from Shiela Rae, the Brave
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 1987
The year is 1971. I graduated from high school in June and my plans for college were all set. I thought I’d like to stay a little close to home, and Kent State University sounded like a good choice to me. My mom and dad were concerned, though, since four students were killed by the National Guard and nine were injured just a little more than a year before. Besides, they said, I’d be better off at a smaller school.
For reasons beyond the scope of this page, and for some reasons I still don’t understand, I registered for classes at Ohio Northern University, a small school in northwestern Ohio, about three hours away from home. Many very good and some not-so-good decisions were made there, by me, by my classmates and roommates, and by those in charge of one thing and another.
Even though I did not know any of the students who were killed or hurt at KSU, the incident stayed on my mind. It was the senseless and random violence of that tragedy that stuck with me.
Several years later I met one of the National Guardsmen who was there. He was an acquaintance of my ex-husband’s. It was probably around 1979, and he said he was not allowed to talk about it. At all. And he didn’t. He looked uncomfortable and I believed him.
I’ve always been uneasy around guns. Even though my brother played with toy guns and I sometimes played with him, it was pretend. I’m not sure that made it okay, but that’s how it was.
I don’t know if my father kept a gun in the house. I suspect not. Even thinking as hard as I can, I have to admit that I really don’t know.
My brother never kept a gun in his house. I never asked him, it’s just something I know in my soul. I think my nephew or nieces did not play with toy guns, either.
I don’t know if any of my brothers-in-law had a gun. It was a discussion we never had.
My ex-husband felt the same as me. He did not have a gun.
My husband had a gun for a time. I think he kept it in the back of the closet. He sold it many years ago and I’m glad it’s gone.
Guns are always in the news. Guns are in the paper, on TV, in movies. Whether we want to admit it or not, our society is a violent one. Maybe it has something to do with the Wild West. Maybe it has something to do with our desire to be seen as strong and fearless. But powerful people don’t always make good decisions. Gun-toters aren’t always brave.
And I know not everyone who carries (or owns) a gun is homicidal or suicidal or mentally ill or unstable.
Gun shops were declared an essential business in our age of COVID-19 and gun purchases have surged along with the virus. I’m not sure why. Protection, I guess. From burglary? Do people really think someone will come steal their toilet paper or hand sanitizer?
While homicides have indeed decreased, domestic violence has increased. After all, if kids are not in school, bars are closed, movie theaters shuttered, mass shootings, of course, will decrease. But tragically, hate and anger will find their own outlet. So the irony is, we have been told to stay home, to stay safe. But, some homes are not safe.
And while the Dickey Amendment prohibits the Federal Government from allocating funds to advocate or promote gun control, in March, 2018, Congress reached a compromise of sorts. Language stating the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence. But, even though research is allowed to be conducted, that research has yet to be funded. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5993413/ The NRA, while experiencing funding issues of its own, is still a powerful political force.
But gun’s are not just for civilians. Police and soldiers carry guns, tools of their trades. They are used for self-defense or to protect the values of the United States and our citizens. But not always. That is not the case when police kill civilians. The Washington Post has been keeping track of that since 2015. Here’s the link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/police-shootings-database/
A big part of the problem is the weapon of choice. While most victims of hand gun violence can recover from their injuries, victims of assault type weapons will not.
When soldiers use rifles kill students on a college campus in the outskirts of a small town in Ohio, the reverberations are heard and felt 50 years later.
The United States is not the only country to experience senseless civilian shootings on a mass scale. About two weeks ago, a gunman killed 22 people in Nova Scotia. One week later, Prime Minister (of Canada) Justin Trudeau announced an immediate ban on assault type weapons. Current gun owners can sell back their newly-illegal weapons. Detail of the ban are still being worked out.
Strength and courage sometimes means solving a problem, even when the solution is complicated. Thanks, Mr. Trudeau, for being like Sheila Rae, brave and fearless.
-—stay curious! (and stand strong)