Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Guns: Enough to make you want to go home

Do I want my children growing up in a country where school doors are locked in fear of a massacre, asks Carole Coleman

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 13:00


Do I want my children growing up in a country where school doors are locked in fear of a massacre, asks Carole Coleman

Carole with her family in Maryland

Most of my Irish friends here in Maryland are what I call long-haulers. By that I mean they are here in the US for the long term – married to Americans, with children growing up as Irish-Americans and no compelling reason to return home.

But the recent murder of 20 first grade children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school Newtown, Connecticut has some of us wondering if it’s time to make the move back.

“It makes me want to go home,” an Irish friend confided this week as news channels show images of Americans rushing out to buy yet more guns before President Obama clamps down on the assault weapons and high capacity magazines used in the school shooting. “I don’t want my kids to grow up like this.”

I have to agree as I am spooked by what my children are reporting from school since the Newtown tragedy.

“Mommy, the code is Lone Ranger,” my five-year-old told me the other day. If the teacher says Lone Ranger her class has to quickly get under their desks. The teacher switches the lights off and everyone must stay very quiet. The classroom doors are locked all day, from the inside, so the teachers can open when they need to get out or let someone to the bathroom.

At the elementary school where my six-year-old is in Kindergarten, parents can no longer walk their children inside the building in the morning. Staff now meet the children at the front door. The school grounds are also locked down, gates closed, until afternoon dismissal.

So far the local superintendent of schools has not talked about armed guards or metal detectors, but other states have begun training people for these jobs.

As long-haulers here we take some of this in our stride. Some of us have been through 9/11 and still live with the shoes-off, laptops-out reality of post-terror security. But to see our small children educated in locked rooms in fear of the next gunman is gut-wrenching. It really would make you want to go home.

When we were kids in Leitrim my father kept a shot gun locked in the cupboard in his room. He used it to shoot pheasant and woodcock in the soggy fields around the edge of the Shannon. He showed my sisters and brother and I the rifle and let off a few shots now and then to frighten the crows in our back garden. There was no mystery to it. It was a hunting weapon, not for us to touch.

Here in Annapolis I can enter a gun shop, and after a background check, take home a hand gun, a long gun – even a sleek black version of what my father had. Only this gun can fire off scores of rounds a minute, massacre a class full of children in two minutes. Buyers claim to need them for protection against criminals, neighbours, even the US government. The right to bear arms they say is guaranteed, cannot be tampered with.

In Ireland I never thought about whether my neighbours had a gun like my father. If they did it would not have worried me. Guns were for scaring crows and shooting game. Now I look up and down my road and wonder which of my neighbours keep a gun, or maybe an armory, in their bedroom.

I don’t fear that they will shoot me. But when I talk with them about Obama’s new proposals to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines they may have a different perspective than me. It’s possible we may think differently about a lot of things.

Living in America, I have learned, is a delicate balancing act politically. Here your views on a range of issues define you – and none more so than whether or not you are a gun owner.

For me, the decision to buy or not to buy a gun is easy. Yes I want protection from an intruder. But the statics show that most gun fatalities occur in the home, with guns that were purchased for self-defense or sport. With curious young children about I won’t do it. Not here…

Maybe If I were back in Leitrim we might have a BB gun to scare the birds. But in a country where guns are showing up regularly in shopping malls, cinemas, workplaces and classrooms I will not go there.

Carole Coleman is a former Washington correspondent for RTÉ. She is on Twitter @Carolecoleman, and has written previously for Generation Emigration about the cultural challenges of bringing up an Irish family in the US.