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.