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Safety--It's All Relative

March 24, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

Laura Kelly doesn't use the word "safe" these days without ironic intent.

As in: "I moved out here so my son could be quote-unquote safe."

Or: "This is quote-unquote the safest city in America, right?"

Like others pushing for tough gun laws, Kelly has come to view safety as the great American illusion. If a psychotic can shoot up a day camp . . . if classrooms can be turned into slaughterhouses . . . if buying a gun isn't so much tougher than buying a bar of soap . . . then who, she asks, can be quote-unquote safe?

You've heard all that before. The talking points in the endless debate over guns have grown sadly familiar. But Kelly, a recent transplant from the San Fernando Valley to Thousand Oaks, didn't think much about them until a man named Buford Furrow declared war on Jews.

You might have seen the photos of her 3-year-old son, Hunter, last August. He's the little blond boy gripping a policeman's hand as a chain of kids is being led from the bullet-riddled North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

Furrow allegedly wounded five at the center and killed a postman, but Hunter was unharmed.

That night, he talked excitedly about how someone at school gave him a neat Mickey Mouse toy. And the firemen! All those firemen at school today, Mom!

But from time to time, he tried--as futilely as anyone else--to make sense of the rampage.

He talked about the boy under the gray blanket on a stretcher, bleeding.

One afternoon, he asked: "If a bad man came, my teacher would protect me--right?"

Another time, he and his mother were playing with hand puppets.

"Hi there, you nice little doggy," Kelly rumbled. "What's your name?"

"Furrow," Hunter said.

For a couple of months, Kelly had Hunter continue in preschool at the Jewish Community Center.

"I didn't want to be victimized by this guy," she said, "and to not be victimized is to not give him power over your daily routine. When you're 3, where you spend your day is your whole life; those were his teachers, his friends. That's where he felt--ironically--safe."

But Kelly, a 37-year-old single mother, couldn't dodge the reminders of that grim day. She lost her job in the sales department of a shampoo company, unable to focus on much besides the horror. Whenever she heard a siren or turned on the TV, it was there.

"You see this stuff on the news and your heart breaks for the parents waiting behind the tape line," she said. "And then you look away from the TV at your child, and he's sitting there, and he's OK. But you also know that it can happen to you--that you can be behind the tape line yourself, wondering whether your child is dead or alive . . . ."

Kelly and Hunter now live with her boyfriend. She works at home for an Internet company that allows parents to view their children at day-care, via computers.

Never an activist, she was coaxed into it by other mothers from the Jewish Community Center. She now is the Ventura County coordinator for the Million Mom March, a gun control demonstration to take place in Washington on Mother's Day, May 14.

So far, her efforts haven't gotten far off the ground. She wrote to a couple of local officials, who cordially declined to help. She got a former employer, a clothing manufacturer, to donate 1,000 T-shirts for the cause. From time to time, she urges women she meets to sign up for the march at or to contact her at

Will the cause draw many from Ventura County, where a Times poll indicated that guns are kept in one out of four homes?

"I know I'm swimming upstream here," Kelly said. "But Mothers Against Drunk Driving was swimming upstream at the beginning too. And doing nothing is just not an option."


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or by e-mail at

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