An Open Letter to North Carolina’s Governor


Dear Governor McCrory:

In light of the new law allowing concealed weapons in bars, I’d like to propose to you and your cronies (McCrory’s Cronies has a nice ring, doesn’t it?) a law that would allow open containers at gun shows. If people are going to be given the chance to make stupid decisions with firearms while drinking, I think it only fair that people also be allowed to make stupid decisions about the purchasing of firearms while drinking.

I know what you’re thinking: Genius idea, right? Indeed, sir! This will boost sales for your NRA lobbyists, and that means more money for you and yours, Governor. Show me a drunk who hasn’t ever thought “Man, I’d love to have an AK-47 or a Howitzer right now,” and I’ll show you a man who has never been drunk at a gun show.

This will also keep us safer. No longer will women in bars need to fear the bad pick-up line—any jerk who asks “If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?” can now be taken care of, quickly and efficiently, with one squeeze of a trigger. Those obnoxious college kids with their Sex on the Beaches and Vodka/ Redbulls? I think we know what happens to them if they get out of line. Same for the secretaries on Margarita Monday, and those asshole grad students who always win Trivia Tuesday. No need for bouncers, either—Clint Eastwood over there drooling with one eye open and seventeen bourbon straws on the table in front of him can take care of any trouble, or Chuck Norris dancing with his pool cue in the corner can.

It will also keep people fearful. The more people in bars with guns, the more shootings there are likely to be, which, in turn, will make others think they need a firearm to mosey on down to the local watering-hole and have a wine-spritzer or a Zima. Which means more gun sales. Until everyone owns a gun. All of us, and we all stay home, safe and sound on a Saturday night, peering out the window, drunk as the last lords of creation, wondering what might be gunning for us—our firearms, like our bottles of bourbon, within easy reach.


Paul Crenshaw


Paul Crenshaw is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was a Fred Chappell fellow. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays 2005 and 2011, Shenandoah, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. He teaches writing and literature at Elon University.

Lesson Plan


Lesson Plan


Michael T. Young


A gun came to school
and taught the children how to think.

It blew their minds
and tested them
on how to take a last breath.

It sent home lessons
to parents on loss and pain.

A gun came to school
to speak and tell the teachers
how to teach and how to hide

and how to take a shot.
There’s always someone

who doesn’t try, who won’t
put in the time to learn,
who won’t listen or do the homework.

But a gun is dedicated;
it aims to come to school every day,

it will instruct us all.
There is so much to learn:
fire drills, duck and cover.

A gun will lay down the law
even if it kills us.


Michael T. Young has published three collections of poetry: Transcriptions of Daylight, Because the Wind Has Questions and, most recently, Living in the Counterpoint.  He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He received a Chaffin Poetry Award and was runner-up for a William Stafford Award.  His work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous print and online journals including Coe Review, Fogged Clarity, Iodine Poetry Journal, The Potomac Review, and The Raintown Review.  His work is also in the anthologies Phoenix Rising, Chance of a Ghost, and In the Black/In the Red.  It is also forthcoming in Rabbit Ears: TV Poems.  He lives with his wife and children in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“This Is My Rifle” by Paul Crenshaw


A few months after I moved to North Carolina I was sitting on a porch with a half-dozen other people, drinking and talking about writing, movies, books we loved. It was October, and just cool enough to be pleasant, and the drinks tasted fine and a light wind stirred the falling leaves. I had just started graduate school, and though I didn’t know any of the people very well then, they were weird and funny and smart and I was in a new city with a new life stretching out in front of me, when four men wearing ski masks and carrying pistols ran up onto the porch.

It was around 11 O’clock. The table was littered with empty beer cans and drink glasses and ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts. I sat in a cheap plastic chair. Two people sat in the porch swing. Another couple stood by the door, another on a bar stool we had dragged outside, another in a recliner salvaged from curbside on trash pick-up day. When the men ran up the porch stairs we all froze. I could see the guns gleaming in the porch light. Through the open window came the sound of a radio.

