Of guns

Newtown is half an hour away from here. When the shooting at Sandy Hook happened, I was at work. I could hear the clinicians talking about it in the hallway, and I started to Google for news. The details kept coming in. When it became overwhelming, I got off the internet, because I had patients to see. A lot of them, especially the parents, came in tears. I had to listen to them, stay with them in that moment, and be honest about my inability to offer much more than support.

It kept eating at me, though. The news on the local radio. The way the classic rock channel that I like (owned by a conservative corporation) went from saying “It’s too soon to talk about guns” to calling the President Loser of the Week for wanting to enact gun safety reform. When the opportunity to volunteer in Newtown came, I jumped at it. It gave me a chance to feel like I was doing something, even if most of it was sitting around in a school, chatting with middle aged counselors from nearby towns, more mental health professionals and therapy dogs than people who needed them in the cold evening hours.

I have an alien’s perspective on guns. India is not a hunting society. I grew up vegetarian, in a religion where any form of violence, even a mental “I want to strangle him!” is a sin. A significant part of my childhood was spent “rescuing” pests- ants, cockroaches, wasps- and releasing them outside rather than killing them. I never saw a gun until I was 13.

That’s when it changed. My father, a well-to-do businessman in a small town in a state that is considered The Wild West of India, was kidnapped. This wasn’t unheard of in election times. It was business as usual. They wanted money. The policemen came. There were long meetings that I wasn’t a part of. Policemen with guns sat around our house and the maid took them tea and biscuits. Four days later, my father came back.

The next day, a senior police officer told my father to buy a gun. He smiled at this, but applied for a license just the same. A month or so later, I saw my first double barreled musket up close. I could never imagine my father shooting at someone. Neither could he, and in a few days, the gun disappeared somewhere in my mother’s pantry. We never saw any bullets.

The next time I thought about a gun was when I took this job. One day a week, I was working in a substance abuse residential facility, the patient population mostly made up of felons under court mandated treatment. Some of them were sociopaths. They tried to charm me into giving them a diagnosis that would lead to secure housing. When that didn’t work, they would try aggression. There would be pointed questions, about my car that was parked outside, my family, where I lived. They would talk about violence, about what they might do if they didn’t get the help they needed.

There were days I got scared. There were days I frantically looked up scales that would tell me the likelihood that they would attack me, what I could do to make sure they didn’t. I didn’t find much beyond what I already knew. I thought about buying a gun. Another few minutes of research told me that that was stupid, that I was more likely to be killed by my own gun than to be able to defend myself with it. So I didn’t.

Instead, I turned to my father and his faith. The good old hota swayam jagat parinaam– The World Takes Care of Itself. I will die some day, and I don’t control how/when. I will not be stupid. I will not own weapons that are likely to kill me/my loved ones/or even complete strangers. Children. Innocents. I will volunteer at all the Newtowns where I can. Because I know there will be others. As long as there will be guns.

About purplesque

Psychiatrist, cook, bookworm, photographer. Not necessarily in that order.
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16 Responses to Of guns

  1. Merlinaut says:

    That was beautiful, Purplesque. That is so wonderful that you volunteered in Newtown. Again I am so proud of you I get chills.

  2. Lurkertype says:

    The rest of us only wished we could help, and you did! How marvelous.

  3. LG says:

    “hota swayam jagat parinaam”: That thought came as a breather just when I was worrying myself about a bunch of things. Thanks. God speaks in mysterious ways.
    Beautiful post. You live a full life.

  4. jaklumen says:

    Keep doing what you’re doing. I am still firmly convinced that Columbine, VT, and yes, even Sandy Hook speak more to me about the lack of SERIOUS solutions and public discussion about mental health. (I still am upset how much I’ve had to struggle, y’know?)

    I also say that your story of volunteering speaks many, many more volumes than does your personal decision regarding guns. I wish this wasn’t such a polarizing issue. I wish more people knew about George Thompson and Verbal Judo/Tactical Communication, and it’s not just a “law enforcement” thing.

    I would say more, but I’m trying to practice better comment etiquette. I hope this makes sense. Don’t be a stranger… I hope to see you around “my place” when you’ve got a little time.

    • purplesque says:

      I know what you mean, Jak…there are so many viable middle of the road solutions for gun safety that would appease a majority of people, if not the extremes on both side. My personal decision is at the no-gun extreme, but I completely understand that it is not a viable one for everyone else.

      Fixing mental health, on the other hand? Ooh boy…

      • jaklumen says:

        Well, yeah. I continue to appreciate what you’re doing, though. I wish I could find more professionals that have your outlook.

        I’m with a case manager again. I think it’ll work out good, turns out she’s someone I met years ago by way of some volunteer work of my own.

  5. Knot Telling says:

    It must have been terrifying for thirteen-year-old you. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

    I live in a society that takes guns for granted, and I practice a religion that has the concept of “a just war”. Your final paragraph fascinates me and has opened windows to different ways of thinking and perceiving. I hope it will make me a better person. Thank you so much for this post.

    • purplesque says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I took it well at the time- diving into being the good daughter, working around the house, supporting my mother, not thinking… I still can’t listen to the album I was listening to when we first heard the news, though. šŸ™‚

      The way of thinking about guns, and violence in general, is the main issue here. It’s easy for me, I am more-or-less firmly entrenched in my belief about non-violence. Likewise for those who believe they are fighting “just wars”, I imagine. It’s everyone in the middle who must really suffer…

  6. So beautifully written! Glad to see a post from you again.

  7. MomWithaDot says:

    Its amazing how like minded people connect! I was looking up the term hota swayam jagat parinam and landed here šŸ™‚ It is evident that we get affected by similar issues (Yes, I wrote about Sandy Hook , Election 2012…….too) Happy to have found you.

  8. amelie says:

    Nice to see someone taking action. What struck me is that it happened in New England; here in Mass only 8% of people even own a gun. At least the word is getting out that (studies back this up) gun owners are about 30% more likely to die of homicide or suicide via a gun. The CDC makes it clear that kids in houses with guns are not safe. I have some hope we can now start down the road of a non gun culture, at least in some regions of the country.

  9. jshaily says:

    As always, your post was moving. Even though, I have been with you for a lot of what has happened, yous posts provide a different insight …

  10. I’m sorry I’m so late to comment. I’ve been offline for over two weeks, due to my ISP being such a giant Fail.

    As you know, I’ve had my own problems dealing with an unstable person who owns guns. Whenever I hear another story about a mentally ill person or sociopath killing both family members and strangers with guns legally bought on the open market, I cringe. This is a problem that has to attacked on two sides: one by making it a lot harder to buy and own guns, and two by diagnosing mental illness early and then treating it consistently and long-term. Here in California, we see too many people on the street who are clearly sick but who have refused to seek treatment unless they were arrested earlier for a crime related to their illness, or who stopped taking their prescribed medications after being released from the hospital. Sometimes the courts will intervene and order a person who has been in and out of the judicial system to take his medications or remain in a psychiatric facility, but that’s too late to be of help to the victims of a criminal who also happens to be sick.

    Your compassion and kindness towards others never ceases to amaze me. Thank you.

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