Tag Archives: gun control

The Emperor’s Parade on Gun Violence

Even when we see the carnage in Las Vegas of 58 victims dead and 527 injured—in yet another “deadliest shooting in U.S. history”—our leaders fail to believe their eyes when they see gun violence. In a prepared statement, Trump studiously avoided acknowledging the truth of the divisions in our country, insisting that, “In moments of tragedy and horror, America comes together as one—and it always has.”

Each time I hear him deny another reality of the division in our country, I wonder whether Donald Trump ever asks himself the age-old question the Emperor asks himself in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: “I can see nothing! This is indeed a terrible affair! Am I a simpleton, or am I unfit to be an Emperor? That would be the worst thing that could happen.”

Each time I hear voices suggest that Donald Trump is unfit for his office, I wonder if we’re becoming a modern day version of a very old story. Continue reading The Emperor’s Parade on Gun Violence

Feeling Safe?

A second-year teacher, I sat alone in my room on the second floor of Park Junior High in Beckley, West Virginia, grading essays stacked 125 high on my desk. The dismissal bell for the day had sounded a few minutes before, but the building was already quiet, empty of the energetic horde of students and nearly as empty of exhausted teachers.

Hearing the wooden floor creak, I glanced up to see a young man I didn’t know standing quietly inside the door, watching me.  What happened next would have been beyond my comprehension up until that moment in time. I was sexually assaulted—not raped—but groped and violated in a way that made me contemplate ending my teaching career almost before it started.

It would not be the last time that I felt unsafe in a school.  Following my instincts, I once stepped between two boys who were fighting, receiving a bruising blow to the shoulder that one boy intended for another.  In another school, we had a year when mobs of kids surrounded fighting students, cheering them on, making it nearly impossible for a dozen teachers to break up the fight.  Another year, we were on lock-down because angry parents, accompanied by relatives, burst into the school looking for a student they felt had wronged their child.

And I taught in a school a couple of miles from the first shooting of the D.C. snipers, terrified, like everyone, by the randomness of a madman.  My daughter was a student at another high school a few miles away, and every time we were locked down that fall, I could hardly breathe for worrying about whether or not she was safe.

Would I have felt safer had an armed guard been in our schools?  We actually did have policemen in the schools part-time during some of those incidents.  And our schools do have a full-time staff of several security guards, many of them former policemen and policewomen.  But their presence doesn’t seem to deter monsters and madmen.

And so, today, when the NRA called our president an “elitist hypocrite” for accepting Secret Service protection for his children while most children have no such protection, I was happy to hear even famous people who usually advocate gun rights condemn such an ad.  I think about the times I’ve felt unsafe in a school and the times I’ve worried about my daughter’s safety, and I wonder how presidents and their spouses can function for worrying about whether a lunatic will harm or kill their children.  And yet these presidents—both Democrats and Republicans—do function.  They give their lives in service to our country in spite of the threats that face them and their families every day.

I don’t think I could do it.  But I’m grateful for all the presidents who have been able to put their fears in perspective to serve the people—even those people who wish them harm.  If it were up to me, I’d even approve Secret Service protection for First Dog Beau.  And so, Mr. President, may God keep you and Sasha and Malia and Michelle and Beau safe in the shadow of eagles’ wings.

How Does a Five-Year-Old Live after a Gun?


I know what it’s like to be a five-year-old staring into the face of a deranged gunman.  I know the fear and confusion that paralyzes me still as I close my eyes and see again my eight-year-old sister pushing me under the bed and crawling in after me. I know what it’s like to watch a gunman’s feet as he paces back and forth, waving a hunting rifle recklessly, threatening to kill us and then kill himself.
This is my earliest childhood memory.  It has shaped my life—the person I’ve become, the way I look at the world, the way I think of children, the way I feel every time another human being with a gun comes unhinged.  The gunman was my father, and at the end of a drunken weekend, he would have no memory of terrorizing his family.
I am a survivor—one of the fortunate ones.  I don’t know what it’s like to die and look back at this earth at the people I’ve left behind.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a loved one to the bullet of a gun.  But I do know what it’s like to lose a brother to drug addiction and see another brother become homeless, victims of another kind at the hands of a world that has no idea how to help any of us.
No law enforcement official ever even bore witness to the story I’ve only begun to tell fifty years later, despite the fact that our neighbors knew it was happening.  So my father was never challenged for his actions, left to deal with his own demons.
But neither does he fit the portraits we paint of deranged people in possession of guns.  He was a coal miner who labored every day so that the children he held at gunpoint would get the education he didn’t have.  He was a complex man, shaped by his own childhood and by parents who allowed him to quit school in fifth grade.  When he was sober, he loved his children and wanted us to have a better life, though he had no idea how to make that happen.
The hunting rifles my father owned were legal.  And they put meat on our table when my father lost his job and the food stamps he got from the federal government would only pay for pinto beans and canned vegetables and milk.
As I watch the controversy yet again that always unfolds in the aftermath of the slaughter of innocents, I know that angry people on both sides who are shaped by their own stories will shout at each other until their voices are gone.  But I also know that we will never solve the problems that lead to human tragedy until we begin to paint the debate in all the complex colors of human emotion.
So don’t just tell me your opinions.  Tell me the stories that colored them black or white.  Then I may understand you.  Then we may begin to hear each other.