“Give us your fucking money,” one of them said.

Two of the men stood by the porch steps, heads swiveling from the street to us and back again. They held their guns by their sides. The other two moved among us, much like you’ve seen on any number of TV shows or movies, taking watches and wallets. But we were grad students, and none of us wore expensive watches or rings or necklaces. None of the guys carried cash.

By the time one of the men made it to me, he was getting angry. He had gotten no money from any of us. I could see his eyes through his ski mask. His knuckles were white where they held the gun.

He pressed the gun hard enough into my stomach I could feel the coldness of the steel.

“Give me your fucking money,” he said.

My wallet was in my front pocket, my jacket covering it. I’d had a few drinks and the air was cool and I was in a new city and the whole thing seemed surreal, so I told him I didn’t have any money. I even shrugged casually as I said it. I thought they would simply run off, but by this point he was too angry to give up. He moved the gun from my stomach to my neck. His fingernails were clean, I noticed. Strange what you notice at a time like that. One of the others said “Let’s go,” but he shook his head slightly, just a twitch really, then pushed the barrel of the gun into my neck hard enough my head moved. He cocked the hammer.

“You got any money now, mother fucker?” he said.

I got my first gun for my 12th birthday, a bolt-action .410 with a blonde stock. It held three shells. It had belonged to my grandfather, who fought in WWII and Korea, and that fall I walked through the woods behind my house with it every afternoon as the dark came early and the leaves left the trees.

When I was 17, I joined the military. When we qualified with our M-16s I hit 35 out of 40 targets, one short of expert. In the second half of my military training I learned to disassemble and reassemble the M-16, the M-60 machine gun, the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the M-203 grenade launcher, the 9mm, and the .50 caliber machine gun, as well as fire all of them. I’ve thrown hand grenades and set off Claymore mines, stabbed practice dummies with bayonets, even learned to call in air strikes. I’ve fired thousands of rounds in the military and thousands more with hunting rifles and pistols, and if I would have had a gun on me, I would have pulled it that night. Short of a police officer or soldier who trains everyday for just such an occasion, I would have wielded it as well as anyone could, under such circumstances.

Some nights I dream about the gun. The cold steel. The gleam in the porch light. There is no one standing over me. The gun is simply there. Soon the trigger will pull. There will come a brief flash, then the acrid smell of smoke, though I do not know if I will be alive to smell it, to see the flash, to hear the report.

In Tobias Wolff’s short story “Bullet in the Brain” the main character, Anders, does not hear the bullet, or smell the smoke, or feel it penetrate his flesh. It carves a furrow into his forehead, but he is not there to know. He is remembering a long-lost Saturday afternoon during the heat of summer. A baseball game. A boy chanting in right field. He is remembering the power of words.

Had the gun fired when it was pressed against my neck, my last words would have been “I don’t have any money.”

The last words I would have heard were “Mother fucker.”

In the dream, I think that I do not want mother fucker to be the last thing I ever hear. Nor do I want there to be a last thing.

I am writing this a few days after 26 people, 20 of them children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Six months after a gunman walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire with an assault rifle, wearing body armor and a gas mask. Five years after 32 people were killed at Virginia Tech, which is not very far away, geographically or metaphorically, from where I teach at a small liberal arts college. Thirteen years after Columbine.

I keep thinking of that classroom. My wife teaches kindergarten, and I see her room, which I have visited many times. I see her children, some of whom, from previous years, are stored on digital photos on my computer and often pop up when the screensaver switches on. The gunman would have walked through a door with a hand-written sign on it that says “Welcome to Mrs. Crenshaw’s Kindergarten Class!!!” My wife would have been standing at the board, or sitting at her desk. The children would have been coloring, or learning to form letters, or sitting in a circle on the carpet listening to my wife read.

