February 6, 2013 § 8 Comments


I have been working on a story about kids and guns; more specifically, about my kids and guns and all the strange emotional terrain such a combination mines, particularly for two parents who did not grow up with firearms. It is amazing how quickly guns have inserted themselves into our lives. We had a .22 for years, for livestock (or should that be “deadstock”?), but it was a lonely thing, tucked into a dark corner and fired only a couple of times per year. Now, we own a .22, a .22 mag, a .410 shotgun, a .308 rifle, and two .20 gauge shotguns (why so many? Some were gifted to us, the other represent a fairly standard trajectory in firing power, from beer can plinkers, to true hunting weapons), and it’s astounding how frequently I stumble upon evidence of their use. The boys like to hang onto their spent shells, and so inevitably the damn things end up in the unlikeliest places, like the washing machine, or in the case of the .22, between the cracks in the living room floor. Even now, I can look over my shoulder and see the guns lined up in a neat row. Like soldiers, I guess. I used to find them menacing, but not anymore.

I’d be lying if I said that Sandy Hook didn’t cause some misgivings regarding the sudden influx of guns into our home. Yeah, I know, guns don’t kill people, people do. It’s a comforting enough platitude, and maybe it’s even true on some level, but still, it’s also true that people don’t just walk into schools with their bare fists and punch 26 people to death. At least, not in my experience. So maybe it’s more accurate to say “guns don’t kill people, people with guns kills people,” but of course that’s not right either, because the fact is, the vast majority of people with guns don’t kill people. You can see why it’s such an emotional topic.

Like everyone I know, I was profoundly affected by Sandy Hook. It was a tragedy that revealed such enormous sadness, and I wonder if some of the mourning was and is not only for those who died, but also for a society that has devolved to a place where such a thing can happen in the first place. Sandy Hook was a tragedy that does not fit our view of ourselves and that exposes something we’d rather not have to face. There are so many other ways in which people’s lives are cut short in this nation – in car accidents alone, almost 100 per day – and we mourn these people, of course, but it’s simply not the same, in part because when you die in a car crash, whether you’re an adult or a child, you die in accordance with our cultural acceptance of the risk automotive travel entails. We have not accepted that merely by sending our children to school, we are exposing them to risk of death by gunfire.

In the days and weeks after Sandy Hook, it felt to me as if our country stood on the brink of something amazing. It felt as if we had hung our toes of the edge of a cliff and looked down, and below us, we could see what we could be, if only we might cling to that sense of what mattered, what truly, deeply mattered, and let ourselves fall into it. And it would be that easy, I think, if only we could stop resisting. But in a way, this does not fit our view of ourselves, either.

Then came the other cliff, the fiscal cliff. Then came the NRA, calling for armed guards in all schools. Then came Christmas and the New Year. Then we pulled our toes back. Maybe it felt too risky, or maybe we just forgot. Maybe all the information we absorbed – about the fiscal cliff, about Syria, about taxes, about this and about that – distracted us and somehow diluted the poignancy of the moment.

Even as I write these words, Penny and the boys are heading outside for target practice. For now, I feel ok about my children’s relationship to guns. I believe it is possible for them to both have a relationship to guns, and to that view I spoke of, of what the world could be if we could just hang on. Not to grief, and definitely not to anger. But to that sense of what truly matters. Of what connects. 

I suppose if I could articulate any one hope for my children, it would be that they will be of the generation that doesn’t just tiptoe up to that cliff and glance briefly into a vision of what their world can be, before retreating. Nah, I want them to be of the generation that tiptoes up to that cliff, looks down, and jumps.


§ 8 Responses to Jump

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    I grew up in the 50s and 60s. That was a time when you could bring your toy 6 shooters, sans caps, to school for cowboys and indians or cops and robbers play at recess. That was a time when boys with driver’s licenses had a shotgun or rifle in their vehicle for a couple off hours of bird or deer hunting between school and evening chores. That was a time when guns were stored on racks over the fireplace or in the corner of the kitchen. That was a time when my Mom kept the .22 loaded next to the kitchen window to pop any rats that came to eat chicken food. That was a time when we had little fear of our fellow Americans. Our only fear was an attack by the Russians. We were living as free people under our democratic government. Then we had Vietnam and the potential of the domino effect of communism.
    Now children as young as 5 are punished for pointing a finger and saying pow. Now, guns in vehicles are prohibited on school grounds and fewer young people are learning how to hunt. My Mom’s .22 has a place of honor leaning against my desk, unloaded of course, ready to pop whatever needs it on this farmette. We have become a population that holds others off at arms length out of fear. We no longer fear the Russians and the domino effect never came to pass. We articulate we are a free people living in a democracy but we know it isn’t really true. I think after Sandy Hook, we looked at what we had and knew deep down it was lost forever.
    Not sure if this made any sense.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    The carnage on our roads, to me, is shameful because I believe a lot of it is preventable by tough law enforcement. And maybe 16 year olds shouldn’t be driving at all, you think?
    I’ll bet we lead the world in vehicle related fatalities, not to mention the permanently maimed. I don’t believe Europe allows under 18 year olds to drive.
    And no, I’ve not been the victim of a vehicle and neither has anyone close to me. But I think about the possibility every time I get in one.

