An education in firearms

I heard the news of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., while sitting in a plastic child-sized chair outside my sons’ second-grade classroom. I was waiting for a student to come out and read a poem to me, as I do every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. The alert came over my phone from the New York Times, and my heart sunk.

When I finished going through the roll of students, I packed up my things and walked down the hall where I ran into a teacher whom I know. We talked for a moment about the tragedy unfolding. All I could think was, what if this were the school? What if someone had come in to my children’s school and opened fire? It was entirely plausible—all too plausible.

I climbed in my car and turned on the radio. A reporter started sharing details of the scene in Newtown. The town sounded similar to the town where we live: suburban, upper income, safe. Even here, in what I’ve come to call Pleasantville, we are not safe from this kind of horror. This kind of terror.

And why?


When we moved to Iowa from California, I knew no one who hunted or boasted about guns. My stepfather had a gun for a while that he hid in a top drawer of his dresser, but he soon got rid of it. Guns were not a part of our culture. They were violent and unnecessary and scary. They hurt people.

During the opening of deer hunting season in Iowa, my small boys and I were at a sporting goods store and there were hoards of people—mostly men and their sons—shopping for guns, ammo, camouflage gear and other hunting necessities. I was shocked, but I realized that this was the culture. When hunting season begins in Iowa, people go shopping, then they hit the open lands and shoot away.

I befriended a co-worker who took week-long hunting trips during deer season and turkey season. He liked to taunt me with photos of his trophy carcasses. I learned what a twelve-point buck was, and what it looked like hanging upside down and then made into a string of jerky.

Sharing his love of hunting with me was not meant to traumatize me but to share his culture with me, to share something that made up a part of who he was as a person, as a man. We’d argue about the virtues and pitfalls of hunting, of having guns, of the death of innocent animal lives and the service hunting provides, as many see it, in controlling a species’ population.

But I was not swayed by his passion. I remained confirmed in my beliefs that hunting is wrong in most cases and that guns are not something to be celebrated or paraded. Iowa introduced me to gun culture.

And then there was the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 that killed 33 people. The public was outraged. Memories of the horrific scene at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., resurfaced. Since that 1999 tragedy that left 12 students and one teacher dead, it would have seemed prudent to analyze the country’s position on gun rights. But then there was a deadly shooting in an Omaha, Neb., mall. The public again was outraged. But nothing changed. The mantra: “Guns don’t kill people, people do,” rang out. The National Rifle Association continued its stranglehold on politicians moral compasses, and life went on.

When President Obama entered office 10 years after Columbine, gun-owners were concerned about their rights. They feared the new “socialist” president would repeal the Second Amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. I interviewed a gun shop owner in northwest Iowa who shared his concerns with his perceived Obama’s anti-gun sentiments. He said the gun owners he knew were all bracing for the worst and stocking up on ammo and guns while they could.

We moved to Ohio last year, and I had become complacent. When someone talked about going hunting or going to the shooting range, I no longer flinched. I guess I was assimilating.

And then the shooting in Aurora, Colo., happened. Again, public outrage surged. But still no talk of real gun control. We were on the brink of a presidential election. The subject was too charged. Some media outlets called it disrespectful to bring up gun control. Yet, people continued to believe that if Obama was re-elected, he’d repeal the Second Amendment.

And now this. Twenty children, six adults killed in a suburban Connecticut elementary school. The 20-year-old gunman who suffered from mental illness is also dead.


And now we’re talking about gun control. Activists have been calling on Obama to stand up to the gun lobby today. A group held a candlelight vigil outside the White House. The people are ready to talk. But is Washington ready to listen? There is a great difference between repealing the Second Amendment and enacting serious gun control to make it harder for people to obtain weapons and ammunition. This is not about our constitutional rights, it’s about reality and protecting innocent lives. We can try to prevent another massacre. We can try to do what’s right.

The Washington Post writes that the increase in public support for gun control arises after a mass shooting—incidents that happen too often in this country. The United States is an outlier in gun violence among developed countries. And while gun ownership is declining in America, violence is not, and these senseless acts of violence and death come upon us all too often.

This could have been my kids’ school. This could have been my children. This could have happened anywhere. We are not immune to the violence. But we can rise up to stop it.

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  1. Thank you for this heartfelt and important post. I so agree; we can’t just say “how horrible” after each shooting tragedy. Is campaign financing by the NRA that important to politicians? Seems like the answer is yes, but when 80 percent of mass shooters buy their guns legally we must all petition politicians to do something to stop this violence. Now.

    • Here here. There’s an argument by gun owners that people who want guns will get guns regardless of laws. But laws make it harder to get guns, so they’d have to jump through more hoops, go through more of a background check, etc. All of that “red tape” would deter people from getting guns. It won’t rid the world of guns, but it will make it harder to get one.
      This is a tough issue for Americans. It will be interesting to watch this flesh out.

  2. Prayers for the victims and the families of those injured.
    After some of the emotion about this horrible crime receedes, we must look at this rationally. We must look at places where this type of thing doesn’t happen. Do you know where that is? Israel.

    We must rationally contemplate adopting the israeli model, where many of the teachers and parents, go lawfully armed. In Israel, they do.