She would have been the first to see him. To see the rifle raised. To see the fire shoot—I imagine this in slow motion—from the barrel as the bullets began to fly. She would have been the first one shot, and the last thing she would have seen would have been the bodies of her students falling beside her, their little shirts and dresses blooming now with blood, their mouths trying to form words but finding only screams, or nothing. I imagine seeing that would have been hard, although perhaps not as hard as the phone calls some parents would get later in the day. To learn that, only a single moment before it all began and everything ended—everything in your entire world—your children had been practicing their Rs, or drawing pictures of winter, or listening to my wife’s voice as she read to them about a snowy day, as I have heard her read to my children hundreds of times.

There is something broken in America. Something devastated, and devastating. That classroom. Those guns. The noise it must have made. The broken glass, the pools of blood. The children with their eyes closed as they were led out. The phone calls. Dear God, the phone calls.

Outside, the sun slanted toward winter. Leaves went rattling along the sidewalk. The rest of us were going to work, or drinking coffee at a window, steam from the cup condensing on the glass. My daughters had climbed on buses only an hour before, were sitting in classrooms much like that one. I was sitting at my computer as I do every morning, trying to make some sense of the world with the words I write. That morning, I kept thinking about the bus pulling away. That classroom. The way my wife looks when I visit unannounced, and stand outside her room looking through the little window in the door. She doesn’t see me, but I watch her with her children.

Like most of us, I felt something break. Like most of us, I will spend days or years or forever trying to understand what it was. That morning, I kept writing the same lines again and again:

What is wrong with us? What in the world is wrong with us?


I keep coming back to the gun in my neck. It’s the only thing I can relate this to. That October night. Wind in the trees. Drinking and talking too loudly with writer friends about what most moved us in the world, about what we might change if only we ever learn to capture the words to unlock what most moves others.

The guy in the ski mask patted me down and found my wallet. He kept the gun to my neck as he dug it out of my pocket. It had 43 dollars in it, the same amount a man was killed for in a famous country song. He flipped it open, saw the money, and took the gun away from my neck.

The four of them ran off down the street. My friends and I looked at each other in disbelief for a moment, then called 911. Cops arrived, guns drawn or holsters unsnapped and hands hovering near, but the men were gone.

Some nights I think that if I had had my own gun, I could have defended myself. I could have pulled it out and squeezed off a few rounds. The robbers would have shot back. The others on the porch would have dived for cover. If they had guns they could have started shooting too. The robbers would retreat from the porch, all of them firing back. Perhaps a bullet would have gone across the street, broken a window, and the owner would have come out with his gun, firing back at us. The police, upon arriving, would not have known who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, and they would have started shooting as well, until all up and down the street, all over the city, all over the state, all over the world, people were firing at one another, and it would be easy to believe this is the way the world would end.

It wouldn’t be anybody’s fault, and there wouldn’t be anything you could do about it.


Paul Crenshaw is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was a Fred Chappell fellow. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays 2005 and 2011, Shenandoah, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. He teaches writing and literature at Elon University.

What Nancy Lanza Knew


What Nancy Lanza Knew


Sonya Huber

I was in the grocery checkout line when I learned that Adam Lanza killed his mother. Over the following days, the facts wavered in the Internet deluge: she did work at the school or she didn’t; she was nice or high-strung; she worked or she didn’t. In that moment, though, I wasn’t judging her. I started to cry as I paid for my groceries, and the cashier cried along with me. That’s what women were doing in the grocery store that day, piecing together information, opening up the same conversation with strangers, hurting each other with facts so we could all bear the eventual load together.

I admit that I am quite rattled by this, partially because I live about 40 miles from Newtown–close enough to have friends whose kids attend that school district, and close enough to know people who know families in which children and grown children have been murdered.

