THE MISSION STEMMING FROM THE NOVEL
The mission is to promote discussion and action on gun education, safety, legislation and the many challenges facing the youth of the 21st century. One goal is to have the novella OWN used in high school and college classrooms to stimulate those discussions.
Beneath the first essay are links to websites that provide a great deal of information and calls to action. We will continue to provide a variety of links to resources and organizations that are working to help solve the important issues of both mental health and gun use. Additional essays and commentary on news stories follow the links below.
Elkin (Own) Selph is a fifteen-year-old boy from NE rural Georgia who goes to school one autumn day and shoots his classmates, including his best friends and his girlfriend.
Is Own a psychopath? No. Does he have a history of mental illness? No. Is he a loner, disgruntled with his society and the hand dealt him by Life. No. Own is none of these things. He is an ordinary boy, of above-average intelligence, well-adjusted. Then why does he do it?
Guns kill people, and not only deranged people with guns kill people. The situation in this country has deteriorated into such utter absurdity that it would be funny—were it not so tragic.
Here’s a recent example, from a news story in a Florida newspaper, August, 2015. Names here changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.
Everette Hanson, the father of a sixteen-year-old girl, Raynie, bought a shotgun for her. He wanted her to have some protection when he was working the night shift. About three a.m. on August 10 a sixteen-year-old boy, Ross Kodner, snuck out while his parents slept, and, along with friends, went to Raynie Hanson’s home to have a party. No adults were present in the house. The group of teenagers drank beer and listened to music. At approximately 4:45 a.m. Ross Kodner noticed the shotgun in a case by the front door. Despite the objections of Raynie and her friends, Ross removed the shotgun from the case. The others told him to put the weapon down, but he began playfully waving it about. As Ross pointed the gun toward Raynie it went off, hitting her flush in the chest. Raynie Hanson was taken by ambulance to a nearby medical center, where she died.
Let’s look at the probabilities. Was it more probable that (1) Raynie Hanson would die from an accidental gunshot wound if there was a loaded weapon in the house, or was it more probable that (2) she would die at the hands of an intruder in a home invasion? Statistics show that number ONE above is by far the more probable of the two. Just having a loaded weapon in the house increases exponentially the chances that someone in the household will be shot.
Were there no firearm in the house, Raynie Hanson would still be alive today, looking forward to a long and prosperous life. The same goes for black and white children all over America. Were it not for weapons (in the hands of bad people, good people, all kinds of people) a plethora of human beings would still be alive.
The story of Own Selph is a cautionary tale. Do something, America, about the problem of guns in our country. Do something! We are the only civilized country in the world that allows this problem to perpetuate itself. Read about Own. Think about his sad tale. Commiserate with him. Then do something!
IN OWN’S WORDS: NOW WHAT?
Gun legislation and education are so controversial that intelligent solutions to ongoing tragedies are often stymied. However, if all sides focus on solutions rather than strong personal beliefs progress can be made to alleviate senseless tragedies and suffering.
THE NEWS IS FULL OF NEW EXAMPLES OF TRAGEDIES.
“Teen Pleads Not Guilty in School Bus Shooting”
dateline: Jacksonville, Florida
A 16-year-old boy being charged as an adult for a shooting into a school bus that injured two girls has pleaded not guilty.
Edgar Robles is facing two counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting a deadly missile for the May 14 shooting in Jacksonville.
Police say Robles and two friends approached the school bus to confront some other boys and that Robles opened fire.
The Florida Times Union reports that a bullet went through a girl’s cheeks. Another girl was hit in the back of the head. How many lives were ruined by this single event?
STATISTICS FROM THE BRADY CAMPAIGN:
A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to kill or injure a family member or friend than to be used in self defense.
80% of unintentional firearm deaths of kids under fifteen occur in a home.
66% of guns used in school shootings come from the home.
A gun in the home makes suicide three times more likely.
WHERE DID OWN GET HIS GLOCK? OUT OF HIS FATHER’S GUN CABINET.
WORDS OF WISDOM THROUGH THE AGES:
Here’s a little ditty, which draws upon the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King:
Violence begets violence begets violence prevents (no) violence begets violence begets violence prevents (no) violence begets violence begets violence. Period.
The champions of firearms in America tell us that if we have guns to fire at the bad guys who are firing the guns at us, then those firing guns will prevent the bad guys from firing their guns at us.
