While growing up, I knew there were guns and other arms, because the army and police had them. Us, ordinary people didn’t need them. The saying was “my police protect me”. I don’t think I ever saw a gun except in movies or those carried by police on the streets. Some people in remote mountain villages had small rifles and a limited amount of ammunition - mainly to shoot predator animals to protect their farm animals. At 13, police were going door to door at night, pointing guns at my family and other neighbors. Later I witnessed how government ordered army and tanks to the streets of my city under the cover of the night, killing dozens of innocent people. Not a very good experience to base your opinion about guns.
When I came to America, I was prepared to see the abundance and wealth, and knew I would need to learn lots of things. As an immigrant, I looked into various laws - those that applied to immigration, employment, and travel. I never looked into the laws about guns. There was not a single “drawer” in my brain dedicated to firearms; the only knowledge I had was “guns are bad.” In 2002 there was a sniper on the streets of Virginia, but I never thought about how I could protect myself. I was simply glad the sniper was not frequenting my area, and I stayed home.
In all my searches for good shopping stores, I never even considered that … gun stores exist. No one tells you that at the border control at the airport, and unless I came across someone who took the time to talk and explain the facts to me, I still would never have thought any different. I give full credit for my re-education to my husband (boyfriend at that time) who was the first person I would hear to frequently use words, “the Constitution actually says …”, “the local rules do not require you to…”, “have you read Common Sense?” These were very different conversations from the ones I had at work or with my girlfriends.
So my message to you is this - if you let any society grow accustomed to seeing guns as only for use by police or criminals, if you let just two generations to go on like that, you will eventually have a society in which I grew up. It is a strange feeling when, while carrying open in Virginia, I have to tell people, “no, I am not a law enforcement officer, and do not intend to impersonate one, I am just exercising my right. You have one, too, you know?” Sometimes this makes me want to double check if I am in America.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, - I was born in the Soviet Union. It was the largest prison in the world, where the prisoners were either unaware that they were prisoners, or were deeply aware of it and therefore were eliminated by the government.
I have lived in this country for eight years and I am just coming to a point where I can’t imagine not having a Second Amendment as the norm. It takes time to turn your whole knowledge and vision of life up-side-down, to pretty much throw away the morals you grew up on. I just finished reading 1984 by George Orwell. We would never be allowed to read this book in the Soviet Union. But when I was done reading it, I knew that for over 20 years, I had lived the life of “the next generation after Winston Smith” - the generation that did not know that a human is capable to think and to reason. And the Soviet government did not have to torture me to get me to that stage - I was already born in a thought-vacuum my ancestors allowed to be established.
I always point out that Soviet schools had very strong curriculum, especially in math and history. But we never heard Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech; history books never mentioned Jefferson’s proposed language for the Virginia Constitution - “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” We were slaves, no doubt. Worst yet, we were dead in a sense that we could not live out our lives how we wanted.
Most people at least once in their life said or heard someone say, “I wish I could bring my childhood back.” I might have said it too. Not now, not anymore. The Second Amendment to me, then, is one guarantee that my past will never become my future.
About author: Leyla Myers was born in Azerbaijan Republic, former Soviet Union. She came to the States in May 2001 on an employment visa. She currently lives with her husband in Virginia.