It’s been a while since I’ve written. It seems that by the time I formulate something to say, there’s another new thing that arises that erases whatever I had to say before. But Boulder is my stomping ground (at least when there’s not a pandemic). We have shopped in that store. There’s a restaurant in that shopping area that makes vindaloo hot enough to please my husband.
One of my daughter’s best friends lived up the street. My daughter went to middle school around the bend. My son played concerts in the park nearby.
So I offer another open to letter to everyone who is supposed to represent my interests. I hope this time my letter makes some sort of difference.
23 March, 2021
Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, Governor Polis, Senator Bennet, Senator Hickenlooper, Representative Neguse, State Senator Lewis, and State Representative Bernett,
Today it was in my/our backyard, but yesterday’s shooting at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder was no more horrific than any of the ones that have happened from that horrific day at Columbine High School until now. Of course it could happen in Boulder. Of course it can happen to any of us.
I have watched so many politicians refuse to give direct and unequivocal answers when asked whether we need stricter gun laws. The answer should be “Yes. We need to discourage people from carrying guns. We need stronger guns laws that restrict the number of guns any person, family, or household can own. We need to outlaw assault rifles and all such weapons designed to inflict maximum damage to humans. We need our children to go to schools that are not fortresses, where they don’t have to absorb the pre-emptive trauma of preparing for a shooter entering their classrooms and playgrounds. We need to change our culture so that we no longer glorify guns and violence.”
Will you take a political hit for such an answer? Yes.
Will such an answer require a whole lot of courage? Yes.
Will giving such an answer be the right thing to do? Yes.
Please: we are looking to you to make Colorado and the United States a safer, saner state and country that will be examples to other states, to our nation, and indeed to the world. Let us show the planet that we know how to face our failings and change.
And let’s not scapegoat this latest devastation onto the backs of those of us with mental illnesses. 1 People dealing with metal illness are not prone to violence. 2 Let’s look at what almost every one of these shooters has in common: they are men. Let’s start there. What is wrong with the men in our country that any of them have to go slaughtering others and ruining the lives of those of us who knew the victims and, in other ways, the lives of those of us who didn’t? Let’s stop deciding retroactively that someone who commits murder is insane and unstoppable. Let’s stop only talking about getting those with mental illness the help they need and do it, and let’s also talk about getting our boys the help they need so that they don’t pick up guns and kill children in schools, congregants in houses of worship, people shopping for their evening meals and getting vaccines that will help protect us all from COVID-19.
And let us not forget all those who are shot, but in numbers too small — one, two, or three — to be considered worthy of attention. EVERY DAY, 316 people in the U.S are shot; twenty-two are children. 3 Let us remember the victims of domestic violence, most likely to be killed when they try to escape; the children who find the guns their parents have not locked away and who play with them because we have taught them that guns are toys and who end up shooting themselves or siblings or friends; the folks who maim themselves or others; the ones who shoot in the air in a moment of excitement and end up harming someone, if only through inflicting the terror of finding a bullet lodged in a wall of their home.
Over two years ago I wrote a blog post 4 after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. I opened my essay stating that I doubted anything would change, and I was right. Sometimes I really, really hate to be right. If the deaths of the children at Sandyhook couldn’t shock us into sanity, I don’t know what ever will.
Back in March of 2018, Garrett Epps wrote in the Atlantic an article titled “The Second Amendment Does Not Transcend All Others: Its text and context don’t ensure an unlimited individual right to bear any kind and number of weapons by anyone.” 5 Every child in school should read it; so should all our elected representatives. Epps quotes the judgement that Justice Scalia, that bastion of conservatism, rendered in Heller v. District of Columbia:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
I have gotten to the point that I hate all guns. I didn’t always. My grandmother and mother were incredible shots. I played with pop guns and fake sheriff’s pistols and water guns as a kid. But now I would happily see them all, toys and the real ones, disappear from the face of the planet. 6
But I am willing to compromise. I am willing to talk with those who disagree with me but are also willing to find a sensible middle-ground. (Perhaps we could agree that people who have been cleared by background checks may own guns that were in existence at the time our Constitution was written. Surely that would appeal to strict constructionists.)
One of our nieces reminded me that her whole life has been permeated by this violence; the same is true for my children who flank their cousin in age. I know a teacher who is retiring in part because he can no longer assure his students that they are safe at school.
Let’s give gun-law reform a try. Let’s give it a try for at least a generation and see what happens. Let’s save lives and children. Let’s take some of the pressure off the police who have to worry about whether everyone they approach has a weapon. Let’s be humane and moral and responsible and value each other more than we do weapons that can destroy us as individuals and as a national community.
Thank you for reading my letter. I hope, fervently and desperately, that you all will act — directly and decisively — to turn the tide of this every-rising flood of preventable violence and damage. I am
Ruth E Feiertag
- 1. And if you want to improve the mental health of many of us, pass gun laws that will keep us safer. The barrage of anguish and death contributes to my sense of helplessness and depression.
6. I think about the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for two generations so that all those who entered the Promise Land would have never known what it was to be a slave. Sometimes I think that’s what we need here in the U.S. Let us have two generations without guns, and when the last of us who have known what it is to have lived with a national consciousness pervaded with the awareness of guns has died, then let the generations who succeed us decide whether they want to re-introduce them into society.
3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Everyone Who Represents Me: President Biden, Vice President Harris, Governor Polis, Senator Bennet, Senator Hickenlooper, Representative Neguse, State Senator Lewis, and State Representative Bernett”
You’re in my thoughts. Hope all is well with you.
Thank you, Ruth, for giving such eloquent voice to what is so urgently needed – for all of us.
I just wish writing might actually help get some action going. Horrible as the Boulder shooting was, I feel as if it has bumped coverage of the Atlanta killings off the radar and that those might be the ones on which we need to keep our eye. The Boulder shooter plays into too many of the stereotypes (random act by a person with mental health problems) that anti-gun-safety proponents would like us to think are the at the root of all this violence. It’s an exception that’s being set up as the rule. Sigh.