I went for a hike alone in the woods a few weeks back. I stayed on the designated paths, and wore my bright yellow vest to make me visible to the hunters who were lurking in the woods seeking deer. I have rarely felt afraid in the woods, but over recent years I have come to feel a tingle of worry in wild places.
On that recent day in the woods, I meandered along the trail, head down searching for good placement of my boots on the snow white path, when out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I looked up and my heart leapt into my throat. A man hid beside a thick tree trunk. A man in camouflage, with an orange vest. A man with a gun.
He gave a slight smile as I jumped into the air and hollered "Oh!" I gave a loud laugh and a "Hi!" as I walked past. Quickly. But then it occurred to me... what was to stop this man from turning his gun on me? Nothing. Not one thing stood in his way of killing whatever and whomever he chose. He held all the power, and the deer and I held, nothing. I was completely dependent on this man, and the other groups of men out there with guns, to be wise and safety-conscious, to use their weapons well, and to have some shred of moralality in their brains.
Needless to say, it freaked me out.
So here we are. In a society that values that man's right to stand silently in the woods bearing his weapon of death, over my right to feel safe in my world. And no place can this truth be seen more powerfully than in the anniversary of this day, this Friday morning, December 14th, 2012.
A year ago a man held a gun, held the power, and decided to use that powerful gun against innocent people. Children. A year ago six and seven year old children went to school and were murdered in their classrooms. A year ago teachers stood up to fight a madman to protect their children, and died in the process. A year ago 26 families were rocked out of their minds, a mere 11 days before Christmas. A year ago Americans were shocked by one man's actions. A year ago, and so many days since that day, I have been able to greet my seven year old son when he arrives home from school, safe and sound. And each day my heart feels so grateful I can, and so angry that 26 families from Newtown cannot.
Let's review what has happened since then, shall we?
Mother Jones reports that since Newtown, there have been "deaths of 194 children ages 12 and under who were reported in news accounts to have died in gun accidents, homicides, and suicides. They are spread across 43 states, from inner cities to tiny rural towns."
Some Newtown residents have moved forward this past year, making a promise of hope, a Sandy Hook Promise. "This is a promise to truly honor the lives lost by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation, to be open to all possibilities … to have the conversations on all the issues, conversations where listening is as important as speaking. … This is a promise to do everything in our power to be remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims; but as the place where real change began."
A lengthy article by Think Progress reports on a new study that analyzed the number of guns compared to the number of gun deaths in the US. It stated "The largest study of gun violence in the United States, released Thursday afternoon, confirms a point that should be obvious: widespread American gun ownership is fueling America’s gun violence epidemic."
However, Huffington Post reminds us that some families, though grateful their child survived, have discovered that "the horrors have been especially difficult to overcome for some of the 6- and 7-year-olds who witnessed the bloodbath."
According to The Boston Globe "More than 1,500 bills were filed in state legislatures amid a chorus of grieving voices from shattered families. And while several reliably blue states enacted major reforms, far more states, more than two dozen, passed laws that weakened gun control. Many expanded the number of places where concealed weapons are permitted."
The New York Times says "Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners. Most of those bills were approved in states controlled by Republicans."
Frontline reports that since Newtown "the gun-rights lobby outspent, out-organized and out-maneuvered gun-control advocates at both the state and federal level. A FRONTLINE examination of state legislation and federal lobbying expenditures shows that gun-rights groups outspent gun-control backers by nearly $10 million."
Wow. That's a lot of money to throw at trying to protect yourself. Sure, you have a right to feel safe. But, so does everyone else. When your right to feel safe destroys other people's right to feel safe, because you can threaten them with death, then no one is safe.
And here's the interesting part... guns don't provide safety, protection, freedom. Guns don't take away our scared feelings, or make us feel free. Insulating ourselves from others by holding them on the far end of a gun doesn't help anyone, certainly not the gun bearer. Violence, gun violence, only compounds our fears and our negativity.
America is about Freedom. But I don't know how any family who has lost a child can ever go on to feel free. I can only imagine the horror of their lives this past year. Somehow they have to keep moving forward. Somehow.
As for me, I know I will keep walking in the woods. Alone. Even in hunting season. I will not carry a gun to protect myself or to trick myself into feeling free. The freedom, as always, must come from within.