Editor's note: The following commentary originally appeared in Christmas cards mailed before the holiday to Alaska's three U.S. Capitol delegates. It is reprinted here as an open letter with the author's permission.
Dear Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young,
I have voted for all of you, and until now I thought that you were doing your best to represent me.... But this Christmas I am writing you instead of my regular year-end letter to friends and family. Please look on this as something between a prayer and a request. I understand why the National Rifle Association acts the way it does; it represents the manufacturers of guns and those members of the American gun culture unable or unwilling to look at what that culture has evolved into and how it threatens the heart of freedom.
I do not think freedom requires armed schools and communities. I prefer my freedom to involve civil unarmed discussion with my neighbors. Unlike the Connecticut community that is grieving its children and teachers, I do not live in an idyllic small town. I live in Spenard, five doors from the Hell's Angels clubhouse. I also like my moose meat and caribou as much as the next Alaskan girl. But I do not want to be forced by my government and some special interests to pack a gun as part of my daily life. And I do not want my grandchildren to go to school past armed guards.
I do want my neighbors and our children to think analytically about our culture and look at the real costs of our fixation with guns as the answer to whatever perceived Armageddon might be approaching. Connecticut provided a clear picture of those costs. Here arms bought to respond to Armageddon, brought exactly that down upon those completely innocent and ignorant of the forces behind the act. It is a tragedy in the Greek definition... and our country is acting out that tragedy over and over again.
My 89-year-old mother-in-law does live in an idyllic little town in Pennsylvania , where she is an elder in a small Presbyterian church whose congregation has been aging. This month, the ex-husband of the organist came in during Sunday service and shot the organist dead. Picture these silver-haired elders fighting to keep the church door closed as he returned to shoot her again and then look at them as they piled on him to hold him down till authorities arrived. These old folks weren't armed. They own guns. This is some of the best deer hunting country in nation. They all eat deer hunted in the hills above town. Think about these old folks and realize that they responded much more sensibly than you to their violent episode. The answer is not for peaceful people to start packing guns to church... though clearly the NRA and gun manufacturers might argue for it.
Are you going to follow the NRA down that path?
Ask yourself, "Is this the kind of armed world you want to grow old and raise children in? Is this what "living free" has become?" If, like those elders in Pennsylvania, and most reasonable folks, your answer is, "It should not be this way", then we need to do the serious work of changing it. That means gun control, better education to produce more careful thinkers and a civil community and more money spent on mental health. It also means people like me need to keep doing what might be the most revolutionary and transformational thing possible in this day, which is to talk to our neighbors.
I know many of the people who worked on your campaigns; I am certain that if you asked them, all of them, you would find a group unsatisfied with the present situation and the NRA's prescription to cure it. The president is right... the number of gun-related deaths in this country is unacceptable. We may not call it Armageddon... but in terms of the body count it sure looks like it.
Finally I want to wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Let's make this new year the best ever.
Johanna Eurich is a longtime radio journalist who lives in Anchorage. In her career, she has produced many news stories and features for National Public Radio, and has done radio news in Barrow, Bethel, Talkeetna and Dillingham, as well as Anchorage, Pittsburgh, and Pocahontas County, W.V. She has won the Alaska Press Club's Public Service Award and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's national award for Cultural Programming.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email it to commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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