Tag Archive: Newtown

  1. Eric Liu — Be Useful

    Leave a Comment

    The son of successful immigrants from Taiwan, Eric Liu ’90 studied history at Yale College and has since then become a successful philanthropist and writer. After Yale, he went on to serve as a speechwriter for President Clinton, and later became Clinton’s deputy domestic policy advisor. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Liu has written several books, including “The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker.” He is a regular columnist for The Atlantic and CNN.com, and is the founder and CEO of Citizen University, a non-profit that promotes and teaches the art of positive citizenship. Liu was on campus last week to launch Citizen University’s new partnership with Yale College, and co-hosted a one-day summit on civic empowerment alongside Dean Holloway.

    Q: You went to Harvard Law School, but you haven’t been a practicing lawyer. How come?

    A: I went to law school explicitly with the intention of not practicing. I thought of it as a general graduate education, with a major in law. I took courses all around Harvard and came to know faculty and leaders in different disciplines around campus. Soon after I graduated from Yale in 1990, I realized there was so much more I could have explored intellectually. So when I went to law school, I was more aware of my interests and knew what I was passionate about. I wanted a second bite at the apple.

    Q: How has your training in law helped you?

    A: In a couple of ways. In between Yale and Harvard, I worked in D.C., first for David Boren, the U.S. senator for Oklahoma, and then for President Clinton. A lot of people I admired in Washington had trained in law but were not practicing. Problems and issues seemed to pop out in another dimension for them. Their ability to frame and understand problems and arguments was really compelling. And secondly, the training I received in law allows me to speak a certain language. The work I do now is all about teaching different aspects of citizenship, both at an ethical level and at a more legal, political and constitutional level. If we’re going to talk about the Fourteenth Amendment or the Citizenship Clause, for instance, having fluency in that language helps.

    Q: You spent a few years working as an executive at a digital media company in Seattle. What was that like?

    A: It was a really important part of my life, a pivotal period of failure and self-reckoning. I took that job for reasons that I had not followed prior to that, and have not followed since that. I listened to a voice that said, “You should get some business experience.” But it didn’t come from an intrinsic love of business or a desire to learn about it. It was an intellectually interesting time, but working there absolutely did not feed my sense of purpose. Particularly given the kind of hours I was putting in and the pressure I was under, I felt a kind of spirit-level emptiness.

    Q: You’ve got an incredibly varied resume. You’ve been an author, a philanthropist, a policy-maker, a speechwriter and more. How do you know when it’s time to change tack?

    A: I feel that there’s been a common thread for many of the different jobs and work environments I’ve been in. That common thread has been about civic empowerment. It’s been about exploring American identity and engaging in ways to activate the full promise of American life. That impulse was certainly there when I was working in politics. But it was also there while I was writing books about race or citizenship. And again, in the work I’m doing now, running Citizen University, it’s also key.

    Q: Where do you get your drive from?

    A: I’m a second-generation U.S. citizen; my parents are immigrants. If you translate it from Mandarin, my grandfather’s name means “Deliverance of the Nation.” [Laughs] High-pressure name, right? As I was growing up, there was this sense that you should be of service. Have you ever been to the base of the Harkness Tower in Branford?

    Q: No…

    A: Go into Branford, and at the base of Harkness Tower you’ll see this quote from Nathan Hale, class of 1773. It’s his second most famous quote. It says, “I wish to be useful.” That’s all. That is the essence of my sense of purpose — I wish to be civically useful. I wish to be part of delivering on the idea that is America. That is a second-generation, son-of-immigrants kind of thing, but still.

    Q: How would you tell other people to be useful? Particularly to those who don’t have your hunger or drive, for instance? Sometimes, just practically speaking, it can be difficult to know.

    A: It totally can be. No one is born knowing how to be of service. And even in an institution like Yale, which has a great long tradition of citizen service and leadership, it’s not explicitly reinforced. There are many other paths that quickly lead towards other kinds of works and measures of success.

