Living with Guns

Guns. And more Guns. The press is full of them. Absolutely anyone with an opinion has stepped up, both in mainstream journalism and social media, and given their two-cents. "Can’t live without ‘em." That’s the consensus. But we certainly, and most tragically, "can’t live with ‘em," either.
I’ve spent over two decades living in a country where guns are just one of those “givens,” something most people don’t think a lot about or actually, even register. Spotted while standing in line at the market or the post office, while walking along the street, balanced by a heavy backpack, hanging off the end of a strap or actually gripped in hand--guns are everywhere. I no longer notice them because beyond being omnipresent, a part of the natural scenery, they are absolutely essential—built into our way of life here in Israel. And yes, I feel safer because of them.

There was a brief time, when my elder son first began his service with the IDF, that I cringed upon seeing him with a weapon. How could I not? It's impossible to see one's child gripping a gun--a real, live firearm--and not react, both emotionally and physically. But that passed quickly and today, with two in the service, these weapons elicit only a heavy flicker. Slung over their shoulders as they step off the train or anchored before them on a tripod in some random photograph from the base, those deadly pieces of carbon and steel have become a kind of third, albeit never natural, limb. All those years of Quaker education (mine) have pretty much been washed away with the tide.

When the boys were small I debated introducing this category of toy into the household. I held out briefly ("Why did they need guns?") but eventually caved.  Within a brief period of time our house was full of Nerf guns, both hand- and shot-gun varieties. For some reason I no longer recall, I drew the line at machine and cap guns. (Too realistic?) Sometime later I allowed them free range with Grand Theft Auto, a video game rife with shooting and bloodshed which made me shudder. I wasn't promoting violence. I simply knew that toys do not encourage aggression; that they're not the reason that individuals take lives. I felt my approach to be "enlightened," acknowledging their natural attraction to these hand-held toy weapons as make-believe, comparable to light sabers, bows and arrows, magic wands; providing them yet another way in which to engage their friends and encourage them (through wild chases through the house and the garden) to play.

They were the good guys and the bad (Buzz Lightyear, Michael de Santa, Luke, Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort) and I didn't stop for a moment to wonder if I was leading them down a dangerous path of destruction. After all, they were "armed" not only with toys but education. The difference between reality and play was made clear and I was confident that when the time came, they would know how to discern right from wrong; that they would never, absolutely never, assume they'd been empowered to take something that wasn't theirs. After high school the IDF took over, instructing them with the knowledge of how to use, but never abuse, the weapons they'd been issued. And indeed, now that they are truly "armed," with weapons that have the power to "take" and "destroy" quite permanently, I trust them to remember that distinction. I'm not happy that I live in a society where the presence of guns is just a part of life. In fact, I wish it were entirely otherwise. But this is our reality and I comfort myself with the knowledge that at least here, in Israel, they are treated with great respect-- rarely (although of course sometimes) abused for personal reasons. I wish I could say the same for my native America but unfortunately those warm sepia images in my head have faded to dust. In fact, they've been absolutely pummeled by recent horrific abuses of the right to bear arms, that sticky wicket that’s causing an uproar in the aforementioned media and, far worse, enabling all of these crackpot lunatics, some driven by religious fervor, some by revenge for a wrong dealt, some seemingly to replace misdirected rage, and some just, apparently, for the hell of it, to take the lives of innocent people.

Here in Israel we’re all too experienced with the loss of innocents; it’s horrifically old-hand and sometimes even a daily reality. Despite this, it's rarely the result of a given right that has spiraled out of control and must somehow be checked.  And while it's certain that if guns weren't so incredibly available, other "weapons" would be chosen to carry out and magnify tirades, tantrums and frustrations (over here cars and knives have become frighteningly popular), everyone agrees that making them harder to obtain would at least reduce the potential for loss.

New Year's Eve is around the corner. The perfect time to hope for better. Perhaps, for the sake of the innocents whose lives could be in peril on college campuses, in high school hallways and local malls, the U.S. government could finally agree on something and resolve to make a gutsy initiative similar to those effectively adopted by Australia and the UK. "Learn from others" is on the top of my list of resolutions.