Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Returning the Medals to Express Disgust

by Rachel Kurzius

Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or at advice @ 

Dear Rachel,

Years ago I received several medals for riflery at summer camp. These were National Rifle Association medals.

Over the years I have come to despise everything that the NRA stands for. After the horrible murder of children in Newtown, Connecticut, I detest the NRA even more.

While these medals have a slight sentimental value to me because they are a link to fun summers at camp, I am inclined to sent them back to the NRA. The NRA won't care, I'm sure. Nobody will care or notice, for that matter.

Should I send these medals back to the NRA? Is that the right thing to do?

Shooting in the Dark

Dear Shooting in the Dark,

The murder of those 20 children in Newtown was a horrible, stomach-churning, tear duct-wetting and bizarre event. In addition to making me terribly sad, it also made me feel helpless. I’ve found that many others share that sense of helplessness -- the inability to do anything to help those beautiful children and adults as grisly details emerge and memorials blossom. I think you share this helplessness, too, Shooting in the Dark.

And in our helplessness, we turn to pointing fingers. The National Rifle Association has certainly taken a fair share of the blame for the Newtown massacre. Depending on where you stand, the organization has either earned this scorn or has become a scapegoat. Your letter made it clear where you fall in this debate.

This is where your ostensible question comes into play -- should you send back summer camp riflery medals issued by the NRA, the group you believe to be complicit in the gun-violence plaguing our great nation?

As you note, “Nobody will care or notice for that matter” if you send those antique medals back to the NRA. In an instance like that, where your actions will have no impact on others, you certainly wouldn’t be doing anything wrong. But that wasn’t your question. You asked if it was the right thing to do. I don’t think that sending those medals back is the right thing to do, Shooting in the Dark, because you can do so much more.

Your medals aren’t the problem, so getting rid of them isn’t a meaningful solution.

I can sense your feeling of ickiness about those medals through the letter you wrote, though. You hate that they say “NRA” on them. But you don’t hate the medals themselves, which remind you of times gone by at camp. As someone who also attended sleepaway camp, I understand why you’d want these trinkets around. After all, I’ve got every “Paper Plate Award” (“Most Likely to Break Her Flip-Flops,” if you were curious) lying around in the nooks and crannies of my closet. Those silly paper plates bring me back to those mornings at flag pole and Color War.

If your hatred of the “NRA” emblazoned on the medals outweighs your sense of nostalgia, get rid of them. Send them back to the NRA, if you’d like. You’d be doing the Postal Service employees a favor, anyway. But it’s not going to kick that sense of ickiness you feel.

So what will? What is the “right” thing to do?

I’m not sure, Shooting in the Dark. Sometimes crazy, awful, inexplicable stuff happens, and when it does, it erodes the sense that we have control, that we can keep our loved ones safe, if only we can do the "right” thing.

It’s become cliche since Newtown to tell people to hold their children a little tighter and express their feelings of love and adoration for others. You should still do that. Embrace your loved ones and smell their special smells. Feel grateful that you’re contemplating old summer camp medals instead of miniature coffins.

You can do more than that, though, and I get the feeling from your letter that you’d like to do more. If you’re repulsed by current gun laws, now seems like the time to act on those feelings. Do your research. Figure out what you’d like to change. Try to find groups in the area that share your vision and your approach towards achieving it.

You say that you have come to despise the NRA, but I implore you to focus your energies on something you can be for, rather than against.

The Newtown massacre sparked a sense of righteous indignation, but will it last? Will it result in any legislative or cultural changes? It depends on people like you, Shooting in the Dark. Come into the light to reshape the world into one where your medal-winning, summer camp self, and all of the children like you once were, would be safer.

All the best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or at advice @ 

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