Guest Post by Ellen Zelda Kessner, author of AFTER THE VIOLENCE, a memoir about her daughter’s murder

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I never fired a gun in my life. Or even held one. Yet I’ve had a long affair with guns since they forced their attentions on me back in 1980. On April 22nd—celebrated everywhere then and now as Earth Day—a terrorist, armed with three guns and multiple rounds of ammunition, invaded my daughter Sheryl’s California home. He was not an Islamist extremist or White-Supremacy racist or schizophrenic. Just your ordinary, polite “nice guy” psychopath bent on cancelling a debt. He was, in fact, a “good friend” of Sheryl’s husband, who managed to survive the near-fatal wounds from his friend’s guns. But Sheryl did not survive. Trying to escape through the nearest door with her nine-month old baby in her arms, she was shot multiple times, even as she lay on the floor. She was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 28 years old. Her baby, wounded in the wrist, was found crawling in her blood.

The murderer was arrested the next day. A few months after Sheryl’s murder, my affair with guns became intense—I decided to become an active member of Handgun Control, Inc., (currently known as the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.) A huge mistake, I was told by the Los Angeles deputy DA getting ready to try the murderer, “If your son-in-law had a gun, your daughter might still be here.” He knew my son-in-law had invited his “friend” into his home. Pretty hard to be first on the draw when you’re not expecting to play “High Noon” at the old corral—in your own home.

After the ViolenceMany months later, the Deputy D. A., in a jury case, obtained a conviction on all counts. When I thanked him for his excellent prosecution of the case, he was gracious, until he popped his question: “You still working for Handgun Control?” When I nodded, he repeated his National Rifle Association mantra: “If your son-in-law had a gun, your daughter might be alive today.” Then he went further…with a sudden offer to give me my daughter’s crime scene and autopsy pictures. “No, thank you,” I murmured, stunned. Only later did I realize that the deputy D.A. was trying to punish me for my activity in Handgun Control!

More than just a gun aficionado, our deputy D. A. was an extremist, willing to shed all traces of decency. Almost three decades later, another deputy D. A. apologized to me on behalf of the Los Angeles district attorney’s office for their colleague’s heartless and against-all-their-rules behavior. His NRA-fueled fantasy that Sheryl’s husband, if armed, could have prevented her death also defied common sense. I was to learn this firsthand, 11 years later, “up close and personal” from a double murder which took place on my Long Island street.

On Christmas Eve 1991, while my neighbors’ daughter was fleeing from her dangerous boyfriend to cousins in the Bronx, her dad, knowing that the rifle-toting stalker would come looking for her in his house, sat braced in his kitchen ready for him, his gun cocked. A retired court officer, the dad knew his way around firearms. But the boyfriend, breaking down the door, landed the first fatal shot. And the second, killing his girlfriend’s brother, also a court officer, armed and well-practiced. “High Noon” in Valley Stream—with a tragic ending.

Fast forward to 2012: you hear the same-genre gun enthusiasts comment:” If we had been allowed to carry guns into that movie house in Aurora, we could have nipped it in the bud.” Yeah, right—through the dark, the haze of the tear gas, the commotion, the killer’s 100-bullet magazine. These “Navy Seal Sharpshooter could-have-beens” repeat their boast after every mass shooting: “I could have stopped it. Gotten that guy” at the Sikk Temple. Or on the Virginia Tech campus. Or on the Long Island Railroad. Or at Columbine. And on and on. At every massacre to come, you will be hearing them repeat the same fantasy-fueled NRA mantra.

And so, we ask them: if carrying a gun saves us from the bad guys, what happened in the Gabby Gifford shooting? Arizona is a right-to-carry-a-concealed-weapon state.

When U. S. Representative Gabrielle Gifford was holding a constituent meeting called “Congress on Your Corner” at a supermarket near Tucson on January 8, 2011, many people in the crowd had guns. Including Gaby herself. But when the crazed assassin opened fire with his 33-magazine semi-automatic rifle, no gunslinger could or would bring him down. One of the bystanders said that he thought about using his weapon, but knew that most people around him and in cars nearby probably had guns as well and if he pulled his out, they would mistake him as a second shooter and take his life. So he did nothing. It was left to the bystanders sans guns to force the killer to the ground.

A few times during my decades-long affair with guns, I actually took heart. There were hopeful signs: Ex-President Ronald Reagan’s eventual support of background checks and bans on assault guns—ten years after a lunatic’s bullet almost killed him in 1981. The 1994 ban on assault weapons was passed by Congress and the Million Moms March against guns took place in 2000. I became discouraged when the ten-year ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire in 2004 and the Million Moms March soon petered down to a pitifully few hundred.

During these past three decades the NRA has been busier than ever with their affair with guns, spending billions to lobby politicians to brainwash the public into thinking that carrying a gun makes us safer.  Convincing too many of us that restricting gun use anywhere—even in church or on campus—is the psychological equivalent of government-imposed castration.

Since the 2000 campaign when Al Gore lost his own state to the gunslingers, no presidential candidate has dared to honestly address the issue of gun control during a campaign. Too dangerous.

Since my daughter’s murder in 1980, there have been almost a million gun deaths in the U. S. Multiply that by ten to count the survivors—the families and friends whose lives have been devastated by these tragedies. As you can see, my affair with guns has not gone well, not well at all.

Ellen Zelda Kessner is a freelance writer whose articles have been published in Redbook, Newsday, The New York Times, The Miami Herald, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and Woman’s Day. She is the author of the memoir, After the Violence: Seeking My Daughter, Myself and the Child She Left Behind.

1 thought on “Guest Post by Ellen Zelda Kessner, author of AFTER THE VIOLENCE, a memoir about her daughter’s murder”

  1. Zelda, thank you for your efforts toward better gun control! I’m only sorry that your involvement came about through your own family tragedy. Your work is so important in saving other families from the horror and grief that yours went through. Sally

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