Safer In the UK – One American Mother’s Perspective On Gun Control

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Mountain View Elementary School (Internet Photo)

Few things were certain for me in my early years, but some things were absolute.

School was my safe place, home was not.

Watching the news yesterday as the reports came in of the murdered children and adults in a Connecticut school, I could not help but flash back to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, where my daughter was a student at the time.

I wonder how the recent mass shootings affect her, but I don’t know because she doesn’t talk about it.

My husband, John and I spend a fair amount of time talking about gun laws in the US and the UK. Having lived in the UK since 2008, our conversations are different from when I first moved to Cornwall. While it’s based more on how I feel here than the statistics John has quoted, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.

John frequently cites the numbers of gun deaths in the US. It used to annoy me, but having lived in a place now where I feel safer because guns are so restricted, I wish I could have the same relaxed attitude when I’m in the US.

I kept a .22 revolver for years in my home in the US. It was an old family pistol that my dad gave me and it made me feel safer. Unlike some of my handgun owning friends, I had weapons training in the military firing M16 semi-automatic rifles, and a M60 machine gun. Additionally, I’d had some experience with handguns as well.

I always recognized how deadly guns could be, but felt the risk necessary to ensure my daughter and I were safe if someone tried to break into our home and cause us harm. My gun was meant for protection at home which is the argument most Americans make when people talk about new laws intent on restricting their ability to own handguns.

Statistics still show that most gun deaths occur in the home with family members killing those they once wished to protect, a reality that makes the protection at home reason more difficult to justify. While the right to bear arms may be protected by the constitution, it has long been one with frequently deadly effects.

Here’s something for gun enthusiasts in the US to consider. The most recent figures I’ve been able to find show 87 people die each day in the US from gun related injuries while in the UK, only 58 die each year. It’s difficult to argue with those kind of numbers.

87 Deaths A Day versus 58 Per YearI feel safer living in the UK. I never ever worry about being held up at gunpoint or shot while shopping at the mall. Church is still a place of sanctuary and while I might get a rude gesture by someone with road rage, I know I won’t get shot. I could go on listing … public transport, movie theaters, and University campuses, but I think you know where I’m going with this.

Britain didn’t wait for as many reasons to push for change … after the Dunblane massacre of sixteen elementary school children, they did what was needed to keep it from happening again.

The Brits I meet are always talking about the US and our need to have so many guns. They tend to make ‘Wild West’ jokes about it, but they’re not really trying to be funny. I think they’re shocked by how much Americans will sacrifice to carry guns, a question I’m beginning to consider now myself.

I’ve chosen to focus on change in this post because I can’t bear to think about any more sadness and loss. This year alone has had more mass shootings than I want to consider and the grief of the families who’ve lost those who were precious to them, breaks my heart.

4/16/07 – A VT Mom Remembers

Virginia Tech 4.17.07

We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

~ Nikki Giovanni

I woke this morning to see this quote on my daughter Miranda’s Facebook page along with a few words of her own noting the significance of this day for her and for many associated with Virginia Tech and its community. She has shared with me some of the private ways she remembers the 32 who died that day and I’m grateful that she has found a way to honor their memory in a way that hopefully gives her some sense of peace.

I say hopefully, and peace, with more optimism than I really feel because I’m not sure how one who has been in the middle of something so violent and unexplainable can ever really let go of some of the questions that have no answers.

This is not the first time I’ve written about this day and likely won’t be the last. I know the events of 4.16.07 have had a lasting impact on my daughter and I worry as a mother does about the silent sorrows that remain hers alone, the thoughts she chooses not share.

My father died 20 years ago, long before Miranda could know him well enough to have any memory of him and for the last few weeks I have been hearing something he wrote. It’s been in my head on an endless repeat cycle almost in the way you hear a tune that won’t go away and I’ve been puzzled as to why until just this minute as I was considering my daughter and how inadequate I’ve felt over the last four years watching her deal with her memories on her own.

People we love reach out to us in their own time or sometimes not at all and if it’s your child, watching from the sidelines can be a difficult position to occupy. I tend to be emotional and very open with my feelings, giving in easily to my tears now after years of holding back. Miranda is more stoic and more like my dad, tender-hearted for sure but private and contained. It’s interesting that I’d not noticed that similarity until today and it comforts me to feel as if my dad were reaching out in a way with some paternal advice reminding me of who I once was and how our positions are now reversed.

The words that have been with me the last few weeks seem perfect in this moment and the meaning clear as I struggle with my own memories and search for ways to support a daughter who seems fine on her own. I am quoting my father when I say to my daughter as he once quietly said to me, ” I am here as you need me. “

And I add to his words my own, saying, ” In this, and in all things, I am here as you need me “

Why Some Goals Are Easier To Complete Than Others And Some Lessons You Never Forget

My daughter took up knitting when she was student at Virginia Tech and after she made a scarf for me and later some blankets and other things, I asked her to teach me how to knit. I picked out a yarn that I thought would be soft around her neck and had a mix of her school colors and after she started it for me, I set to work to complete it.