    Q: Is that why you decided that Citizen University should get involved at Yale?

    A: Yes. That’s why I’m on campus this weekend. Citizen University has just launched this civic leadership initiative for Yale College undergraduates. We had a kick-off summit yesterday that Dean Holloway and I put together. Fifty or so undergraduates, from different colleges, backgrounds and ages, took part. We brought in six very diverse speakers to teach different aspects about what it means to be a capable and active citizen. We brought up questions like, How do you cultivate civic imagination? How do you use narrative to create a sense of community? How do you activate popular culture to change politics? How do you come up with cross-partisan political alliances that break apart tired frames of left-right, Democrat-Republican? Dean Holloway and I felt it was necessary for Yale to become more intentional and systematic in its attempts to cultivate a spirit and skillset of effective, engaged citizen leadership.

    Q: On the Citizen University website, one of the quotes that jumps out is “Most people are fundamentally illiterate in power.” Could you unpack that?

    A: Every association you can have with the word “power” is negative. Power-mad, power-trip, power-hungry… It’s a dirty word. And that is unfortunate. The heart of the work Citizen University does is to try to democratize the understanding of civic power. The reality is that in civic life, you are either literate in how power operates (and have agency in how it operates), or you are simply the object of other people’s operation of power. It seems to me that the most basic promise of a democratic republic is that everybody at least can have a shot at exercising power. If people are wasting that shot by willful or unwitting ignorance, then we are wasting the promise of democracy.

    Q: Is leadership taught enough in high school?

    A: There used to be robust civic education in the K-12 public schools system, but over the last several decades, that has winnowed away.

    Q: How come?

    A: It’s two things. Number one: Public education has gotten increasingly driven by standardized tests and increasingly geared towards things that are considered high priority, like math, science and reading. So civic education has been squeezed out. Number two: A lot of schools feel that to talk about civic issues is to court controversy. In our polarized political times, increasing numbers of educators are frankly just scared to go there. Schools fear that there will be a social media backlash, or that parents will get involved. So we’ve ended up with a systematic avoidance of the topic. That has to be remedied. Even just a little awareness about how power operates can help someone become that much more effective in civic life.

    Q: Where do you stand on gun policy?

    A: When Newtown happened, a friend and colleague of mine resolved to do something about it. We set up a kind of discussion posse that became the Washington [State] Alliance for Gun Responsibility. We ran a campaign to put a measure on our ballot that would create a statewide system of criminal background checks for gun purchasers. And it passed! The gun lobby fought it tooth and nail, but we organized people in every corner of our state. The name — “Gun Responsibility” — is important. It’s not gun restraint, it’s gun responsibility. We acknowledge that there are gun rights. But if you’re going to be a grown-up citizen, if you’re going to be a “non-toddler,” you have to recognize that every right comes with responsibilities. We have not had a grown-up conversation about guns. For us, it wasn’t just about securing a particular system of background checks, it was about opening up a wider conversation about the meaning of responsibility in civic life.

    Q: You have expressed your support for a truth and reconciliation commission on extrajudicial violence against African-Americans. Do you stand by that?

    A: I believe that the U.S. could use a truth and reconciliation process, not just around African-Americans, but around race generally. It would look at how race has distorted policy-making, social norms, opportunity and definitions of Americanness. These issues are not just in the news today — they have roots that precede the founding of the country. I’m not naive. Having a commission like that in the U.S. would look very different to the way similar things have been done in South Africa, Argentina, Australia and other nations. But forget about the mechanics for a moment — if we are going to grow up as a country, we need to have an honest, non-defensive reckoning with race.

    Q: I totally agree, but I don’t think that everyone has your energy. Many people would balk at the size of the challenge. And others would fear that a large-scale commission would blow things up even more, disturb whatever fragile “equilibrium” is currently in existence.

