With all of the emotion surrounding the issue of gun control, I’ve been pleased to see what looks like the beginning of a coming together in the middle; an emerging path; a sensible, and reasonable way forward.
Gun owners and non-owners coming together
As I wrote last week and the week before
And now this week comes the news that former Representative Gabby Giffords (who was grievously injured in the Tuscon shooting) and her husband Mark Kelly—both gun owners and both strong supporters of the 2nd Amendment—have launched their own initiative, Americans for Responsible Solutions.
While here in New York this week, Governor Cuomo—also a gun owner—in his State of the State address on Wednesday proposed major new restrictions on assault weapons, what would be the most comprehensive gun control law in the country.
On a Personal Note
All of these initiatives are arising, of course, in response to a string of unspeakable tragedies, the latest and, if it can be said, most unspeakable of which—Newtown—has occasioned unimagined heartbreak; and an outpouring of very personal grief. In that process we’ve come to understand that we’ve all been much closer to this issue than we may have known.
In my case, my brother is a survivor of a sniper attack. A childhood friend of mine was shot to death when she was only 22. In recent years two of my congregants have lost close relatives to guns—one of whom lost her mother in the 2009 mass murder in Binghamton, NY. Our small community has connections to Newtown as well.
Christina Dolzall is the daughter of an old friend of our community. Christina grew up in Newtown, and was a teaching intern associate of Vicki Soto, one of the teachers killed in the massacre. A few days after the tragedy, Christina wrote a letter giving voice to her grief and her thoughts. I have her permission to share it with you in this forum, as she writes “in hopes that it will encourage others to help foster change in the coming days, weeks, and years.”
I am a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, and a former intern at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Newtown has brought my life so much love and opportunity, for which I will always be grateful. The events that transpired last Friday morning I likely will never fully grasp or understand. As my heart begins to heal, I wanted to share my story in hopes that it will encourage others to help foster change in the coming days, weeks, and years.
With my family, I moved to Newtown when I was six years old – the same age as so many of the children lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. I quickly became acquainted with my new teachers and made new friends, joined dance classes and softball teams, and became part of the town. I watched parades down Main Street on Labor Day, enjoyed signature “Flagpole” sandwiches at the old-fashioned general store, enjoyed the flickering luminaries that line the Ram’s Pasture and Main Street before the Christmas Tree Lighting, and entered raffles for trees at the annual Festival of the Trees (I still haven’t won). While so many of us here go far away for college, I find that many of us come back here to settle. There’s a strong reason for that – our community.
I attended Sacred Heart University and earned a degree in psychology and my elementary school teacher certification. As I neared graduation, I interned at a nearby preschool and completed my student teaching. Following graduation, I was fortunate to become a paid intern at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the staff was always so gracious, welcoming, and generous. My year of teaching and assisting special needs children helped shape me as a person and future teacher. I worked alongside so many of the heroic staff that saved lives and gave their own. Vicki Soto and I, both then 23 years of age and fresh from school, were interns that year. We learned from the Sandy Hook teachers and began to develop our teaching styles, inspired by the talented educators around us.
As my internship at Sandy Hook was nearing completion, a life dream of mine came true – I was offered a position with a dance company that would take me across this globe. The staff and students shared their excitement at my opportunity, knowing how much it meant to me.
Since those days in 2009, I’ve traveled the world dancing, visiting over 25 countries and 45 of the 50 states in this country – and met my fiancé from Australia in the process. I was so proud to bring him home to Newtown. Despite all the amazing cultures and places we’d experienced, I felt confident Newtown would be our future home. He agreed.
Hearing the initial news of a possible shooting near Sandy Hook Elementary, I felt empty and in disbelief. At that point, all that was reported was that there’d been a police call about a shooting. I prayed it would be a false alarm. But as the hours passed, we painfully learned otherwise.
As I learn about the courageous and selfless actions of Vicki Soto and the other educators at Sandy Hook Elementary, I can’t help but picture myself in that classroom, knowing that but for a twist of fate I might have taken the same career path. Could I have possibly been so brave? Vicki is, and forever will be, a hero and an inspiration to me and hopefully to us all.
I ask myself, how could this tragedy happen? But I guess what we really should be asking is, what could have been done to prevent it? How can we prevent it from ever happening again?
Some will talk of providing principals and administrators access to guns for protection. But surely if the schools of our youngest children, our precious future, need to become armed fortresses, we have lost our way as a culture and a country. I respect the rights of citizens to own guns for sport and other legitimate purposes. But our neighborhoods, our communities, our malls, our theaters, our schools are no place for the likes of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips that, in the wrong hands, are for all intents and purposes weapons of mass destruction.
During the Sunday night vigil here in Newtown, our President said, “If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that's visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.” He vowed that “these tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” He will need your support and he has mine. We have no more time to waste. We must change for those lost at Sandy Hook, for the town of Newtown, for our country, for our children. We must protect our nation’s people with the same courageousness and selflessness that the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School showed for their own.
Please read my previous posts on gun control: Repairing the World: The Truth About Ending Gun Violence Now (December 20); There is No God: Continuing Thoughts on Gun Control (December 27); and Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence (January 3)
If you’re in the Hudson Valley, please read The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents’ call for seven policies to address gun violence.
Your comments are welcome.
Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue – with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public; everyone – without exception - is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” - as well as service times and events - at www.ShalomPCS.com.