I’m rattled—as is the country and beyond—about the invasion of guns into a school for young children, an institution which is not exactly a home but is more domestic than most public spaces. It is, in a way, an extension of the home, a place we trust as special and separate. Its invasion is a public form of domestic violence, a targeting of our most vulnerable, an attack on many families. The blog Legal Justice School Info clarifies the connection: “Although Lanza allegedly killing his mother could be considered an act of domestic violence (and the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence calls murder-suicide ‘the ultimate act of domestic violence’), the murder spree that extended to the school far exceeds the typical domestic violence scenario.”

I was devastated by the death of the children and school personnel, but I—like most people—kept coming back to the issue of the family in a fruitless attempt to seek out causes. Driving home, I began to think about Nancy Lanza as a victim of domestic violence—an analysis also pointed out briefly in an excellent Ms. Magazine blog piece by Soraya Chemaly entitled “Why Won’t We Talk About Violence and Masculinity in America?” I want to explore why this might matter, but I don’t have any wedge-shaped thesis to drive into this problem; I can’t split it open or solve it. I am just bringing this to my fellow adults as we encounter each other in the grocery store of despair.

First, we think often of domestic violence as that committed by an intimate partner or spouse, but many definitions cover violence committed by one family member toward another. Within that category is a specific subset of Child-to-Parent Violence (CPV). I’m interested in the specific risk factors for CPV, but first I want to think about Nancy’s life and what little we knew of it.

What we have begun to see is that the hell of Nancy Lanza’s life had probably been unfolding for years, even since her son Adam was five. I imagine she knew what her son was capable of and had no idea how to stop it. Or, worse: that part of her knew while another part of her mind shrouded that fact in denial in order to function and to have hope for the future.

I have lived with a person beset and stricken with mental illness, and that day-to-day life can be excruciating. I never mothered that someone with mental illness, and that life I cannot imagine. All I know or can imagine is that one’s hope and desire for recovery for one’s child must be boundless, and anxiety must grow even as you fear to tell friends and neighbors the truth. She had horrible trouble brewing at home. Maybe she saw it coming. But if she saw it, what could she have done? Her co-workers might have thought she was crazy for “putting up with” her sons, or maybe they just had sympathy. They might have spouted out impractical advice—“kick him out”—that she knew was impossible. She might have worried that she was complaining too much.

I can imagine her daily pretending mingled with hope: “I’m fine” and “He’s doing better,” the fear when he wasn’t taking his medication, the not knowing whether he was having a good day or a bad day. Trying to get mental healthcare for a family member who is almost an adult or fully adult presents a host of daunting complications; you can’t push too hard or you will offend dignity and autonomy, and everything will blow up in your face and you’ll be seen as “controlling,” triggering the paranoia and aggression. She must have worried herself sick and let it take up so much space in her head. Then occasionally I imagine there were good days and bursts of clarity, apologies, and moments that connect to good memories. I imagine it was not all hell, but such a wide range of unpredictability that it became its own special kind of hell, the kind that erases hope for the future with the amazing demands of the present.

Maybe she even made a step for the positive, decided she couldn’t take a certain behavior any more. I imagined this: that she had told her son “No.” She had worked up the courage to do something different. Maybe she’d just refused to give him money. Maybe she’d insisted he see a doctor. Maybe she’d just told him not to do something that was insulting, or maybe she’d insisted he do something besides play video games.

Nancy and her husband split “about a decade ago,” when Adam was ten. He was described as “really depressed” by a neighbor after the divorce. The divorce was finalized in 2009, which meant it was most likely long and contentious, a six-year process. What is it like for a single mother to go through a six or seven year divorce while also trying to control a child with multiple behavioral challenges? Before an official divorce, a husband is often not obligated to pay child support. For that six or seven year gap between the separation and the legal divorce, also the time of Adam’s adolescence, we have no idea about the couple’s finances or the stresses Nancy was under.