    A: I acknowledge that. A commission would be hard. But the equilibrium currently is only an appearance of an equilibrium. A lot of the old ways in which power is arranged in this country are breaking apart. Some of that is driven by technology and social media. Ten years ago there was no such thing as a “hashtag,” much less using a hashtag to generate and catalyze citizen protest and action around the country. There has also been a shift in demography. Statistically, we are fast approaching the day when we will be a majority people of color country. The reality of that, and the anticipation of that, creates turbulence and anxiety, but it also creates a certain amount of hope and expectation. This is by definition not an equilibrium period. This is a period of disruption, both welcome and unwelcome. My view is that, as members of the body politic, we shouldn’t just turn away and pretend change isn’t happening. We should run toward it.

  2. New school to be built in Sandy Hook’s place

    Leave a Comment

    In a unanimous vote, a taskforce of local leaders in Newtown, Conn. decided on Friday to knock down Sandy Hook Elementary School and build a new school in its place.

    The decision came after months in which the 28-person task force considered 40 different sites on which to build a school, settling on the original site both for its convenient location and for the symbolic triumph over tragedy it provides. The new school will cost between $42 million and $47 million to construct, a cost that the state and federal governments are expected to pick up.

    Though everyone who testified in Friday’s meeting spoke in favor of the final recommendations, some parents expressed discomfort at the idea of building a new school where the old one once stood.

    “To me, that is always going to be a site where 26 people were murdered,”one panel member, Laura Roche, told The New York Times.

    But Roche voted on Friday in favor of building on the original site as the best option available to the taskforce.

    The recommendation would preclude the possibility of converting the old elementary school into a memorial site, as in several previous instances. At Columbine High School, where two teenagers gunned down 12 students in 1999 and injured 24 others, the library – where most of the victims had been slaughtered – was converted into an atrium. At Virginia Tech, the classroom building where a gunman killed 32 people in 2007 was converted into a peace studies and violence prevention center.

    The taskforce’s recommendation will now go to the local school board and will need to earn the support of local residents, who will vote on the proposal in a referendum.

  3. Biting the Bullet — And Leaving Connecticut

    1 Comment

    Surrounded by a tobacco store and a deserted Thai restaurant in a strip mall off I-95, a white-haired man in a baseball cap and plaid flannel shirt took a midday smoke on the stoop of Connecticut Firearms and Tactical LLC. The only marking on the storefront was a large sign reading “GUNS.” Below the awning, someone at the Orange, Conn.,-based retailer had pasted advertisements for National Rifle Association pistol courses and a bumper sticker with another message: “God bless our troops … especially our snipers.”

    The date was April 19. 15 days earlier, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy had signed historic, tough new gun legislation into law.

    A customer entered the shop, surveying the walls lined with guns, ammunition and pistol cases.

    “Do you have a round of .40?” the customer asked. CFT was the only retailer in the state he had called that had that particular kind of ammunition in stock.

    “Get it while you can, before the prices go up,” the attendant replied ominously. With state legislators having cracked down on gun sales in all iterations, the going rate for ammunition might just be as volatile as prices at the gas pump.

    CFT used to stock AR-15s and AK-47s — the kind of assault rifles demonized in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. But the retailer had to completely reevaluate its merchandise and change its business model after the reform package extended the state’s assault weapons ban, limited the size of magazines and instigated universal background checks. The state’s House voted 105-44 in favor, with the approval of Malloy.

    Both gun retailers and gun manufacturers alike have been hit hard by the decision — and are in the process of reacting to it.

    Last week, Bristol’s PTR industries, which employs a staff of 50, announced that it will consider invitations to relocate to other states.

    In an April 9 press release, PTR indicated that it will choose a new location within the next six weeks and aim to complete its relocation out of Connecticut by the end of the year.

    “We feel that our industry as a whole will continue to be threatened so long as it remains in a state where its elected leaders have no regard for the rights of those who produce and manufacture its wealth,” the PTR release read. “We encourage those in our industry to abandon this state as its leaders have abandoned the proud heritage that forged our freedom.”

