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July 20, 2000

Joining the NRA

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/joining_the_nra_20000721

"I can't wait until I'm older so that I can join the NRA," my son Danny, 9, announces.The National Rifle Association? My son?

"Danny," I ask, "don't you know that guns hurt people?'

"Mom," he answers, staring at me incredulously, "they're supposed to."

With four boys, the issue of guns - and toy guns - has always been a hot topic at our house.And over the years, our attitudes have changed - from vehemently forbidding all guns to tentatively allowing squirt guns and Ghostbusters guns to accumulating an arsenal of assorted toy pistols and rifles.Basically, we have reached a policy of reasonable and benign disinterest toward the entire controversy. We don't encourage our sons to play with guns, but neither do we forbid it. As a result, our three older sons, ages 11, 13 and 16, aren't big gun enthusiasts. It's only Danny, the youngest, who is different.Why? I ask.

My mother, who participated in the Million Mom March on the West Coast, advises, "Tell Danny that we're not against gun ownership. We just favor greater restrictions."

But I realize, upon reflection and discussion with my husband, that Danny isn't interested in the heated arguments of either the gun control advocates or opponents. He isn't interested in the legal and historical interpretations of the Second Amendment, which allows each state "a well-regulated militia." Nor is he interested in debating the rights of the individual versus the greater good of the society.

No, Danny is interested in being safe, in blowing away bad guys, in feeling empowered.From his vantage point, Danny lives in a scary world. He knows about last year's shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and the North Valley Jewish Community Center in nearby Granada Hills. He knows that not even the granddaughter of the Los Angeles Police Chief, who was murdered in May in South-Central, is immune from danger.

And he knows, most recently, that at least 50 women were assaulted in broad daylight in New York City's Central Park by roving gangs of men, amid complaints that police did little to halt the attacks.

As parents, Larry and I strive to make Danny feel protected.

We give him some degree of independence, which builds "street smarts" and which, ironically, is a prerequisite to feeling secure. He can bicycle alone, outside the house, or see a movie with an older brother.We try not to burden him with our own anxieties and media-fueled fears.

And while we know, as Rabbi Harold Kushner explains so eloquently in his book, that "bad things happen to good people," we reassure Danny that bad things happen infrequently and atypically.

But, at age 9, Danny is already wary, worldly and realistic.He hears the battalions of helicopters whirring overhead and the sirens of emergency vehicles screaming through the streets.

He submits to metal detectors before boarding an airplane.He knows that there are reasons he lives in a house with an alarm system and a neighborhood patrol service and reasons his Jewish day school has an eight-foot-high chain-link fence, video surveillance and round-the-clock security guards.

He hears us, as well as other parents, routinely and unthinkingly say, "Lock the door," "Don't talk to strangers," "Don't wander off."

It's amazing that Danny, or any child, can sleep at night.

It's amazing that any of us parents can sleep at night.

Nevertheless, we - my husband and I - believe, increased protection lies not in a nation of armed citizens, who already own more than 200 million guns, or a culture of unrestrained violence. And so we continue to support gun control, which advocates responsible and restricted gun ownership. We continue to support the Brady Bill, which requires background checks on potential gun owners and which has stopped more than 500,000 possibly dangerous individuals from purchasing guns.

And we continue to teach our kids gun safety. If they see or find a gun, they know not to touch it, point it or play with it. They know to leave the area immediately and tell an adult.

But the truth is that we are trying to carry out the seemingly impossible - to make our children feel safe in an unsafe world, a world where violence can erupt instantaneously, arbitrarily and often irreversibly.The words of the Spanish poet and philosopher Judah Halevi still hold true today. "Is there anywhere, east or west, a place where we are safe?"

For Danny, at least for the time being, that place exists in his fantasy of someday joining the NRA.

Jane Ulman lives and writes from the San Fernando Valley.

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