What I overlooked was that she doesn’t wear scarves, not now, not ever. I am known for almost always having one looped around my neck in all kinds of weather and I’ve worn them since my mid-twenties so it’s rare to see a photo of me through the years without one, but Miranda doesn’t wear them.

She did try to tell me this more than a time or two, and it took me a year of ripping out mistakes and redoing it before I heard her. I was so intent on presenting my first project to her especially as she had introduced me to it, that I never thought that this gift was more about me than it was her.

Miranda took me through the basic stitch so many times when I saw her over the last year that you think I could have worked it out, but I had such trouble with it that I began to knit only at the pub on quiz nights when my friend Jean could fix it for me when I made a mistake.

In the end, I shipped it unfinished to Georgia with my knitting needles to wait for our arrival from our New Zealand trip with the hopes of finishing it before Christmas. By Christmas day it was a major mess and when I showed it to her after lunch, unfinished and still on the knitting needles, she suggested gently that while I was good at many things, knitting did not seem like one of them.

There was something in the way she said that along with repeating once again that she did not wear scarves that I finally heard and suddenly I was able to let go of my need to finish the thing!

So she tied it off for me and I decided that I would give it to her dog for a neck warmer at least for purposes of a photo shoot because he doesn’t wear scarves either. Even though he won’t wear it again, it didn’t look so bad on him.

Afterwards, I told John that having tried my hand with the first one, I had some lovely yarn in just his color. He has not really protested, but thinking about it now, I am not sure I have ever seen him in a scarf either.


Life In The UK Test

There are still some things I seem to still be able to pull off with a better outcome than my knitting experience and the letter and news above was really big for me. I shared it yesterday on Facebook and received so many lovely responses that I was quite overwhelmed by all the support and since some of my readers only see me here, I wanted to tell you my news as well.

There are many steps on the way to being able to stay in the UK and most people assume if you marry a Brit it’s an easy-peasy process. Except for shaving a few years off the time it takes to become a British citizen, married folks go though the same process as everyone else.

Yesterday, I completed a major step in my goal to stay in the UK with John. I passed the Life in the UK test!

My next immigration appointment is on the calendar and if all goes well, I will have my Indefinite Leave to Remain approved after we are interviewed in a few weeks. Passing the UK life test was necessary to complete before the interview so I managed it just in time. I had mistakenly thought it was not required until you applied for a dual citizenship so I was on a tight timeline to get it done.

After I get though the next stage in a few weeks, I can apply within a certain period of time to become a naturalized citizen and have the right among other things, to vote, run for public office, and carry a British passport.

I don’t have to give up my American citizenship to do this and will have a dual citizenship when I finish the process.

I do want to acknowledge my long time friend Diane and her unknowing help with my test yesterday. We were roommates during my first year and her last at the university we attended together in New York. After she graduated, I transferred to the University of Georgia and she spent a year with an élite group of educators traveling and teaching University students study skills they might have missed in high school.

As a nontraditional student, I was older and had already served in the army and even though I was doing well in my classes, I spent many, many, hours studying to make this happen.

When Diane came to town in 1985 to spend a few weeks with the brainy young women of Agnes Scott, a college in Atlanta, she took a some time to show me a few things about note taking and review which changed my life and still help me to this day.

I kept the book she left for years until Miranda went off to VA Tech and I offered it to her in case she found she needed help to keep up. I don’t think she ever used it and I cannot remember the name of the book, but I will send a link to Diane in hopes that she can leave the title in a comment below.

Long story today to talk about lessons learned, but I did want to acknowledge how Diane’s help back in 1985 made prepping for the important test I took yesterday fairly easy and made me feel pretty confident going in to it.

If you live in the UK and want to test how much you know about your own country, you can take an online official practice test of 24 questions by going here.

I want to thank Miranda too for her patience in teaching me how to knit and let her know that I may try to make something else for her in a few years after (if) I manage to finish John’s scarf.


Getting To Know You

When John and Miranda met in Virginia at the university she was still attending a little over two years ago, they really only had a few hours to get to know each other and while it was pleasant, they were still virtually strangers when he and I married a year later in February of 2009.

Over the last two years they have interacted a bit during some of my online iChat conversations with Miranda, but most of what they know about each other has been filtered through me as I have talked or written about them.

You never really know how people will get on and it’s a big leapt to think that just because they’re my favorite people to spend time with that they might enjoy each others company as well. I am pleased to say that any concerns I might have had have melted away as I have watched them laughing and chatting about different topics on their own.

We’re off again in a few hours on our whirlwind tour of Cornwall. You would not believe the photographs we are all getting. John is shooting more video than anything else, but Miranda and I have our cameras in hand and it’s been fun at night to reflect on the day and remember some of the conversations that have come from our shared experiences.

Eden waits for us today along with Lanhydrock and maybe we’ll even have a chance to give a couple of babies a squeeze at the end of the day … if we have any energy left.