    PTR is one — and the smallest — of four Connecticut gun manufacturers; the others include Stag Arms in New Britain, O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. in North Haven and Colt Manufacturing Company LLC in West Hartford. Together, they employ over 1000 Connecticut residents.

    As PTR urges both gun manufacturers and retailers to leave the state, showing politicians what the company describes as the “true consequences of their hasty and uninformed actions,” the future looks bleak for Connecticut residents dependent on the gun industry’s role in the state economy. Lawmakers, then, are fighting not just the gun-rights backlash born of the recent legislation but also accusations that they have created a hostile working environment for the Nutmeg State’s gun industry, one gun-related businesses may just do well to abandon.

    “They don’t know what they can sell legally to whom, or when, or how,” said Josh Fiorini, the CEO of PTR.

    “Their world just got turned upside down.”

    ‘Talk to a manufacturer at least once’

    The gun industry has long regarded Connecticut as its home. In the early 1800s, Connecticut manufacturers produced the first affordable high quality firearms, earning the state designation as “the arsenal of democracy.” Hartford-born Samuel Colt, Colt Manufacturing’s namesake, invented the revolver design in 1836 and made his company the first in the world to produce firearms with interchangeable parts.

    But everything changed after Newtown. Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy have been lobbying the Senate since December to pass their background checks amendment, which failed just this past Wednesday. Local efforts for gun control were more successful: Malloy scrambled to create a bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention in the Connecticut senate and then pass the state’s sweeping 139-page package of new laws. Gun manufacturers claim the Malloy-backed legislative process did not incorporate their input. Fiorini said that he met with all of the legislative leaders responsible for the bill — and added that none of them had any technical expertise with regard to guns.

    “There was a 100 percent lack of consultation,” Fiorini said. “If you’re writing healthcare legislation, might want to talk to a doctor at least once.”

    Mike Bazinet, the spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, confirmed that several industry executives went to Connecticut’s General Assembly with every intention of participating fully in the debate over reform. But he added that he took issue with the fact that the final legislation passed never received a public hearing.

    Both Fiorini and Bazinet claimed that as the package was sped through the Connecticut legislature, lawmakers failed to even read it in full. Instead, Fiorini suggested, they based their opinion on a 16-page pamphlet that was “floating around.”

    Things look different to those who backed the stricter laws.

    Rob Pinciaro, the spokesperson for advocacy group Connecticut Against Gun Violence, called the idea that gun industry figures were left out of the legislative process “patently untrue.” He added that manufacturers were specifically invited to pubic informational hearings.

    “I don’t know how many hearings they want,” Pinciaro said.

    Such verbal sparring has even surfaced in the national media, further straining relations between the two groups. In an April 7 interview with CNN anchor Candy Crowley, Malloy launched an attack on the gun industry for which multiple manufacturers are demanding an apology.

    “What this is about is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible, even if they’re deranged, even if they’re mentally ill, even if they have a criminal record,” Malloy said on-air. “They don’t care.”

    Manufacturers have accused Malloy of targeting them and of muddying their brand name. Bazinet dubbed the governor’s comments “inaccurate, intemperate and unhelpful to having a civil dialogue” and Fiorini, arguing that the public would not tolerate such antagonistic treatment of any other group, said they were “blatantly offensive.”

    Gun industry representatives believe they have played their part. Bazinet said that the governor should know that all sales handled by federally licensed retailers at stores and gun shows go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NICS), which he sees as the creation of the firearms industry.

    “No one in the industry wants any firearm to go to a prohibited person,” Bazinet added. “To say otherwise is an insult to everyone who works in our industry.”

    No longer the ‘arsenal of democracy’

    Facing hostility in the legislature, gun industry leaders are poised to strike back by moving their facilities — and the jobs they provide — away from Connecticut. PTR is the first to make the public leap towards relocation, but it is likely that the company will start a trend among Connecticut gun manufacturers.

