The first time I remember seeing a gun up close, the barrel of an Uzi was looking up at me. I was on a bus in Israel, and the person sitting next to me was a soldier. There is mandatory military service for Jewish citizens that doesn't end until 53 years old for men in the reserves. Soldiers in Israel get around on public buses, and since they must always carry their weapons with them, they set their guns down, barrel up, hold on with one hand, and usually fall asleep. Their hectic schedule makes napping necessary. With an uncanny sense of where they are, they always wake up just before the stop they need.
When I was a volunteer on a kibbutz, I went to an informal concert. There, laying next to the violin, was an Uzi. It was an incongruous duo, but that is just part of daily life in Israel — culture and protection, side by side. The image stuck in my mind.
As a housemother to teenage Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in an Israeli boarding school, I went with them to Gadna, mandatory early preparatory training to be soldiers. Bunking down with soldiers at a training camp was indeed an unusual experience for me. I went along to the shooting range and held a gun for the first time. I also shocked myself by being able to hit the target.
When those Ethiopian Jewish teens grew up and became soldiers, they came to visit me in my home. Their guns came along with them and remained delicately placed under the table while we visited. I could never forget they were there.
I've never felt all that safe in the U.S., a country with an alarming number of guns and rifles. In Israel however, even though big guns are casually slung on the backs of men and women soldiers just about everywhere, there is a much lower crime rate. Those guns are so available, yet aren't used to solve personal disputes or rob people. Even though I'm an ardent supporter for gun control in the U.S., it's clear there is more than availability of guns to account for violent people.
I encountered violence from a distance when I worked for a battered women's program and in child abuse. The bruises on the women in our waiting room sometimes gave the impression of an emergency waiting room. In the 1988 Intifada, while I was sleeping in the Israeli-Arab town where I lived and worked, gas was poured over the two front tires of my car and set ablaze. My neighbors waited until the fire trucks left before they woke me to see what remained of my poor car. The next night, a bus was set on fire. Regretfully, I heeded the warning and left the town.
Although from a geographical distance, violence and guns came close again watching the harrowing scenes in Aurora, Colo. There are so many people to feel sorry for in that multifaceted tragedy. What's to blame? Desensitization of violence in our society? The ease of buying assault rifles and enough ammunition for a mini-war? An exit door in a movie theater that could be propped open, allowing easy access? A brilliant, but twisted mind? Evil? As a parent, I ache for the mother and father who had no idea that they had raised a monster.
There has been a very disturbing darkness creeping onto our computer, movie and TV screens. The actor Heath Ledger committed suicide after portraying the psychopath, The Joker. Jack Nicholson, who had played The Joker in an earlier Batman film, said on learning of Ledger's suicide, "I warned him." And it was mentioned briefly that Holmes, the real psychopath in the movie theater, had dyed his hair red and called himself The Joker. It was not mere coincidence that the murders took place during the latest Batman movie. The line between real and pretend has become very fuzzy.
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