The point of the ditty is this: violence begets violence, and having more guns in the hands of more Americans begets more violence. There is not always a clear distinction between good violence and bad violence, and, sad to say but true, there is often no clear line to be drawn between who are the good guys and who are the bad.
GUNS BEGET VIOLENCE
TIME TO STOP THE HO-HUM?
Ho-hum, here we go again. Oct. 1, 2015. At Umpqua Community College in Oregon another deranged man shoots up a classroom. This is the 294th mass shooting in the U.S.A. in the past 274 days. The usual reaction is to wail and moan for a few days, then go right back to the same old same old. President Obama says that we have become numb to this sort of thing. Well, if it happens to you personally, to someone in your family, you become numb in a totally different way.
What can be done? First of all: we can elect people to Congress who are not in thrall to the gun lobby—people who have an agenda leading to changing radically the gun culture of America. In the upcoming elections, before we vote for someone, let’s look at his/her position on gun control.
Does this kid look like a killer? No. He looks more like a mixed-up kid. Is there any way we can find the shooters before they start doing the shooting, i.e., determine who will be the next to go berserk? Unfortunately, there is no way. We must, rather, begin the excruciatingly difficult task of keeping guns out of shooters’ hands. This will entail STRICT GUN CONTROL.
NOW WE COME TO THE GIST OF THE MATTER
In an article published in the Washington Post (October 6, 2015) Fred Hiatt is saying the things about guns that we all need to say. He is saying (in the headline) “Start working toward a gun-free society.”
“Maybe it’s time to start using the words that the NRA has turned into unmentionables: Prohibition. Mass buy-back. A gun-free society. Let’s say that one again: A gun-free society.”
As Hiatt goes on to write, “this is a matter of changing the culture and norms of an entire society. It would take time.” But the gradualist approach is not succeeding, “closing a loophole here, restricting a particularly lethal weapon there.” Members of Congress, however, are not willing to risk their jobs even for modest incremental reform. “Why would those same members commit political suicide by embracing something bigger?”
Hiatt concludes that there is zero hope of having Congress lead the way into this enormous cultural turnaround. He’s right. Recent remarks I have made about putting pressure on Congress are, therefore, misguided. I stand corrected.
“There has to be a cultural shift. Only then will Congress and the Supreme Court follow.” It has been done in Australia, for example, another pioneer nation that gave up its guns. “The Supreme Court, which has misread the Second Amendment in recent decisions,” would have to correct itself. Failing that, we should amend the Constitution.
“There are strong arguments against setting a gun-free society as the goal, but there are 100,000 arguments in favor—that’s how many of us get shot every year.” In any given year 11,000 Americans are murdered, and another 20,000 kill themselves with guns.
What if we had only kitchen knives and hatchets to kill one another with? There would still be murders, of course. But there would be far far far fewer.
BUT I NEED MY HAND GUN TO PROTECT ME AND MY FAMILY!
“Guns have limited value in foiling crime. An analysis of five years of data from the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) found that of over 14,000 crimes with contact between offenders and victims, guns were used by less than 1 percent of the victims, despite the fact that about 25 % of adults are gun owners. In over 300 sexual assaults NOT ONCE did a woman use a gun to protect herself. While the gun lobby portrays campuses as bursting with sexual predators, the truth is that most sex offenses are committed by acquaintances or partners of the victim and with alcohol present.” – Thomas Gabor, former professor of criminology who specializes in the study of violence – http://www.thomasgabor.com
MORE GUNS, MORE GUNS, MORE GUNS
Recently the state where I live, Florida, is threatened with still more liberal gun laws, at a time when we all should be striving to make guns less available. At the time of writing (Oct. 21, 2015) one committee in the state legislature has supported a measure that could make it easier for people to claim self-defense when shooting others under the already notorious “stand your ground” law.
The mother of seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis, who was shot dead in a dispute over loud music while sitting in a car at a Jacksonville gas station last year, has this to say about “stand your ground.”
“Stand your ground laws create a culture of shoot first and ask questions later. These laws embolden individuals to settle their conflicts by reaching for their firearms instead of using their words. And that is not what Florida needs. It needs common-sense gun laws.”