    The exodus of manufacturers could pose a potent threat to the state economy. Connecticut’s unemployment rate of 8 percent is higher than the national rate of 7.6 percent and Malloy’s budget has been criticized as unrealistic, given the state’s $1.2 billion deficit.

    Bazinet pointed out that the firearms industry has an economic impact in the state of more than $1.7 billion. He added that manufacturers have clearly stated, both in testimony before the legislature and in the media, that they oppose the state’s new law for its potential effect on their companies’ brand equity and sales.

    “Whether more manufacturers ultimately decide to move will be their individual decisions based on their due diligence of the costs and impacts involved, but such decisions are under very serious consideration,” Bazinet said.

    Even Pinciaro conceded a concern for gun-related jobs, arguing that it is not in the best interest of the state for gun manufacturers to relocate.

    “They can sell just as well from this state as any other,” Pinciaro added.

    The stakes are higher for the governor. Andrew Doba, his press aide, emphasized that Malloy thinks about jobs and economic development “24 hours a day” but said protecting Connecticut’s public safety remains his top priority. The bill signed into law will improve security and make Connecticut’s communities and families safer, Doba added. He said Malloy hoped that the gun industry would join the state in that effort.

    But while public safety improvements may trump the economic activity provided by gun manufacturers from a Connecticut perspective, politicians in other states welcome any economic boost. Texas Governor Rick Perry practically rolled out the red carpet for Connecticut gun manufacturers with a post on Twitter last Friday. “Hey, PTR. Texas is still wide open for business!! Come on down!” he chirped.

    Manufacturers believe that states in the Southeast and Southwest boast cultures that would welcome their presence as an industry. Some 20 states have so far reached out to Connecticut-based gun manufacturers with invitations to move and offers of economic assistance.

    But Texas, Fiorini said, is at the top of PTR’s list, thanks to its cultural support for gun ownership and individual rights.

    “[Texas] is a business-friendly state government,” Fiorini said, identifying it as a “long-term safe haven” for gun manufacturers.

    Such a haven stands in contrast to other states with liberal leanings. Were PTR to move to a state like Massachusetts, Fiorini said, its fate would remain uncertain.

    In Texas, it is assured.

  4. Sens. Blumenthal, Murphy criticize NRA

    Leave a Comment

    Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy offered harsh words to the NRA in a Monday letter to the pro-gun organization’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre.

    The letter, in which the senators requested the NRA cease automated calls pushing the NRA’s pro-gun policies to Newtown, Conn., residents, called the organization’s behavior “inappropriate” and its agenda “extreme.”

    “With the robocalls, the NRA has stooped to a new low in the debate over how to best protect our kids and our communities,” the senators wrote. “We call on you to immediately stop calling the families and friends of the victims in Newtown.”

    The NRA did not respond to requests for information on the specific language included in the robocalls or whether the organization plans to continue the calls. The organization has vowed to oppose any tightening of firearm regulations. On Sunday, however, Politico reported that the organization was in private talks with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment, to expand background checks on gun purchases.

    Nearly 100 days after the school shooting that claimed the lives of 20 first-grade students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the national push for increased gun control continues to move slowly. Just under two weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved four pieces of legislation written in the wake of the massacre. The most controversial provisions, such as an assault weapons ban, however, are widely considered unlikely to pass the full Senate.

    Read the full text of the letter below:

    March 25, 2013

    Mr. Wayne LaPierre
    Executive Vice President
    National Rifle Association of America
    11250 Waples Mill Road
    Fairfax, VA 22030

    Dear Mr. LaPierre:

    We write to you today on behalf of our constituents in Newtown, Connecticut who are outraged by your inappropriate automated phone calls pushing the National Rifle Association’s extreme agenda being received by members of the Newtown community. With these robocalls, the NRA has stooped to a new low in the debate over how to best protect our kids and our communities. We call on you to immediately stop calling the families and friends of the victims in Newtown.

