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JENEÉ OSTERHELDT

Mass shootings require a call to action. Will we answer?

Singer-producer Pharrell Williams (left) and contemporary artist Mr. launched "A Call to Action" at the Musée Guimet in Paris.
Singer-producer Pharrell Williams (left) and contemporary artist Mr. launched "A Call to Action" at the Musée Guimet in Paris.Perrotin

PARIS — Are we feeding our children bullets for breakfast, America?

It is one of the great crimes against our country’s future, the way we dreamily talk about gun control measures and rarely enact them in big, broad ways.

Right now, it is the public, not the laws, that are saving the people.

Last weekend, three potential mass shootings — in Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio — were prevented thanks to tips. In one case, an ex-girlfriend warned authorities. In the others, threatening social media posts on Facebook and Instagram led to calls to the FBI and police.

When the homes of the potential shooters were searched, authorities recovered weaponry ranging from tactical gear and large capacity magazines to rifle scopes and rounds and rounds of ammo.

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We opened the month with two mass shootings — 31 rapid fire murders in El Paso and Dayton — in less than 24 hours.

That was just weeks after New Hampshire 8-year-old Scout Maloney asked presidential candidate Cory Booker, “What do you plan to do about the school shootings?”

One of the reasons she and her brother are home schooled, Maloney told the senator, is because her mom does not feel schools are safe enough.

We can’t send children to class without fear. We can’t take them shopping or to a festival without the looming threat of a shooting. Not even church can be considered a totally safe place.

But our president says it’s a people problem.

“It is not the gun that pulls the trigger, it is the person holding the gun,” Donald Trump told supporters last week in New Hampshire, echoing the NRA talking point.

For all the fights about religion, it’s clear it’s not God, but in guns we trust.

When you grow up on a steady diet of mass shootings and active shooter drills, who do you become?

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Across the Atlantic in Paris, American music genius Pharrell Williams and Japanese contemporary artist Mr. have collaborated on an exhibit, “A Call to Action,” exploring what a bright future looks like in this climate.

In Paris, where in 2015, terrorists armed with explosives and guns killed 130 people and wounded 494, there is the Musée Guimet.

You climb a great many steps to reach the dome of this museum where the single-room art show awaits you. Is it symbolic of the many moves we must make to change our trajectory?

The show, in Mr.’s signature Superflat anime-like style, reimagines doe-eyed children, many holding machine guns, in a dystopian classroom.

Before you walk in the door, a “Lord of the Flies” quote greets you:

We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?

Adulting. We’re doing it all wrong. Too many of us think more guns are the answer. We drag our feet on the kind of legislation that creates a shift in gun culture.

Guns first, then children. That is the American way. That was tragically clear when 20 little kids were murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. But we were still all talk last year when almost that many teens were murdered in Stoneman Douglas High School.

As soon as you step into the “Call to Action” exhibit, you feel the crinkle of plastic beneath your feet. Kind of like a crime scene. Neon-colored paint is splattered everywhere. But not even the bright colors can keep your mind from thinking about blood spatter when you see the tiny desks.

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Paintings of children, some lying amongst toys while clutching machine guns, hang on the walls.

Drawings and cutouts of kids with pink and purple hair and innocence in their eyes decorate the room. And then you see the guns strapped to their legs or helmets on their heads.

There are life-size figurines of children around the room. One of them, a brown girl with pink hair, has one starry green eye and a blue eye that bears a single heart.

In her hands is a machine gun. Another gun is strapped around her waist like a fanny pack. Pastel bandages grace her knees. With a helmet on her head, she is smiling in her pizza tank top.

“Kids run the world,” Williams said in a press release. “And this work is a challenge to leaders to do something immediately – for a better, bright future.”

Perhaps the future is now. The three alleged would-be shooters in the United States over the weekend are all between the ages of 20 and 25. They were either just born or barely at the beginning of their school years when the Columbine High School massacre happened.

They are the kids who grew up in a post-9/11 world, the children who grew up with mass shooting after mass shooting.

But what about the other young people their age? Some of them are the most politically aware children in our history. Some of them are carrying on in the tradition of the civil rights movement. We must protect them.

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But fear and anxiety are also overwhelming them. In an American Psychological Association survey last year, 75 percent of those in Gen Z counted mass shootings as a major source of stress.

We blame video games and movies and music for these domestic terrorist attacks. We blame mental illness. But we are placing pressure on our children to be the change we do not show them. We are training them up along lines divided by color, faith, orientation, gender, class, country, and more. We flood them with fear. And it’s not the kind of fright we can call irrational.

Not even the healthiest of adults can survive an incubator of that kind of chaos and confusion.

All around the room in “A Call to Action,” the eyes of the children, bright and bold, look right at you. TV screens flash with scenes of train rides and everyday life like making lunch.

What are we feeding our children’s spirits, America? It looks like a violent feast.

“Carte blanche to Mr. and Pharrell Williams: A Call To Action” will run through Sept. 23 at Musée Guimet in Paris.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.