An old friend called me a few days after the Newtown massacre to see how I was doing. Knowing that I have two small children the same ages as those killed in that class, he guessed correctly that I might be struggling to process the whole thing. He and I had grown up together on Long Island, and while it’s not without its poor areas, and its violent ones, New York State’s gun laws are pretty strict and there aren’t many gun enthusiasts on the Island. Steve, however, was one of them. He’s a blue-collar Italian guy from Suffolk County who knows quite a bit about firearms and other sundry explodey things. This is, let’s say, not my area of expertise.
He’d just recently moved to North Carolina, and I asked him how he was adjusting to the different climate and culture. He said to me, without any joy, “Well, I heard an ad on the radio today for a gun store. They were advertising AR-15s with no waiting period on the radio. Not good.” I knew an AR-15 was used in the Newtown shootings, and that in pictures they looked pretty big. That was about it.
Steve went on, “Do you know what the difference is between an AR-15 and an M-16?”
I didn’t. I knew that the military started using M16s to mow people down in Vietnam, and that they could be semi-automatic (the gun drops the spent cartridge case, cocks the rifle, and loads a new cartridge without you having to cock it yourself) or automatic (the gun does all that on its own but repeatedly, allowing you to spray a lot of bullets at once as long as you are holding down the trigger). I didn’t know much beyond that. He explained: “An AR- 15 has a shorter stock. You buy special parts online that are legal for you to purchase but illegal to install, to make it fully automatic capable…that’s it. It fires the same .223 round ammo.”
Now I understood why he sounded bothered. Here was a “light” military weapon that could be easily made fully automatic, firing the same ammunition, available for sale to just about anyone, with no waiting period. Something he would never have experienced on Long Island. He said, “And we wonder why the rest of the world thinks we’re nuts.”
It’s not clear whether the AR-15 in Newtown had been similarly modified. It’s less clear why the shooter’s mother thought that a good way to bond with her emotionally disturbed son would be to introduce him to this type of weaponry. We make a lot of hard choices as parents, and they’re not always right. But this one was sadly fatal. And a lot of folks are taking that to heart.
There are plenty of sane, responsible gun owners who are starting to think that maybe it’s not a good idea to have these kinds of weapons widely available as toys. You see it on Facebook, as otherwise conservative people on political pages talk about their change of heart on this issue. You see it on television, where personalities like former congressman Joe Scarborough, who in his day had a 100% rating from the NRA, are coming out and saying, “No more of this.” From regular folk like Steve, who used to think gun control was unnecessary but are feeling that things have gotten out of hand. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’m sure I’ll be glad to let anyone say “I told you so” who insisted upon keeping these death dealers, but short of that? Every argument I’ve heard in favor of these things crumbles under mild scrutiny.
In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to be looking at some of those arguments and the reasons why they don’t hold up. Know that the WRUN you have been following for however long you’ve been following it… will still be here. We will still continue to follow, share and comment on the topics traditionally thought of as “women’s issues”; articles on reproductive rights, paycheck fairness, and domestic violence are still going to be part of our regular rotation. But after the tragedy in Newtown, we can hardly keep silent on the subject of guns and violence in America; as mothers ourselves, we can all too easily put ourselves in the shoes of those parents who lost their children. With nearly 7,000 of you alongside us, we feel it would be irresponsible to beg off on talking about this important issue just because it doesn’t fit the mold of the other things we typically cover.
Moreoever, there’s a strong case to be made that the issue of gun violence IS a women’s issue. While there are many correlative and contributing factors to a domestic violence situation ending in the victim’s death, the abuser owning a gun is a big one. Studies illustrate a multiplied likelihood of homicide in domestic violence incidents if the abuser has a gun. While such a weapon is often used to threaten, control and intimidate, a woman is also five times more likely to be killed by her abuser if there is a gun in the house.
But beyond that, sometimes, women are the ones who have to stand up and demand a change to society at large. So many of us are mothers, sisters, daughters, anchors of our families, protectors and nurturers. And sometimes, with issues like this, we are the ones who have to lead the way. When drunk driving claimed the lives of their loved ones in 1980, women just like us took on the legislative system as well as the culturally entrenched notions that allowed people to get behind the wheel drunk. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was born, and over the last 30 years, drunk driving deaths have been cut in half, through lobbying for traffic safety laws, drunk driving laws, and victims’ rights legislation. And most notably, through their persistent and powerful messaging, drunk driving is no longer considered socially acceptable. The terrible fact that you can never completely eradicate it did not deter them from working at it, and there are many people who are probably alive today because of it.
I’m exhausted. I’m tired of the false choice the NRA offers us between tyranny and semi-automatic weapons. I’m tired of the false choice between addressing this issue on a mental health level and addressing it from the perspective of gun control. There are a lot of pieces to this thing, cultural ones, mental health ones, and yes, looking seriously about restricting the types of weapons that allow you to easily kill a lot of people at once. It’s absolute folly to pretend that they are not a part of the problem. The second amendment can be preserved along with the safety of our children. But we have to come together, and do it.
Once more, we have to rise up.