    Like all Americans, we were horrified by the shooting on December 14th at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We were with the parents that day and the days that followed and can confidently tell you that the parents of the victims, and the community as a whole, are still struggling to comprehend the horror of that day. Your robocalls pushing our constituents to contact their members of Congress to urge opposition to common sense gun safety legislation are incredibly insensitive.

    In a community that’s still very much in crisis, to be making these calls opens a wound that these families are still trying hard to heal. Put yourself in the shoes of a victim’s family member who gets a call at dinnertime asking them to support more assault weapons in our schools and on our streets.

    Unfortunately, this latest act is just another example in a long line of offensive steps your organization has taken in the wake of this tragic shooting. Your press conference one week after the tragedy articulated your surreal vision that the only way to solve the epidemic of gun violence in America is through the use of more guns. One month later you released “NRA: Practice Range,” an Apple app that allows individuals to shoot targets in a variety of settings and with a number of different weapons, including handguns, an AK-47 and an M-16. More recently, one of the NRA’s Wisconsin lobbyists remarked that your extreme agenda may be delayed by the so-called “Connecticut effect.”

    Robocalling members of the Newtown community to promote your agenda less than 100 days after the horrific shooting is absolutely beyond the pale. Again, we call on you to show some basic decency and cease and desist these calls.


    Christopher S. Murphy Richard Blumenthal
    United States Senator United States Senator

  5. Fund created for Newtown trauma victims

    Leave a Comment

    The Connecticut General Assembly unanimously passed a bill today creating a fund for first responders, teachers and others who suffered psychological trauma from the Sandy Hook shooting.

    Backed by private donations, the new fund will supplement an existing workers compensation fund that pays for lost wages resulting from a workplace physical injury, but does not currently compensate people for purely mental trauma.

    “While 82 days have passed, the anguish of that day is still raw for many,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy in a press release, commending the Legislature on its bipartisan effort. “In the depth of that anguish, we in government have undertaken a critically important debate, one where complete consensus will be difficult if not impossible. But that should not stop us from doing the good and decent things that honor those who serve our communities, especially those who have done so admirably in our darkest hour.”

    At least two Newtown police officers have been unable to work since the Dec. 14 shooting, when they were some of the first to enter the building and confront the bodies of the slain young children and teachers. Many others have worked on and off since December.

    In all, some 150 to 200 individuals stand to benefit from the newly created fund.

  6. A shotgun at the door

    Leave a Comment

    When Mother got a divorce, Pops got out the shotgun and set it at the front door. Just in case, he told neighbors. So he’d be ready. It’s difficult for me to imagine it: a 20-gauge shotgun and box of shells at the door beside the umbrella stand Nanny bought not long after they bought their house. The umbrellas were question marks, wondering when rainy days would arrive. The gun was an exclamation.

    Mother has told me several times that her father was more severe back then than he is now. It was the ’70s. His temper was like the limbs on the dead pecan tree in the backyard: There was a danger of him snapping when storms rolled in. It’s a loose comparison. But it makes it easier to understand the way these limbs and Pops’ temper shared a potential to cause damage. Wiley Lewallen stands 5 feet 6 inches tall. His nose descends neatly from his forehead to a rounded point, giving him a slightly Irish look, and his deep, worn skin is just a few shades lighter than his Cherokee ancestors. He’s never looked threatening, but he’s always believed in protecting his own. The gun by the front door wasn’t symbolic. It was loaded, and Pops fully intended to pull the trigger on Sam Gaddy, the ex-husband, if the need arose. In my experience, the South is a place where people believe the gun is a central fixture in the household, as important and ordinary as the sugar dish or the cream pitcher for coffee in the mornings.

    My grandparents lived in a shotgun house at the corner of Forest Avenue and Simpson Road in Union City, Ga., with Pops’ gun cabinet stationed right at the middle, in the trigger position. The dark shingle siding covering most of the outside even bore some resemblance to the deep wood color of a gun. It was a small house, and the trigger was still a part of the large front room. Pops wanted it to be central. Guns were heirlooms. They symbolized what was given to him and what he fully intended on bequeathing to my brother and to me when the time came.

