I turned forty in a world that was altered; it happened exactly one week after September 11, 2001. My anticipation of a mid-life crisis was overshadowed by the newfound knowledge that America was not invincible and that our government couldn’t keep us safe. Like many others, I felt nervous, vulnerable, and out of control.
My fortieth birthday was the final “straw.” That and September 11th, the shooting death of my business partner’s twenty-year-old son in 2000, and the Columbine massacre in 1999 made me decide to buy my own gun for self-defense.
I went to a shooting range and took a private lesson with an instructor. I started with a .22 caliber revolver, where six bullets get loaded into a cylindrical barrel that locks into place. Then, the hammer gets pulled back with thumb and the trigger is squeezed with the forefinger. I aimed at the male-shaped silhouette and fired. With a loud “BANG,” the bullet released from the chamber and struck the paper figure in the throat. The process was cumbersome and methodical. For my next round, I used a nine-millimeter semi-automatic, where ten bullets are inserted into a Pez-like-dispenser (a magazine) and loaded into the handle of the gun. Then, firing can take place in rapid succession. Quick, easy, and eerily satisfying.
My husband wouldn’t let me buy a Glock. He knew I’d only get a gun if I actually were prepared to use it. That made him afraid that I would shoot HIM if he came home late and unexpected one night from a business trip. He was nervous about the kids (twelve and ten at the time) finding it with potentially fatal results. He was worried that it could fall into the wrong hands and be used against innocent by-standers.
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Mass murders are incredibly shocking, upsetting, and devastating. We want to understand how and why they happen. We want to place blame. We want to rally around a solution that will prevent another one. The suicide – or other form of death – of the perpetrator(s) is of little comfort or satisfaction. Recovery from such a tragedy is slow, if ever even possible.
According to an article in The Jewish Daily Forward, “There have been 13 mass shootings in the United States this year alone; among the 11 deadliest shootings in American history, more than half took place in the last five years.” We certainly remember Columbine where two teenaged-shooters murdered thirteen people and wounded twenty-one others. Then there was Virginia Tech where a senior murdered thirty-two and wounded twenty-four. And now we have Sandy Hook where a twenty-year-old murdered twenty-eight – including his own mother. In these three massacres, all of the perpetrators committed suicide. And let’s never forget the shooting victims of Aurora, Tucson, and many other places.
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It certainly is appropriate and necessary to analyze, evaluate, and even change gun control legislation and its enforcement in the wake of these tragedies. But the other side of the equation – the shift in America’s culture – must be examined as well. It’s a fact that gun violence at the hands of our youth is on the rise and we are learning that many factors – including access to particular internet sites, bullying, depression, mental illness, emotional or sexual abuse, violent movies or video games, or gang-mentalities – may be root causes. But something else is going on too.
Gun violence is more prominent in America than in any other developed country around the world. For example, “in Israel, where young men and women — soldiers — move about openly with semi-automatic weapons, there has never been a mass murder… Hence it is reasonable to suppose that we are dealing here with a cultural phenomenon [in America] and not merely with lax gun controls” notes a second article in The Jewish Daily Forward.
So, what are we to do? First, it’s time for our society to reassess the time spent in and nature of the academic, social, extracurricular, and personal activities in which our kids are engaged. In addition, we – as American parents – must continue to do more of what we already try to do. We must pay closer attention to our children and their behaviors. We must tune in more to their thoughts and moods. We must take immediate action, and not back down, if we suspect that something’s wrong. We must become proactive and more willing to ask for help from others or utilize external resources as necessary. We must err on the side of being strict (not abusive!), rather than lenient or loosey-goosey. We must remain wide awake and available. We must listen, hug, kiss, and love them more. We must be their parents, and not their friends. Lastly, we must model, work for, and demand change every chance we get.
Uh, or we could move to Israel….