    Yes, we can look at our mental health system, and do a better job of screening people, but we delude ourselves if we think that bad people will not obtain the means to hurt good people. We have a duty to protect our children, and no gun law can do that.

    • There are a lot of countries in the developed world that have strict gun laws and don’t have this kind of mass murder. That said, we do have a duty to protect our children, and it would be prudent to look at what works in other countries and begin adopting those measures here.

  3. Leila

     /  December 15, 2012

    Thanks for writing this, Shoshi.

  4. Douglas Neely

     /  December 15, 2012

    As the saying goes “outlaw guns and outlaws will have guns!! ” What does eveyone want us to go back to bow and arrows! There has been hunting since the begining of time, why would you think it needs to stop now?? Everyone I know that hunts uses virtually the entire animal!!

    • That’s good that your people use the entire animal. But that doesn’t address the rampant problem we have in this country with people and guns. If you read some of the articles I’ve posted, you’ll learn that we are the only developed country in the world that has such a high rate of mass murders by a gunman. This isn’t to say people should not be allowed to have guns, it is to say that there needs to be more regulation in place to make it harder to possess a gun.

  5. Are you aware of this?:

    From an American journalist who researched, inteviewed and wrote a book about:
    gun use in the U.S., gun control and mental health:

    I have lived in 3 Canadian cities each, with over 1 million people where people have died /hurt from guns, where there are also other crimes…. drugs, gangs, etc. I have lived in such neighbourhoods, but still do not feel the need to have a gun.

    But seriously in Canada…it is seen as fringe not mainstream. And for certain in Toronto, VAncouver and Calgary….one would be viewed as a bit strange to talk much about gun ownership, loving guns and displaying guns. The majority of Canadians aren’t interested in gun collection talk or type of gun acquisitions. They just aren’t.

    Seriously. And quite frankly I prefer that here in Canada we treat gun owners socially like smokers: just not socially acceptable nor popular. Not typical.

    What I have read so far…so much suggests a powerful cultural difference between CAnada and U.S.
    Recently the Prime Minister of Canada scrapped the federal gun registry database. Quebec is the only province that will try to administer theirs..

    Gun possession and use is under Canadian federal law, it is not provincial law anywhere. As a former law librarian working for the Ontario courts and judges, from a legal research standpoint, I know this.

    Statistics Canada is Canada’s federal statistics govn’t collection agency. Here is a report on mortality by gunfire and it’s relationship to gun control in Canada.

    Also a legal summary of Canada’s history on its law.…/pdf/4194126-eng.pdf

    On page 37, there is a graph of info.

    In Canada, laws regulating guns date back more than a century.
    Even before the first Criminal Code in 1892, Justices of the
    Peace had the authority to jail anyone who carried a handgun
    but had no reason to fear an assault against their life or
    property.1 Then in 1892, the Criminal Code required that
    handgun owners who could not sufficiently justify ownership
    have a basic permit to carry their pistol. A 1934 law was the
    first to require handgun owners to formally register their guns,
    and the records were maintained regionally by designated
    police departments or by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
    When the handgun registry was centralized in 1951, the
    registration of automatic firearms also became mandatory.
    More recent firearm restrictions were enacted in 1977
    (Bill C-51), 1991 (Bill C-17) and 1995 (Bill C-68). The 1977
    law mandated that people acquiring a firearm have a Firearms
    Acquisitions Certificate attesting that they are at least 16 years
    of age and have no criminal record or history of mental illness.
    The later legislation reduced the availability of and accessibility
    to firearms, requiring more extensive background screening
    of prospective purchasers, registration of all guns owned, and
    safe storage of these weapons. Compulsory registration, which
    allowed each gun acquired to be linked to its owner, also
    required that spouses and former spouses be notified about
    the gun’s acquisition.
    In 1995, when gun registration became compulsory, the death
    rate for firearms-related injuries was 3.8 per 100,000
    population. Over the following years, the rate, which had been
    falling quite steadily since the early 1990s, continued to drop.
    Of course, it is difficult to measure the contribution that gun
    control regulations may have made to this decrease gun use.

    • Thanks Jean for posting this. The Washington Post article I posted points to how the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world where gun violence is on the rise. We are also the only country in the developed world to have not imposed strict gun regulations.

  6. You are wrong on two counts. First, your idea that “This is not about our constitutional rights” is, frankly, utterly absurd. Accept truth for what it is, as opposed to trying to twist it into what you wish it was. Get out your dictionary and look up the definition of “infringed.” Second, how do you reconcile record gun sales with your comment “gun ownership is declining in America…” ?

    The ugly truth is that these incidents are made possible because of the anti-gun mentality that creates defenseless victims. There always has, and always will be, people who do bad deeds. Hampering the ability of good people to resolve these incidents in an expedient manner results in the incident being far more tragic than it could have been.

    • Hi Jon,
      The Second Amendment provides us the right to bear arms. But if you think back to when the constitution was written, the guns back then could not shoot hundreds of rounds in seconds. Imposing laws to make it harder for people to obtain these modern deadly assault weapons would decrease the number of these weapons in our society. I would feel a lot safer and be more at peace with sending my kids to school if incidents like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Columbine did not occur.
      That said, no one is going to repeal the Second Amendment. But it would be the right thing to do to make laws to make it harder to obtain guns.


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