    The shotgun house was a part of a slightly larger complex, which included a small windmill, children’s play set, three-car garage and a workshop in the back of the property, where Pops worked on various side projects. There was enough space on the property to store a small army. Pops even had the guns to outfit it to send troops out and police the neighborhood. But he was never interested in policing the neighborhood. His small precinct extended only from his own complex to the house next door, where Mother lived alone with my brother, Judd, after Sam moved out. When Pops got the gun out of the cabinet and set it at the front door, it wasn’t an act of violence. It was a response. The way a middle-aged man of his upbringing reacts to these sorts of situations. It was his answer to the sleepless nights Mother passed alone in the house with a 13-year-old boy sleeping soundly in the basement — the only way he knew how to cope with the absence of a man in her house.

    * * *

    After the Newtown massacre and the surge of anti-gun lobbying it spawned, the small town of Kennesaw, Ga., received some unwelcome attention. With a population of about 30,000 people, Kennesaw seems like any other small, suburban town in America: It’s located about 30 miles from a major city and is populated mostly by a string of subdivisions and strip-centers. There is a Main Street running through its center, whose key features include the town library, a chiropractor, the First Baptist Church and a small gift shop named the Painted Butterfly, specializing in moon faces and angels. The town’s main attraction, sometimes called the “Smithsonian in your Neighborhood,” is the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. But Kennesaw isn’t known for any of its small-town attractions, for its moon faces or local Smithsonian. What makes Kennesaw unique is that, unlike other small, suburban towns, it requires its residents to own a gun.

    In 1982, after the town of Milton Grove, Ill., became the first town in America to ban the sale and possession of firearms, Kennesaw, Ga., became the only town in America to require it. City ordinance 34-21 states that all “heads of households residing in the city limits” must “maintain a firearm, together with ammunition,” so that they might always “protect the safety, security, and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.” And even though there is no definitive proof that gun ownership has kept Kennesaw safer, just two years after the city passed the ordinance, the number of home burglaries decreased by over 80 percent, and in the 30 years since, there has been a 50 percent reduction in crime rate. In 2007, “Family Circle” magazine named Kennesaw one of the ten best towns in the nation for families.

    On the one-week anniversary of the Newtown massacre, the city of Kennesaw ordered its churches to toll their bells 26 times to honor the 26 tragically killed on Dec. 14, 2012. But as the bells tolled, as one small town mourned the losses of another small town, Kennesaw and its residents did not begin making plans to revise their gun law. The city police lieutenant has said, “There’s sort of a Wild West image of us. It’s just not true.” To them, gun ownership is so woven into the fabric of their daily culture that changing their gun policy means changing the way they think about themselves as free Americans. But, of course, they’re not really free. They don’t have the right to bear arms; they have the obligation. As so many Americans push for a country free from guns, the town of Kennesaw refuses to listen.

    * * *

    From information I’ve gleaned from old photographs and family stories, Mother’s ex-husband, Sam, had looks and manners that best resembled the characteristics of a helium balloon: He was red and light-headed, volatile when set on fire and often floated away, for days at a time. He married Mother when she was 19 and just out of high school. She knew no other love. But even then, Pops thought he was shady. That’s a word he’d use: shady. And he’d elongate the “a” sound in a slow drawl so it would last for about five or six syllables, as if the length of the word were somehow related to its truth. By drawing it out, Pops was making damn sure everyone understood how serious he was.

    There’s a lot of family lore surrounding Mother’s divorce from Sam Gaddy. Some of it suggests that Pops’ precautions weren’t without cause. In one story, a good friend called Mother and told her she should fear for her life. It seems ridiculous, but I didn’t know Sam. Since I first heard the story, I often try to imagine such a conversation.

