December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,
Connecticut, sparked a national conversation about our current gun
laws and culture. Writer and commentator Suzanne Spencer Rendahl
reflected on that debate from her own experience with guns in her
rural New Hampshire town.
Last summer, a suburban Boston friend asked me if she should let her
son attend a neighborhood friend’s birthday party featuring Nerf
I empathized and
refrained from mentioning that as residents of rural northern New
England, my family is surrounded by neighbors with real guns.
I know this because during different seasons of the year, I can hear
them firing, sometimes dozens of shots an hour.
I see them around
town, too: a truck parked on the side of the road, sometimes a dog or
two standing nearby, and camo-clad hunters holding shotguns. When I
take my dog hiking in the woods near my house during certain months,
I always wear my bright red wind-breaker to announce that I’m not a
A few years ago a
pack of coyotes killed a newborn calf in the field next to our house.
Now we know another calf has been born when we see the farmer
standing guard with his shotgun.
I’ve even fired a
gun. An Army Reserve commander once offered to let me try shooting
his M-16 while I covered his unit’s training as a reporter in the
1990s. "Why not?" I replied. I kneeled, braced myself, and
pulled the trigger. I had a dozen or two bullets scattered nowhere
near their target and a sore shoulder to show for it.
Much has been
written in the past few months about how to prevent tragedies like
the one at Sandy Hook Elementary, a school much like my
second-grader’s. While I peacefully coexist with guns, I also live
in a community that has been shaken by gun violence. And I believe we
need reform now.
semi-automatic assault rifles like the one Adam Lanza used in Newtown
would be a good start. We did it before with the 1994 Assault Weapons
Ban, and we can do it again.
But as New York City
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a recent interview, "there is
no magic bullet." He went on to suggest there is no single
solution, for stemming our epidemic of gun violence. Banning
scary-looking rifles may cut down on some violence and make people
feel safer. But the inconvenient fact remains that only three percent
of people who commit homicides with guns do so with rifles. The
bigger problem we face comes from handguns, which are involved in
most of America’s 30,000 annual gun deaths.
Recent Supreme Court
decisions interpreting the Second Amendment have made it clear that
handguns aren’t going away. But we can better enforce gun laws and
close loopholes so that they aren’t so easy to get. Commissioner
Kelly said six million guns a year are sold privately without
Sheriffs’ Association, which represents more than 3,000 county
sheriffs across the country, has supported what it calls
"common-sense steps" like the ones President Obama has
proposed, including universal background checks.
Can these measures
prevent another Sandy Hook? Maybe not. But if they can help lower
overall gun deaths – which have totaled over 2,000 since Newtown –
they’re worth a try.