Thursday, July 14, 2011

Congress, It's time to be Sensible about Gun Control! a Civic Soapbox Essay by Patty Pullen

In 1950, when I was twelve years old, my father decided it was time for me to learn how to shoot a gun. I was ecstatic and thought I would fire a gun that afternoon. It was days before I fired a shot.

First, I had to learn how to take apart the gun, clean it, and put it back together. Then Daddy taught me how to hand a gun to someone; how to crawl under or over a fence while holding a gun; and how to walk safely behind someone with a loaded rifle. These were long training sessions; experiences I still treasure.

At the beginning of every lesson, Daddy pointed to the rifle and said, “Patty, this is not a toy. This is a gun. And guns were made to kill.”

Times have changed. Guns are not just family bonding experiences anymore. Deaths due to misuse of guns have increased in America. Thirty-four people are murdered in United States every day with guns. Since the Tucson killing in January, more than 3,000 people have been killed with guns.

Please understand. I don’t want to ban guns. I believe people are entitled to own guns for target practice, hunting, or for their protection. But, because our current laws are weak and not strictly enforced, guns are accessible to felons, the mentally ill, and the troubled youth in our society, and as a result, innocent people get hurt.

Here’s one problem I see with our current system. Licensed gun dealers are currently required to do background checks to determine whether customers are mentally ill, or have served time in prison; and most licensed gun dealers accommodate this responsibility. But sales by private citizens at gun shows are not regulated. According to the Brady Foundation, 40% of the gun sales in the United States occur at these gun shows. I want the law changed to require everyone who purchases a gun at a gun show to have to undergo a background check.

I also want tighter regulation of large capacity ammunition magazines, which are designed to enable someone to shoot efficiently and quickly without reloading. In 15 seconds, the shooter in Tucson fired more than 30 shots from one magazine, wounding 19 people, one of whom was Gabrielle Giffords and killing 6 including a 9-year-old girl. According to the law enforcement in Tucson, “There’s absolutely no doubt the magazines increased the lethality and the body county of this attack.” (Isikoff, 2011) They should be banned.

I also want better communication in the enforcement of existing gun control laws. Four years ago, a Virginia judge designated a Virginia Tech student as mentally ill and a danger to himself. Unfortunately this important information never made it to the gun shops so he bought two semiautomatic pistols, which fired 174 rounds in twelve minutes. He killed 25 students, five teachers, and wounded seventeen people, before he killed himself.
Whenever I hear of a gun tragedy, I think about my father’s comments. “Patty, this is not a toy. This is a gun. And guns were made to kill.”

You’re right, Daddy.
--Patty Pullen lives in Charlottesville.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lost Art of Letter Writing, a Civic Soapbox by Val Matthews

I recently handed over to my daughter four bulky old folders full of letters. These folders have over the years filled up as members of our family have moved to different parts of the globe for longer or shorter periods, and have sent back to other family members news of their lives. Often in my times of moving house or moving to another continent, I have pondered ditching the files, but in the end they would be packed up and moved with us.

I am not even sure exactly which family members are the authors of the letters or where they originated, but there is a special file for my father’s letters, because he didn’t write often, but when he did they were very detailed and often very funny. During the second World War he was stationed mainly in North Africa and the Middle East and his letters to my mother were very regular and full of intriguing facts about the countries he moved through.

Before handing the files to my daughter, I looked idly through one of the files and found a neatly handwritten letter from my late husband to his mother, written when he must have been not yet a teenager. His mother was on a visit to her native New Zealand leaving her husband in charge of the four sons, the youngest of whom was still quite a baby. The letter (to dear Mummy) was mainly a horrendous description of the four older males bathing the baby. Amazingly this was a letter I never remember seeing – my husband would be seventy nine now if he was still living.

People used to save letters. I think of all the letters of famous people through the ages whose letters are still on record. Now this form of communication is almost dead and sending letters through the mail is thought of as snailmail.

Somehow one slows down a bit, becomes a bit more thoughtful ( I think) when, pen in hand, one puts one’s words onto paper. We’re simply in a different mode when sending emails. And it is also so easy just to text someone.

I know all of it is on record somewhere in the ether, but will we ever be able to retrieve it and reread it with love and amazement sixty years on. Are we not losing something very important, as we let go of the art of letter writing? Are we not losing a magical bit of history?
--Val Matthews lives in Charlottesville