    The friend calls in the middle of the night because there is no other time to make such a phone call. Mother picks up, half asleep.

    Joan? The friend whispers over the phone line.

    Yes? She says back, uncertainly, because of the whispering.

    Joan, do you know what you’re doing?

    What do you mean what am I doing?

    He’s going to put a price on your head. If you divorce him. The friend raises his voice, but only slightly.


    I’m telling you, if you divorce him. He’s going to put a price on you. Don’t you understand what that means?

    Mother hangs up before anyone can say more. Maybe she thanks this friend months later after the divorce is settled, and she’s still alive. And no longer too frightened to confront what might have been real danger.

    When I imagine this conversation, I often think Pops was right for getting out the shotgun and setting it by the door. Other times, I wonder if it would’ve done any good. If there had been a problem, Pops would’ve grabbed the gun and ran all the way across his own yard, through the small patch of woods that divided the houses. It would’ve taken about a minute and 45 seconds. In that time someone could have entered Mother’s house and shot her three times in the head before Pops had time to get out the door. So if the gun at the door had no practical use, then why did he move it there? He comes from the same culture as the people of Kennesaw. For them and him, it is the mere existence of the gun in the household that makes it safer. It is a line of defense which, for them, makes the need for defense itself less likely.

    My grandparents sold their house about 10 years ago. The gun cabinet went with the house, but Pops insisted that my brother, Judd, inherit the collection itself. Judd had just graduated from college and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. So, the eight shotguns that once belonged to Pops moved to the attic at my parents’ house, until Judd finally moved to a place where he could store them all. The attic where we kept the guns was through a door at the back of my bedroom closet. Sometimes, I went in there and saw them in a long line on the floor, covered with grey bath towels. I could’ve learned to shoot one. My father would’ve been only too happy to teach me. But I wasn’t interested. And I never learned. Judd is now married and has three children. When I was home for Christmas break, Pops told me Judd is giving the guns back. His wife doesn’t want them in the house. Like me, my three young nephews are part of a generation growing up without the gun cabinet at the trigger position. It’s no longer an obligation.

    When Mother got a divorce, Pops got out the shotgun. It wasn’t a symbolic gesture. By moving it across the room, from the cabinet to the door, he was acting out a ritual. Setting it at the door. So everyone would know what kind of man he was. And what kind of father he was to Mother. So Sam Gaddy would know if he came around, he might leave with two bullet holes in his chest and a lot of blood spilled across the kitchen floor. This is a violent image. Pops isn’t a violent man. Maybe he’s wrong to put the gun at the door, but maybe he knows no other way.

  7. One week later, mourning continues in Newtown

    Leave a Comment

    In the frigid December air of Newtown, Conn., families and neighbors huddled together Friday evening to commemorate the one-week anniversary of the school shooting that left 20 children and six faculty members of Sandy Hook Elementary School dead.

    The vigil, which drew roughly 2,500 people, included speeches from Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra, Newtown Congregational Church Reverend Matthew Crebin and other residents. It was organized by Newtown community members and was originally expected to draw about 100 people. Organizers said the high turnout was a sign of the strength of the Newtown community.

    “It has been a week, and our hearts remain broken,” Reverend Crebin told those who gathered at the vigil. “Broken for the lives lost and the dreams shattered.”

    During the vigil, the crowd held lit candles and sang “Amazing Grace,” and a Newtown resident read a poem before “Silent Night” played over speakers. The vigil came after a moment of silence was observed across Connecticut at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, the same time the shooting at Sandy Hook began just one week ago.

    From the steps of Edmond Town Hall on Newtown’s Main Street, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, buffeted by fierce wind and rain, stood next to Newtown community members as the bells of Trinity Episcopal Church rang 27 times, once for each of the students and faculty killed. After the silence, Malloy did not give a speech.

    As the residents of Newtown near the end of burying their dead, the memorials to those who lost their lives continue to grow with candles, teddy bears and notes of remembrance.