By GUNJAN HOOJA
I distinctly remember the day that the Sandy Hook Shooting happened. I was a senior in high school living in Stamford, Connecticut — barely an hour away from Newtown. I decided to head out early from school and get an early start to the weekend, so I grabbed coffee and made my way back home. It was approximately 10:30 a.m. when I put on the news and surprisingly found that CNN was showing clips from my local news station broadcasting the details from Newtown. The shooting had barely happened an hour before and the details were blurry, coming in fast with no clear summation of what had actually happened. However, it soon became evident that someone had murdered many people in the school, including several innocent young children. The casualty number changed by the minute and it was horrifying to watch the aftermath unfold in real time. That day, schools all over Connecticut, especially elementary schools, were put on special notice and even lockdown. When I went to pick up my nine year old sister that afternoon, the full extent of the event really hit me and I couldn’t help but hold her tight. That day, I saw so many parents holding their kids close to their chests because suddenly, the safest of places had been brutally violated. The simple thought was “If my child can’t be safe going to school, where in the world are they actually safe?”
Memories from that day played in my head as I attended my first Handgun Safety class two weeks ago.
First, a bit of background: I am a staunch liberal when it comes to anything and everything related to gun control. My opinion on the subject was profoundly impacted by the events that happened in Newtown. Yet I wanted to push myself and get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to see the topic from a different angle — from the perspective of people who use these weapons for safe and recreational use. How would my views change?
The first class was interesting in that I had never been near a gun in my life. Forget about shooting one. The instructor gave us a brief breakdown about how the gun worked, how to use it and how to use it safely. Within 10 minutes, the gun was in my hand, surprisingly heavy, and I was instructed to shoot at the target 10 yards away. Shoot it I did. The takeaway was that shooting a gun is surprisingly easy and although I had no hope of hitting the target well, I did manage to hit many shots through the overall target. The feelings I had during the class were complex. There was far less adrenaline than I had expected; rather it was a focused, calm exercise. In short: I didn’t love the feeling, but I necessarily didn’t hate it either. I realized that guns weren’t the demons that I had made them out to be in my head. Yet, they were still weapons that could very easily wreak incomprehensible damage. That thought was not far from my mind that day, but with rational people using the weapon in a safe and supervised manner, I never felt unsafe.
By the second class, it was surprising how easily I was able to get used to the handgun and start learning how to shoot in a specific direction. The drills were interesting and engaging, but I was not yearning to shoot more and more rounds. I saw it instead as learning a skill that I would improve with time and practice.
As I write these words, I feel discomfort in how callous, objective and cold I might sound. But taking this class is an experiment in how it will change my thoughts and understanding of the world.
After going to class for only two weeks, I have started to formulate certain takeaways.
1. I will always and forever advocate gun control no matter how many guns I fire.
Although I now realize that guns are not demonic objects, I still get so angry when people say “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This statement is absolutely absurd. Yes, guns don’t kill people, but they sure make it much easier for people to kill people. Seeing how quickly I was able to start shooting a gun, I now believe this more than ever. Guns were one of the reason why there were so many deaths of so many innocents in such a short amount of time in Newtown.
2. You can use a gun safely, recreationally and responsibly for the right purpose.
Again, I never felt unsafe in that supervised gun range. The instructor was constantly correcting us and making sure that we were taking the right precautions. Using a gun with targets is an engaging activity that builds skills such as focus, aim, posture and steadiness. By shooting, you learn to make small adjustments and changes in order to achieve a particular goal. My view has expanded in the sense that as long as people use guns for safe, recreational and legal use, they should be within their rights to do so. However, this country needs to understand that our gun laws are way too lax. We need stricter background checks among other controls to make sure guns do not easily fall into the wrong hands. The key word here is “easily;” I would be living in an ideal world if I believed that background checks and other legislation are enough to keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys, but doing something is always better than preserving the status quo. Maybe making it a bit harder to obtain guns could make the country just a bit safer. Furthermore, if you are a rational, upstanding member of society, then going through a few more checks won’t be more than a minor hassle. And such a hassle has the potential to do great good. Furthermore, there is evidence that background checks do help with gun violence. According to a Washington Post article, “state universal background checks along with other state laws designed to increase gun seller and purchaser accountability significantly reduced the number of guns diverted to the illegal markets where the above high risk groups often get their guns”
All in all, my stance on gun control is evolving. I am still steadfastly for any legislation that reduces gun violence, but I am gaining a deeper understanding of the subject by taking this class. Seeing guns used in a safe manner has given me some insight into the minds of people on the other side of this issue. I fully believe that my views and thoughts on the subject will evolve much more by the end of the semester. But one thing hasn’t changed: I still don’t completely understand the opposing perspective. No legislation or gun control act will ever take away the 2nd amendment — the purpose of such legislation is to curb gun violence. Background checks and so forth would be a minor requirement for a normal citizen purchasing a gun, so why such virulent disagreement?
In my view, any and everything that can prevent a massacre like Sandy Hook or the increasing number of shootings that we see on almost a weekly basis is not only the right thing to do; it is something we must do.