Another measure under consideration in the legislature would allow people who already have concealed-weapons permits to openly display the guns they are packing and to carry weapons on state college and university campuses. Numbers released earlier show that almost three-quarters of Floridians—73 %—oppose allowing students with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on campuses.
Surveys revealing large numbers of Americans opposed to the craziness of gun laws at least give us some hope. Sooner or later (we hope sooner) good sense will finally prevail, and we will make a beginning toward solving the horrendous problems in our gun-crazed culture.
OWN LESSON PLAN FOR TEACHERS
ELKIN (OWN) SELPH TRANSLATION OF FIRST PAGE OF THE NOVEL, “OWN”
Translator’s note: This-cheer (this, here) will make it EASY for y’all (you all) to read my nod-soddy (teenbobber) language, gentle readers. It heps, of course, if y’all beest from Georgie. Main thang (thing) is doe (though): just GO WITH THE FLOW and don’t worry about words you don’t know. Fore you know it, you’ll be DONE.
Ole Own Itties (walks, goes) Off (leaves home)
Start off with the ole ultra-cinema cam (movie camera) on a close-up of me (my) face (physiognomy), brothers. Like Little Alex in the first scene of A Clockwork Orange [the Kubrick film, first shot of Alex and his droogies/buddies in the Korova Milk Bar]. There sits me, ole Own (your humble narrator), putting him on a mean ole sod-off (not nice) litso-ditso (face) for the camera. [Note: a lot of the Russian-based words in me book are borrowed from me favorite novel, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Litso (лицо–face) is one of these words. The ditso part is added just for fun.] Holding up the handgun (pistol, Glock) in the air. The music in the soundtrack is dobby (добрый–good, kind, great) fine ole Ray Charles, a-crooning out his pnin-bang (great like a kick in the pants) song called “Georgie.” Ah, listen to him a-swanging (swinging) and dook-zvook (rad-sound) grooving. Puts a tear in me eye, O my brothers and sisters. Mighty smooth and mighty blinn-ding (whap-dap) COOL, ole Ray. YAAAAAS (Yes).
Let him go on a-sanging and grinning big, playing the ole pianner (piano) and shaking his bod (body) side to side, magnifi-likewike (like as if, like)-cent (magnificent) Ray, while y’all pulls back the camera, real slow like, medlenny-ho (медленный–slow), back back back, to show the sad andbloody thang (thing) in the ole lunch room where sets the PERP (perpetrator, criminal, i.e., ole Own)—that is, ole Own. Pull it back back back while the song sangs (sings) on. Show the dits-blitz (dap-whap) carnage [big word that some of yawl and yawlses may not know—try finding in on the Internet] that’s scattered about the room. The dead bodies and all. Who would have thought the lot of them to have had so much blood in them? [This-cheer sentence having been borrowed, mea culpa, from a play we was reading this semester in tenth-grade English, the thang called “Macbeth,” by the ole shaker of the Spear.] Then, as the camera goes on pulling back—out to where all the poeleasers (police officers) and gendarmes (same thang) is a-crouched (bent down) behind their poe-lease(police) cars—ole Ray’s song fades out and you hear that-there (that) wah-plach (weepy) whiny voice of the PERP (ole Own). Here’s what he says.
Okay, that’s enough to get you started, reader. See, it’s not that hard, is it? Of course not. Horrorshow (good—хорошо)! Just GO WITH THE FLOW, and счастливого пути (bon voyage=have a great trip) to all of yawl and yawlses!
(signed): Ole Own
GUIDELINES AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION, CLASS PROJECTS & WRITING ASSIGNMENTS
The following Lesson Guidelines are free to use for teachers and are suggestions that can be expanded upon as you wish. They are intended to assist you in any way you chose. Many of the questions are about the story itself but also include several that concern students’ thoughts and feelings about gun legislation, safety and common challenges society and the youth of today face.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Discuss Own’s droogies, Coot, Butch and Hubert. In what ways are they like him, and in what ways do they differ from him?
- At several points in the novel Own interacts with adults in Georgia or South Carolina. Pick one of these interactions and discuss it.
- Discuss how Own relates to his male droogies. Is this the way fifteen-year-old boys relate to one another? Give examples.
- What do we know about Idie? Does Own understand her well?
- Do you interact with older relatives or acquaintances in much the same way that Own does? Is that good or bad? Give examples.
- What do we learn about Own from the way he treats his great-great grandfather, Col. Bob?
