by Nicki Fellenzer
I know the exact day, and moment when my views on the Second Amendment were formed.
It was before I knew what the Constitution of the United States of America was.
It was before I knew about the Bill of
And it was before I’d ever touched a gun.
It was when a Soviet border guard stuck a rifle in my face and threatened to shoot me when I was eight years old.
I haven’t the slightest idea what kind of rifle it was. I don’t know if it was an AK, or an SKS, or any other letters resembling a spoonful of alphabet soup. At that time I couldn’t tell the difference between an M-60 and a Beretta 9mm pistol. But it was a rifle, and it was inches away from my face.
That was the exact moment I knew that the ability to defend yourself is tantamount to life itself.
The border guard was standing in front of a doorway through which they took my dad. My parents and I spent the day in this third-world pit on the border of Poland and Ukraine, waiting to leave the Soviet Union. And since we were Jews, who wanted more than anything to leave the motherland, the border officials, the guards and the so-called “customs officials” made it their official duty to make our lives as miserable as possible while we were there.
So, they rifled through our luggage, confiscating anything they deemed necessary – loosely translated it means they stole our stuff.
They did body searches – strip and orifice searches as well. Not because they really thought we were hiding something, but because they wanted to further humiliate the Jews. It made them feel powerful and strong. It made them feel more than what they actually were. It was the ultimate illusion.
They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the final step to that absolute corruption is taking away a person’s means of self-defense.
It starts with games – mind games – the kind of games that leave you drained of dignity, self-worth and the will to live. It starts with humiliation, crescendos with vicious emotional lashing and culminates with complete surrender.
I sat quietly in a corner – a skinny eight-year-old kid. I was scared to death, so I sat in a chair and stared into my book of fairy tales as my parents stood in front of the customs officials and watched them rummage, tear and confiscate our meager belongings.
My parents looked tired and defeated. They were pale. They obviously hadn’t slept. They stood in front of the customs officials with their hands hanging limply at their sides, stooped and beaten.
We didn’t take much with us. Three suitcases and a small radio. I was in charge of carrying that. I didn’t want to give it up. It was my responsibility. And as one official watched me clutch at the radio’s plastic handle with my sweaty hands, he decided against taking it away from me. He told me to go sit in a corner instead.
So I sat. My mom came over later and gave me my book of fairy tales to read. I couldn’t concentrate, so I furtively watched my parents face the border officials.
When they were finally finished checking our baggage – when they felt they had stolen enough - they sloppily closed the suitcases, and escorted my father to another room.
And as I watched him go, I was racked by this overwhelming feeling of utter terror and helplessness. I wanted to go to him. At that moment I wanted my daddy more than anything in the world. So before my mother could stop me, I dropped my book and left my radio on my chair. I jumped up and began running toward my father, who’d disappeared into a dark hallway. At that point the only thing standing between me and my dad was a guard – a guard in an olive drab or grey uniform (I can’t even remember its exact color) and a rifle.
In the darkened hallway I saw my father turn and look at me as the guard pointed the rifle in my face. I saw another guard lead my father away. And I heard my mother scream, “Let this child go to her father! Now!”
Even in this darkest, most humiliating of places, she gathered her last vestiges of strength and dignity and faced that guard in my defense!
I reached out a hand past the guard and screamed, “Daddy!” But he was gone, and I felt myself being pulled back into my mother’s arms. I screamed louder, “Daddy!” and tried to run past the guard. And once again that rifle was in my face and my mother was crying and screaming.
My mother and I were eventually allowed to join my father. We sat in the train station, waiting for the next available train to take us away from that hellhole. My parents carefully folded what clothing we had left into the suitcase. I could see torn sheets, a few books and some old shoes also being lovingly packed away.
We traveled for another two months before we reached our final destination – America.
But I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget how helpless I felt – how demeaned and beaten my parents looked. And I’ll never forget that rifle in my face. At that point, someone had complete power over me and over those I loved. At that moment, we were helpless, disarmed and undefended.
Today, as I write this, I realize how crucial the ability to defend oneself truly is. It’s not about having to justify myself to anyone in power anytime I want to purchase a certain weapon. It’s not about being registered like a common criminal simply because I want to own a gun. It’s not even about being called a “gun nut” or an “NRA freak.”
It’s about the slow, systematic destruction of dignity and strength. It’s about the methodical erosion of our personal defenses. And all of the above are definitive symptoms of that erosion.
For once you’ve taken away a person’s self-respect – once you’ve taken away a person’s dignity – it becomes all the easier to take away his or her means of self-defense. And once that's gone – that’s the precise moment you know you’ve been completely defeated.