We were planning a Shavuot family gathering in Potomac to visit our great-grandsons and their parents. It was to be a large, crowded, rowdy, family group with all the usual provisos of testing and masking. There would be late night study, games, cheesecake, and all the trimmings. As great-grandparents do, we planned to bring toys for the three little boychiks, who are 1, 3, and 5. I started my search at an online company that sells everything.
Unfortunately covid-19 intervened and canceled the plans. Our grandson, the father of the three little boys, was diagnosed before the blintz souffle was even in the oven.
I had already visited a website to order toys for the boys. To tell you my antennae were up as I scoured the offerings is not surprising. Apprehension at buying toddler toys? Emphatically yes. I was looking for a variety of appropriate items that very little boys would enjoy, guns definitely not being among them. But things turn up in these generic searches. And the crushing Texas school massacre was very much on my mind.
Yes, this company absolutely offered toy guns, all sorts, loud ones, militaristic ones, some with bayonets attached. They appeared on my screen. They looked real to me, although I’m not very gun savvy, so maybe a maven could tell the difference between toy and real. Clearly that wasn’t the point. I wanted nothing resembling a gun for my boys. Trucks or Lego or books. Yes! God forbid guns!
Inspired to learn more, I did an online search for toy guns. The choices were overwhelming. Unbelievably so. Gun culture (and culture is such an inappropriate word!) in this country is so huge that there are gun look-alikes for infants. If you don’t believe me, do your own search. You’ll see.
You might call this a healthy respect for guns. I call it planting the seeds of what we’ve seen in this nation repeatedly. Gun worship can easily lead to gun violence.
My first question is, who buys their little children guns? My second question is why do they? I’m just being disingenuous. I already know the answers. I wasn’t born yesterday.
Let me tell you about Flora, our backyard neighbor when our kids were very young. She had twin boys, probably five years older than our eldest. They were already post bar mitzvah and they were perfectly nice boys. Flora was active in our shul sisterhood and although we were not friends, we were good neighbors. Then she and her husband bought the boys BB guns, these rifles that shoot out small metal balls. They were doing their shooting practice in their backyard, immediately adjacent to ours.
Our backyard was our safe space. It was fenced, and no one could get in unless we let them in. Likewise, the kids couldn’t wander out. That allowed me, a busy working mom of four, to sometimes prepare a meal or do something else productive.
Abruptly, our safe space wasn’t so safe. Those BBs from the neighboring yard could enter our space very easily. My protest was immediate. I spoke calmly to my neighbor and told her this was not going to happen. The boys could not do target practice near the eyes, ears, and heads of our children.
She was stunned, and innocently asked me how else were they going to learn how to use weapons. I might have proffered a pithy response but I didn’t, mainly because I too was stunned. I could not believe that my nice middle-class Jewish neighbor, actively involved in shul life, thought it important for her boys to use weapons. Why why why?
Let me contrast that to my late brother-in-law Zeev, who witnessed plenty of unprovoked violence in his life. He escaped Romania after surviving World War II and found himself in Cyprus, until he finally landed on the holy shores of Palestine when he was 18, just in time for the War of Independence. Basic training was not going to happen. He was handed a weapon and became a soldier. From that moment in 1948 until the Yom Kippur War in 1973, he fought in each and every war and skirmish. He was brave and never dodged his obligations until, finally, his brain said yes and his heart said impossible. He was benched!
So he got rid of his gun. He had young children. He was a man of peace. Why did he still need a gun? Clearly, he did not. Until the day of his death, in the year 2010, he never again kept or used a gun.
Yet my neighbor’s children needed to learn to use weapons? In their backyard in suburban New Jersey? Please!
I’m going to bet that gun ownership among the readers of this paper is very small. We read the numbers and we know that having a gun in the house is dangerous and reckless. In this entire world, our own USA is second only to Brazil in the percentage of children killed by guns. Guns have overtaken auto accidents as the leading cause of premature death in our nation. Handling a weapon, as my neighbor had planned, could have caused the death of her very own children. And foolishly she believed the propaganda that guns are our entitlement according to the Second Amendment to our Constitution. This is a family newspaper, so I won’t use the profanity that comes to mind. And in case you, disbelievingly, haven’t heard, there are reports that the Supreme Court, yes, that one, will soon tighten up the Second Amendment, making gun ownership even easier.
Let’s be clear about that amendment. When it was drafted it was not referring to assault rifles that can spray a room with bullets and kill multiple people in seconds. It was talking about muskets, which are primitive weapons. I do not support even the ownership of muskets but compare a musket to an assault rifle — if you can. I cannot.
There’s now a move to show the tortured bodies of children on TV and in newspapers, kids who were slain by gun-wielding criminals. Would it work as a deterrent? Would it stop any of the senseless acts of abject violence? I don’t know. Would it be a sacrilege? Probably not if it could deter a mass shooting.
Let me not forget the government officials who have supported and even encouraged citizens to own and use weapons. Trump. Cruz. Abbott. So many others! These people are just plumb crazy! Their talking points are dishonest, dishonorable, and disgusting. They tell us to treat mental illness, because that’s the root of the gun problem. What in the world makes America number one in mental illness? These government hacks who support easily obtainable assault weapons are, in truth, the ones with mental illness. Don’t the lives of the children of this country mean anything to them? Perhaps they care a trifle but not enough to warrant risking the big bucks they receive from the NRA. That’s sacrosanct.
Money speaks much louder than the agonizing screams of terrified innocent children. This is happening in our world. Really!
Back to online ordering. What if these huge companies decided to stop stocking toy weapons? Would it matter? Would it be a threat to their bottom lines? Doubtful. I have written to their top executives proposing just that. So far, no response. Not to worry. I’ll write again and again. Maybe you should too. Maybe suggest that they donate their toy weapons to crazy people who like to shoot guns. They could get their wish fulfilled with nobody hurt. Send one to Ted Cruz. Send one to Wayne LaPierre. And to all of those who place shooting a weapon as a right, a right to kill innocent, beautiful fourth graders on their last day of school.
The voices of the kids of Uvalde will be subdued this summer as they mourn 19 of their schoolmates, as they shed tears of heartache and are unable to be comforted by their parents. Those tears are their inheritance from their lives in America.
In the meantime I bought each of our boys a nice new book. Let us, as a nation, ban guns, and burn guns, and love books. And so may it be! Ken yehi ratzon!
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!