Op Eds

In Your Own Backyard

“Hi sweetie, I just wanted to let you know that your sister and I are OK. We heard the news before we left for the mall.”

“The news of…” I asked, already feeling a knot tensing in my stomach.

My mother’s answer: “The shooting at Columbia Mall. Three people are dead.”

My Saturday morning had started out like most these past few weeks—I woke up at 10 a.m. to my iPhone alarm, breakfasted on a navel orange that I had nabbed from the dining hall the night before, and set off to Starbucks in the vain hope that I might find inspiration for my thesis in the bottom of a venti French roast. Staring at the blank screen of my Mac, the cursor blinking tauntingly, I quickly gave up hope on making any headway in my analysis of Indians in 19th-century British literature, and turned instead to my application for an introductory creative non-fiction course.

As I was outlining my essay—a hilarious critique (or so I thought in my caffeine-addled state) of the “influential person” essay that I wrote to get into Harvard—I got the call.


Five minutes later, I hung up, the queasy feeling in my stomach moving upward through my chest. I couldn’t process the conversation. But there it was, on the front page of CNN, Yahoo, the Washington Post, and Gawker—three people (including, allegedly, the suspected shooter) had died this morning, at approximately 11:15 a.m., from fatal wounds incurred during a madman’s rampage.

I’ve never owned a gun, nor have I ever felt a desire or need to arm myself. I don’t go hunting, or to the shooting range, or even to play paintball. Yet, for some reason, I’ve always held a personal belief that if the Constitution guarantees a right to keep and bear arms, whether to maintain a well-regulated militia or not, then one should have the right to do so—within strict limits, of course. But as the tragedy at Newtown proved, shooters don’t need to purchase weapons themselves in order to gain access to them.

While I was abroad at Oxford last spring and interning in London over the summer, my friends would relentlessly mock me (and not unjustly, I now think) for my opinion. Yet, I never entirely wavered on it, despite so many events this past year that should have changed my mind. But those were all in distant states and places, never fifteen minutes down the road from my house.

The shooting today has left me feeling shaken above all else, but also emphatically unsure of the stance that I’ve taken on the issue of gun control in the past. Should firearms be entirely outlawed? In a nation like the United Kingdom, where relatively fewer guns were in circulation by the time of their banning (mostly in the mid-20th century) than in America now, such a plan seems to have worked well. At home, where the Pew Research Center reports that there are an estimated 270 to 310 million guns in civilian hands, it seems unfeasible to enforce a ban on them and expect gun violence to depreciate considerably.

A surer route might be to ban the sale of ammunition, but considering how often and easily illicit narcotics are smuggled into the nation, some might argue that the same could be done with bullets, providing a new black market for the malevolently minded.

The most reasonable route would be to bolster restrictions on the purchase of firearms and ammunition and illegalize the sale of semi-automatic weapons. But what should those restrictions look like exactly? Would it make sense to conduct a mental health evaluation of not only the purchaser of a weapon but also all the people residing in his or her home? I admit that I don’t know the answer, but I do feel a newfound need to educate myself on the subject so that I can more actively engage in the debate.

I’m still at Starbucks now, shaking at my seat—at first, I thought, from the chill coming in through the window at my back, but now, I realize, from the shock of the news. My Facebook feed is filling up rapidly with calls for prayers and brief notes of incredulity. My neck tenses, and I wonder if I’ll be able to go back to writing my thesis this afternoon after what happened this morning.

I’m waiting to hear the police announce the names of the victims, and praying that the shooting doesn’t strike any closer to home.

Matthew M. Beck ’14, a former Crimson news executive, is a history and literature concentrator in Quincy House.