Remembering Virginia Tech 4.16.07

Last year on this day, I wrote a memorial post to mark the sad anniversary of the tragedy that occurred during my daughter’s second year as a student at Virginia Tech. The Ways We Remember, Those We Cannot Forget details more from April 16 and the days that followed.

When we moved into April a few weeks ago, I noticed my daughter had changed her profile picture on Facebook from her regular photo to the image below. It is familiar to many associated with Virginia Tech and the one I have seen most often in the three years since the Virginia Tech shootings.

After seeing the change on April 1, I asked her about it when we spoke later that day. I usually switch to the same image on my Facebook profile a few days before the anniversary, but never so early as the beginning of the month and I wondered why she had changed hers so far in advance. Miranda told me in so many words that in the month of April, the anniversary is always at the forefront of her thoughts so she wanted to note the significance for her.

When I hung up the phone, I considered that while most people were celebrating spring and new beginnings, she was remembering the day when so many died. It saddens me to think that this will likely always be a rite of spring for her. I wish there was something I could do to change that, but it is beyond my control as are so many things for parents when children grow into their independent selves.

Miranda is generally pretty quiet when it comes to that day. When people ask about it, she is polite and almost matter of fact. She tends to keep her feelings to herself. I imagine these kids, now adults walking around like war vets in a way … only really discussing that day with people who were there and lived through it too. As a mom who believes in the healing power of conversation it is difficult for me to stand back and wait to give comfort when needed, although I smile as I think, I am always at the ready.

I take comfort in how she chooses to honor the memory of those no longer living with her desire to risk more and live more fully for those who lost that opportunity on 4.16.07. I didn’t know she felt that way until I saw something she had posted on Facebook the other day that suggested that sentiment as a way to remember those who died.

I understand that thought completely as it is something I have tried to do when grieving the loss of friends and family who died too young. It gives me some measure of peace to see that we share a similar idea because I know it has been a source of comfort for me when I could not understand the why of premature death. I cannot think of a better memorial for those lost than a life well lived when searching for ways to honor those we can never forget.

The Ways We Remember, Those We Cannot Forget

Virgina Tech Campus - April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Campus - April 17, 2007

Almost everyday we hear of a tragedy so horrible it’s difficult to comprehend. Like many, I see the suffering recounted in the media and when I am overwhelmed, I do what many cannot. I turn off the television, radio, or computer and step away from what is too painful to watch. Two years ago, my daughter was part of a community of people who became unwilling participants in a group memory they will always share. It’s one they can never turn off or step away from, nor is it likely one that they will ever forget.

A recent graduate of Virginia Tech, Miranda was in the last few weeks of her sophomore year when a fellow student went on what is now known as the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history by a single gunman. His actions disrupted the small town of Blacksburg’s sense peace and security and had a devastating effect on the lives of the families of 32 people, most of whom were parents of students at the university. While in no way comparable to the loss of a loved one, this tragedy has had a lasting effect on those who call themselves “Hokies.”

On the morning of April 16, 2007, I received a call from my daughter telling me there had been a shooting on campus. She was referring to the two students killed at the first site, but was at that point unaware of the shootings at Norris Hall, where 30 more people lost their lives.

She called me between 9:32 and 9:40 and I immediately turned to CNN to see what information I could pick up from the news. While on the phone together, we learned about the second shooting site at Norris Hall. The morning was cold and windy with a bit of  light snow falling, feeling more like winter  than the calendar would suggest. It was a combination of the weather and a high grade point average that made Miranda decided to skip her 8:00 am class and sleep in. That decision kept her safe that morning. She would say later that she would have been gone and on her way back to her residence hall by the time the shooter arrived at Norris and maybe so, but three of her classmates in her 8:00 class died that day in the next class they attended in Norris Hall.

She doesn’t like to talk about that day. Understandably so. She told me recently that when she talks of changing jobs, people ask about her degree and once they realize  she is a VT grad, they always want to discuss the shooting. She obliges politely, but with reservations. She knows people have questions, but I don’t think at 21, they should look for the answers from her. I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be so young and to know and perhaps on some level dread being asked the same questions over and over. I know she’ll be remembering April 16 today, my fear as a mother is my concern that she may remember it everyday. There is a penetrating sadness for me and an awareness that I can’t kiss away her pain now or erase those memories with same distractions I could when she was a child.

As you would imagine, today is a Day of Remembrance at Virginia Tech. I wish Miranda could be there today with the same group of people who share her experience. Graduating early as she did in December, she seems to miss the feel of the place she called home for almost four years and a family and community of people who understand today even if they can’t really talk about it.  I don’t know the private ways in which my daughter chooses to remember or forget, but I stand ready to listen or sit in silence, grateful that I did not lose the chance to do so now… on April 16, 2007.

I hope you’ll take a moment to remember the 32 who lost their lives that day and if 32 is too many to comprehend at one time, perhaps you can remember the three from Miranda’s 8:00 am class. I feel sure she’ll be thinking of them.

Their names are listed below…running with them in mind is my way of honoring their memory.



The picture at the top was taken by Miranda on April 17,2007 at the candlelight vigil for those who died.