  • it seems to me that the single biggest impact that the sandy hook shootings have had on our society is to serve as a perfectly timed distraction from obama’s announcment that banks are officially above the law, and can do whatever they want.

    this is the most important announcement any president has ever made, because it negates even the illusion that the united states is a democratic republic, and confirms that we are ruled by banks and corporations. obama came out and said it, rubbed our noses in it, but are we talking about this? no, why? because, staged or not, the media has used the sandy hook massacre to make sure that instead of being afraid of this blatant takeover of the united states, we are a little more afraid of each other. instead of uniting against those who publicly destroy our country and laugh in our faces as they do it, we are busy turning on each other, fighting about gun control.

    also…we have the technology to eliminate car accidents almost 100%…too bad it’s not profitable to implement that technology.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    I’m not sure what Brad is referring to about Obama saying the banks are above the law.
    I’m under the impression that previous Congresses and administrations have allowed laws and regulations to be passed that are favorable to the banking industry. There’s been plenty of complicity to go around.
    I think the Justice Department has been hamstrung by this fact.
    That said, there have been some major financial settlements paid by banks, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, for example.
    But hardly anyone has gone to jail over this disaster, in contrast to the savings and loan debacle in the 80s where lots of folks did go to jail.

    As for guns, I understand Australia greatly restricted gun ownership and crime did decrease significantly…so I’m told.

  • Chris McCarthy says:

    Well said. I too was hoping for a profound change, like you so eloquently put it “What really mattered, what could be…” Instead, the Sandy Hook Tragedy for many has all been forgotten..I find it very depressing.

  • Vonnie says:

    I’m of the same mindset, Ben. I really in truly hope my boys are of the generation that will look over that cliff, feel the fear and jump anyway. But, so many of their generation are taught to fear so many things, indeed have to fear them in some cases. The fact that kids have to fear going to school is humbling to me. I remember when I was a kid we had air raid drills (those pesky Russians were still fighting that cold war with us) and had to hide under our desks when the siren went off. That was so abstract to me as a kid, I never really understood why we did it and looking back, was that really going to keep us safe? Now, my kids practice lock downs at their school. For them, it can’t be abstract or surreal because that may just be their reality some day. Sure makes homeschooling look better all the time. In any case, I do try to instill in my boys the need to feel the fear and do things anyways, and for me, that’s what life boils down to. Nothing great ever happens if you’re too afraid to jump. ~Vonnie

  • Dawn says:

    You clearly think deeply about the choices you make in the way you live and the way you bring up your kids, and I am not for one minute suggesting that you or they are intrinsically dangerous, but while it is people, not guns that kill, guns do make it a hell of lot easier.
    I live in the UK, where it is unusual to have a gun (to say the least) and where it is highly illegal to carry a concealed weapon and where, for the most part, even the police aren’t armed. Yes, bad stuff happens, the UK is no utopian haven of non-violence, but I admit to being utterly freaked out by the very idea of living in a country where so many people feel they have an inalienable right to carry a gun. A right? To walk around carrying a lethal weapon?
    The rate of private gun ownership in the United States is 88.8 firearms per 100 people, and the US ranks number 1 for private ownership of firearms. In the UK the rate of private gun ownership is 6.7 firearms per 100 people.
    The following statistics say quite a lot to me about the dangers of that many guns being held by that many people: in the US in 2010 there were 31,672 gun deaths, including 11,078 gun homicides. In the UK, in the same year there were 155 total gun deaths including 27 gun homicides. The figures are UN via GunPolicy.org.
    I know this is a highly emotive issue in the US, but I don’t think I’m alone in finding the American relationship with guns utterly baffling!

  • Maggie says:

    I do feel like the toes got pulled back, even my own. Even as we’re planning on simplifying our lives again…I’ve already moved to an island in Alaska…I’ve already pulled my kids from the public schools and started educating them at home. But I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of returning our lives to what they should have been…simple…from the ground…traditions…hard work…love. I do believe that if most people did this our world would naturally change from it’s current state of unhappy misguided people into something beautiful and a little wild. Then guns wouldn’t matter so much…we could just trust people again.

    I love your voice Ben, it resonates with me, so keep talking.

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