- How does Own act differently when he speaks with the college teacher, Lydia Spainhower?
- Read the first few pages of Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange. Does the main character have anything in common with Own?
- Why are Own and his droogies so fascinated with A Clockwork Orange (the book and the film)? Is this fascination beneficial or detrimental to their well-being?
- After the film A Clockwork Orange was released, its director Stanley Kubrick received death threats to himself and his family in England. He decided not to have the film shown in England. What was the hullabaloo all about? Can a movie or book be dangerous? Can it inspire violence?
- The beginning of the novel is told as if it were being filmed, with camera angles and background music. Discuss.
- Why does Own choose to tell his story in the strange argot that he and his friends use among themselves. Why does he call his friends “droogies” instead of “friends,” and why does he use the word “nodsoddies” for teenagers? Would the story be better told in straight English?
- Own spends the whole time he is writing the story holed up in the cafeteria, hiding out. Think of other ways that he hides, protects himself from reality. (Hint: see question #12
- Have you read Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet? What do these stories have in common with the story of Own?
- Discuss the character Scuddy Hallums. Is he a typical African-American? Does Own understand him well?
- Own often writes with a deliberate effort to be funny and entertain his readers. Can you find humorous passages in the book?
- Discuss Own’s attitude toward football. What does he mean when he says he has “black speed”? What is his attitude toward the black players on his team?
- What do we know about Own’s parents and how he relates to them? Could they have done anything different to avert the tragedy?
- What if Own’s sister Sadie had woke up and talked to him when he came home in the early morning hours? Would that have changed anything? If you know the novel Catcher in the Ryecompare a similar episode (sister and brother) in that novel.
- How does his use of drugs and alcohol influence Own’s thinking?
- What could Own have done differently? Assume that you are his friend and you are walking that dark road with him after the party. What advice would you give to him?
- What advice would you have for peers or siblings who have endured heartbreak, betrayal or humiliation?
- Own likes to write and tell stories. If he had written down his memoirs before the shootings, do you think that would have helped him? Do you keep a journal?
- Own’s favorite opera singer is the Italian Cecilia Bartoli. Listen to her performances on Youtube, especially the two pieces that Own mentions: “Gelido in ogni vena (Ice Water in the Veins)” and “Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa.” Why did one woman in the “comments” section to “Gelido” write, “You ought to be down on your knees when you listen to this”?
- Why is Own so callous after the shootings? Why isn’t he wailing and crying, grieving over Idie and his friends, lamenting what he has done?
- What happens to Own at the end of the book? Are you sure?
- Comment on the cover art of the book. Who is the person depicted on the cover? Who drew the picture?
- On U.R. Bowie’s website there is a page titled “Own Mission.” Comment on the views expressed here. What are your views on gun control? Should the government play a greater or lesser role?
- What can we do to stop school shootings? Should there be better resources for teen mental and emotional health?
- What are your views on alcohol and drug education in the public schools?
- What could Own have done differently?
- If you had suffered Own’s humiliation how would you have handled it differently?
- What advice would you have for peers or siblings who have endured teenage heartbreak, betrayal or humiliation?
- One critic has called the story of Own a cautionary tale. What does that mean?
Read aloud in class the first few pages of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Compare the language of Little Alex to the language of Own. What does Alex have in common with Own? Can you find words that Own borrows from this book? Can you understand what is going on in?
Elkin (Own) Selph has a Twitter account (#ownselph). Follow Own on Twitter. What are some of his most common tweets? What kind of reaction does he get to his tweets? Having read the book, is it easier for you to understand him on Twitter?
Pick one of the following gun-control charities and read what they have to say on their website: The Brady Campaign, Sandy Hook Promise, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Parents Against Gun Violence. There are many gun-control charities on the internet. You may choose one not mentioned above if you like. What do you find to agree with or disagree with on the website you choose? Do you think that the given organization is making notable progress in reducing gun-related deaths in the U.S.?
For individuals or as a class – Do you have any written suggestions you could send to any of the organizations above?
Write a different ending to the story of Own’s humiliation at the party.
Rewrite the first three pages of the book in straight English. Does this change the nature of Own’s personality? Does it improve on the style of the book?
Write a different ending to the book. Explain how certain earlier episodes or attitudes would have to be changed to accommodate this new ending.