I fired a gun once. Sort of. I dated a boy in high school who was into historic war reenactments. I think he and his crew were reenacting the War of 1812, but I can’t remember for sure. I spent a whole day at one of these gatherings. I stood out not because I was a pacifist but because I alone was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. We broke up before I made my own period costume out of muslin (thank goodness), but that afternoon I spent hours rolling bits of newspaper around gunpowder. Towards the end of the day, the general (or whatever) showed me how to load up the long, heavy rifle, explained how to work the mechanism and handed it over. I put the thing to my shoulder, aimed at the sky and shot. It just about knocked me over and my clothes smelled of gunpowder and burned for days afterwards.
It was just that once, more than 20 years ago. I hope it was the first and last time I will hold a gun of any sort. I thought of that long-forgotten afternoon last week when I bused up to Hartford to stand with thousands of Connecticut residents for safe and secure gun laws. Valentine’s Day is often associated with the color red, with red roses and chocolate covered cherries and red satin lingerie, but in Hartford on February 14, the color was green. I was one of more than 5,000 people who traveled from across Connecticut to support stricter laws and regulations for gun ownership. As Dannel Malloy, our governor, said to the throng: “You can’t be getting on a plane without getting a background check, you shouldn’t be getting a gun without a background check.”
I had never been to a demonstration where I stood next to ladies in calf-length fur coats with $5,000 handbags. Beside them, I felt like a schlump in my many wooly layers. But our faces were all wet with tears as we listened to Veronique Pozner talk about her 6-year-old son Noah, gunned down on December 14. “Never will he feel the sunlight on his face, the companionship of a family who adores him, the taste of a good meal or to get to dig a hole all the way to China, as he strove to do every summer day at the beach,” she said, her voice strong and sad at the same time. It was just two months since his death, and she and other Newtown parents had found purpose and strength in pushing hard for sane gun laws.
The measures they are promoting (along with Connecticut Against Gun Violence) have been characterized as sweeping, comprehensive, harsh, drastic (and probably lots of other more profane things). Here are a few:
- Strengthen the assault weapons ban by requiring that all weapons having military features be banned and that existing weapons defined as assault weapons be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement or removed from the state.
- Ban large capacity ammunition magazines of more than seven rounds and that existing magazines of more than seven rounds be destroyed, turned in to law enforcement, or removed from the state. New York State has just adopted a law that established the seven-round limit.
- Require permits and universal background checks on all sales and transfers of guns, including long guns.
- Require registration of handguns with annual renewal. Require an annual fee and annual background check for all handguns owned; require that the owner stipulate that the guns are still in their possession or explain how the gun was transferred to another person; require safety inspection every three years.
- Make gun owners liable for negligent storage if any person gains access to firearms and injures himself or another person or causes damage to property. The violation would be a Class D felony.
- Ban the right of way for transportation of firearms and ammunition bought over the Internet.
- Tax ammunition sales and require a license or permit to purchase any gun or ammunition.
- Restrict handgun sales to one gun per month.
To me — the gun-toting teenager though I was — it sounds like common sense, especially in light of the unimaginable burden of pain and loss being carried by so many parents and family members. And I am not just talked about the Pozner family or the 25 other Newtown families. Slate maintains a crowd-sourced tally of the number of people killed by firearms in the United States since the Sandy Hook massacre. The total, when I checked on Wednesday, was 1,999 men, women and children killed throughout the country.
Joe Nocera — a columnist and blogger for The New York Times — offers a more granular perspective, compiling news reports on gun violence. He began the report with the reminder that there are 18 gun deaths a day in this country. Read it as a heart-breaking and tragic dispatch from a nation saturated with guns and at war with itself. Google “shooting,” and find stories like:
- Joshua Johnson, 4, was playing with a gun Monday at a Memphis apartment complex when it went off. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
- Three-year-old Braydion Scott Matlock was accidentally shot and killed by his mother’s boyfriend, who had recently gotten a gun because of increased break-ins in the neighborhood.
- Triston Stephens, a ninth grader, shot himself in the bathroom of his intermediate school in Coweta, Okla. Stephens, 15, died of a single gunshot wound to the head.
- A young man survives a tour of duty in Afghanistan only to be shot to death in his home town. The New York Daily News reported that Indiana National Guardsman Sgt. Willie Cook and his son Antoine were on their way to a family member’s house in East Chicago neighborhood when a gunman fired 15 shots into their car. Antoine was hit in his right leg, the right side of his head and hit his left leg. Willie was pronounced dead on the scene.
Standing in the cold, wearing green, crying and clapping and chanting for safe, sensible gun laws along with thousands of others, I felt proud of my chosen home. The people of Connecticut are turning unthinkable tragedy into concrete policy change. It might not be the most radical thing I’ve ever done, but it was radically hopeful to be part of that change-making.
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