horror, my reaction resembled “oh, that’s terrible” — how people feel after learning of sad events that don’t affect their lives.

My mundane response frightened me, for this does impact my life, affecting one of the most important people in it. Now in preschool, Juniper will become one of America’s schoolchildren in three years.

It’s time to stop passively piggybacking on the groundwork of others who are already living the nauseating reality of sending their kids to schools where their safety isn’t certain.

That’s why I donated to Sandy Hook Promise for the first time, started signing online petitions such as this one and will join the March For Our Lives in Washington on March 24.

If this isn’t my fight, whose is it?

A 2013 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans ages 18 to 40 have kids, while an additional 40 percent want them in the future. Eighty-six percent of those age 45 and up have children.

What does this mom want?

Common sense.

Sweeping statements about mental health aren’t answers. Arming teachers isn’t the solution.

Banning bump stocks and implementing universal background checks on gun purchases are no-brainers.

And while I support bringing back the federal assault weapons ban — after all, gun massacres in America fell 37 percent during its tenure, then spiked 183 percent after it expired — it’s not as simple as it sounds.

A mother can dream of an America that follows Australia’s lead. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, that country passed legislation that prohibited a substantial number of firearms and instituted a mandatory buyback that resulted in the collection and destruction of more than 650,000 guns by 2001. There hasn’t been a gun massacre there since.

Today, I’m doubtful our comparatively watered-down version — a Democrat-led effort in a Republican-controlled Congress — will pass. But I am encouraged by recent examples set by Rhode Island (its governor just directed law enforcement to follow existing law to acquire firearms from people considered a threat) or Dick’s Sporting Goods (which announced it will no longer sell assault-style rifles).

State law is ripe for action, too. Fewer than 10 states ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Mandatory universal background checks? Fewer than half of states require them. And while a majority have statutes to prevent high-risk individuals and those convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun, the number of states implementing red-flag or relinquishment laws is startlingly low. (See how your state stacks up here.)

There’s a lot of work to do.

It’s widely known that Parkland suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, purchased his Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, lawfully in Florida.

As a U.S. resident without a criminal record — despite having raised numerous red flags — he could have done the same in my state, Virginia. (Right now more than 1.6 million U.S. high school students can buy one.)

Raising the purchase age to 21 is like applying a Band-Aid to a gaping wound. Age limits wouldn’t have stopped most mass shooters, including Stephen Paddock, 64, and Omar Mateen, 29.

Let’s also stop debating semantics. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearm industry’s trade association, asserts that “AR-15-style rifles are NOT ‘assault weapons’ or ‘assault rifles.’ An assault rifle is fully automatic — a machine gun.”

This is an insulting explanation to those who lost loved ones to them.

Variations of this customizable semiautomatic rifle have appeared in the forms of a Ruger AR-556 at a Texas church, a Smith & Wesson M&P15 and a DPMS model AR-15 at a San Bernardino, Calif., holiday party, another Smith & Wesson M&P15 at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and a Bushmaster XM-15 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Even without a 100-round magazine such as the one used by Aurora shooter James Holmes, these guns’ standard capability to fire a shot with each trigger pull until it’s time to reload a magazine is no small thing.

For example, the Armalite manual for M-15 rifles and carbines, which have a magazine capacity of 5 to 30 rounds, states that handlers’ rate of fire should not exceed 40 rounds per minute in a two-minute period to “maximize barrel life” and prevent the gun from overheating and firing itself.

That’s 80 shots in two minutes.

Yes, they are popular with hunters and can be handled responsibly in sporting competitions. Yes, there are responsible gun owners who register legal firearms and safely store them. (Although it’s disturbing that 3 percent of Americans own half the country’s guns.)

It’s time to put our nation’s needs before the wants of some. This guy gets it. And these incidents — though rare — set a tone for what we accept as normal.

Gun violence inflicts heartbreak daily, and platitudes about the answer lying in a “good guy with a gun” oversimplify a complex issue that the United States must start unraveling.

The tide is turning. A recent CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans favor “stricter gun control laws.” That’s up from 52 percent in October. As the national debate roils, I’ll sharpen my gaze locally.

While I was busy with the daily whirlwind of raising a 2-year-old, plenty of gun-restriction bills died within the Virginia General Assembly this year — including a bump stock ban.

“Mommy, who’s that?”

Taking a break from playing, Juniper climbed on my lap and pointed at my laptop. I had been reading the police report detailing Paddock’s jaw-dropping arsenal (including AR-15-style rifles outfitted with bump stocks).

Wordlessly, I closed the computer.

Like the #MeToo movement, we’re approaching a tipping point where powerful campaigns are intersecting. As the Women’s March Twitter account proclaimed: “One movement. #NationalSchoolWalkout #MarchForOurLives #ENOUGH.”

Tweets are capturing more packed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America meetings than ever. The Google map pins marking March For Our Lives events across the country nearly cover it.

While I haven’t acted in the past as a means of protecting her, not to act now would be failing my daughter. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about her, and ensuring her name doesn’t end up here.

Kris Coronado is a freelance writer in Virginia. Find her online at

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