In those situations, for a woman alone with her children, the world seems and is a frightening place. We live in a culture where single mothers can be blamed for everything while ex-husbands seem to disappear into a kind of invisibility and are praised if they make any effort at all. Being a single mother is often incredible isolating, and I cannot imagine the experience of having to quit work, leave one’s connection to the outside world, in order to care for a mentally ill child during that same experience. That was a decision Nancy Lanza made.

Like most victims of domestic violence, Nancy Lanza does not have public sympathy. The commentary surrounding her death have been almost unanimous in judgment. Even progressives and liberals by and large have implicitly branded her a “gun nut” who was apparently asking for what happened to her because of her predilection for weapons.

More than one of my friends has been threatened with a gun during their marriages; divorce in such instances is a terrifying prospect. I know that in the aftermath of a scary divorce, I seriously contemplated buying a gun. (I didn’t because I knew I was the last person on earth who should handle a gun, and I believe in calling 911). I didn’t want to shoot someone, but I had moments of incredible vulnerability in which I worried about my safety and in which I knew that ultimately I was the only person around to defend myself and my child.

That is the reason why I turn to the cipher in this debate: the ex-husband, Peter Lanza, and I am intrigued by the utter lack of attention paid so far to the father of Adam Lanza. The only attention paid to him has been to list his regular alimony payments, his “academic background,” his new marriage, his new red-brick household in Stamford, CT, and his good suit-wearing job as a Vice President of Taxes for GE Energy Financial Services. He looks like a nice guy and he’s painted like a nice guy. He might be a nice guy, but all our stereotypes of class and race point us in the direction of assuming he’s a nice guy. An article in the New York Daily News ends with a huge nod of sympathy toward the pain Peter Lanza must be going through. The comments on below that article focus on excoriating Nancy Lanza for causing this entire catastrophe.

The stress of caring for a child with difficulties can strain any marriage. What if Peter Lanza put the entire burden of controlling Adam’s escalating behavior onto Nancy, and she was so disgusted and trapped that the only solution she could think of was to escape the marriage to have one less problem to deal with? That’s not as uncommon as you might think. Some male parents belittle and demean female parents for not being able to “do their job” of controlling or “fixing” a child. I’m not saying it’s true; the only thing that’s true is that we have no idea, and it’s strange that the man’s role in this complex dynamic is invisible.

Peter Lanza’s lawyer describes him as very upset about the divorce. This article claims Nancy “divorced” Peter as if it were a spurious decision. Let’s put it another way: for some reason, she felt like she had to leave that marriage.

We have no idea what kind of guy Peter Lanza is. I am worried that class bias will obscure yet another series of secrets in yet another home. It’s clear, based only on buying power, that there was a huge power imbalance in the home based on economics alone: tax accountant versus substitute kindergarten teacher. Studies indicate that one risk of CPV includes an unequal division of labor in the home, which means that the children see the mother being exploited and her labor being undervalued on a regular basis, they will see her as slightly less than human and not deserving of respect. We don’t know if this was the case—but we don’t know it wasn’t. Another risk of CPV includes whether the child had previously witnessed domestic violence in the home; a study by Murray Straus and Ariana Ulman in The Journal of Comparative Family Studies (34:1, Winter 2003) declared that CPV was “rare” when the child had not previously witnessed violence between parents and more frequent when the child was a target of corporeal punishment. Other risk factors for CPV include all of Adam Lanza’s context: being a white male in a single parent family.

I’m not saying Peter Lanza is to blame because I don’t know anything—and now, none of us may ever know. But if we are going to get into a family’s business in the search for answers, we should know that our search for blame and vengeance should not easily and comfortably rest where sexism and prejudice so often naturally settle: on women because they are women, because they are tasked with caring for our children when no one else will.


Sonya Huber is the author of two books of creative nonfiction, Opa Nobody (2008), shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize, and Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (2010), finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year. She has also written a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers: Using Your Life for Reflection, Connection, and Inspiration (2011). She teaches at Fairfield University. More at