Last year, when my daughter Nina was in third grade, she invited her friend Sophie* over to play. This was Sophie's first visit to our house. Her mother, Eliza*, stood in our foyer while we discussed a pick-up time. Then, as an impatient Nina started tugging Sophie up the stairs, Eliza asked me, "Do you keep guns in your house?"
I stared at her, taken aback. My husband and I have had no contact with guns of any kind; we don't know people who hunt or otherwise enjoy firearms. Most of our friends have little affection for the Second Amendment.
So when Eliza asked me whether we kept guns, it seemed ludicrous. We'd sooner keep a boa constrictor! I could see she was serious, though, so I assured her that ours was a gun-free establishment. As she walked back to her car, I thought, "I'm glad I'm not that overprotective."
In the four years we've lived in Belmont, MA., guns never appeared to be an issue. Our town is known for its excellent schools, cozy small-town setting with easy access to Boston, and well-heeled residents including our governor, Mitt Romney. Our police officers spend most of their time handing out speeding tickets and tracking down "missing persons" who wander off the picturesque grounds of McLean Hospital, an expensive mental health facility. We occasionally read about shootings in the Boston Globe, but those incidents seem far away.
Consequently, I forgot all about Eliza's startling question until a few months ago when I went to pick Nina up after school. She came running to me, her cheeks flushed. "Mom," she gasped. I expected some heartwarming news: Had the class bunny rabbit had babies? Had she snagged the part of Wendy in the school production of Peter Pan? "Henry got shot!" she blurted. "He's in the hospital, but he's going to be okay." Henry was a new boy who'd just joined Nina's fourth-grade class. I didn't know anything about him, but the fact that her 9-year-old classmate had been shot in Belmont was incredible news.
That night, there happened to be a PTA meeting scheduled. After routine matters like the fourth-grade graduation ceremony were discussed, the meeting was adjourned. But many parents, including me, stuck around hoping to learn more about what had happened to Henry. A few parents knew the families involved.