Stricter gun laws would protect innocents at the hands of those who would be far more irresponsible. Instead of fighting common sense, we should consider how we as a society are actively enabling “bad people” by associating our rights as Americans with the very means in which innocent Americans are being killed time and time again.
As I do most weekday mornings, today I ushered my oldest child onto her school bus filled to the windows with her fellow kindergarteners - smiling, laughing, teeming with excitement of what grand enlightenments might await them upon their arrival in their classrooms. Up until now, I would typically take solace in the thought that - for the next 6-8 hours - my child is safe and happy and delighted to be amongst friends; sharing in the camaraderie that comes along with story-time circles, basic arithmetic games, and the honest competitiveness of early development gym class.
Sure, the occasional danger may arise - a sprained ankle on the playground, a bout of choking at lunchtime, the upsettingly-enough instance of contending with a young bully at recess. She may forget her homework and be scared to suffer the consequences (one less sticker for the day, it seems), or perhaps I happened to pack a lunch that just doesn’t live up to the standards of her fickle palette.
But this week, while she anxiously pulls away to clamor up the stairs of the bus that seem altogether much too high for her tiny legs to surmount, I have found that our “see you later” hugs last just a few moments longer. Perhaps instinctively, she seems to turn one extra time for a quick, blown kiss, and I take even more special care in watching her smile and wave from the window. And as the bus pulls out of sight I wonder, eerily and uncomfortably, if I will be fortunate enough to ever see her smile again.
I personally am still in utter shock over the events that occurred just less than a week ago in Newtown, Connecticut. Each time I look, it seems another young, beautiful smile is being honored in memoriam. The associated sadness - as professed by nearly every person that shakes their head in disbelief over the loss of these 26 lives - is seemingly universal. Whether for the slain children, educators or their grieving families, the mourning is so profound that it almost becomes necessary to separate from the reality altogether. Those of us living in towns and states away have this luxury. The parents, co-workers, friends and classmates of the Newtown victims, sadly, do not.
As I see these faces, hear these voices, read these stories over and over again, I am not overcome by sadness, which would seem rational, I suppose. No, instead, I feel anger. I am angry that this could happen in the first place. I am angry that these innocent lives - children and adult alike (though admittedly the “children” aspect seems to add far more weight to the subject) - were taken at all, let alone in the manner of desperate anguish and unfathomable fear of which they must have experienced in their final moments, while at the hands of an individual whose empathy-less, fractured mind was allowed the means to do so.
I cannot, even for a moment, begin to imagine what the victims’ families are going through right now. On the day of the massacre, I mentioned in conversation that all I could picture in my mind were my own children in that school. What would they do? Would they hide - quietly crouched in closets by order of some heroic educator? Would they run in fear of the loud commotion and, if so, would they even realize what the inherent danger actually was? Would they then be fast enough? I am unsure if they even realize what a gun actually is, let alone what it is capable of in the hands of a madman. Would they be directionless in a state of innocent, ignorant bravado? Would they be survivors - forever haunted by the memory - or would they, too, be victims; slain coldly and indifferently without regard to their innocence, their futures or their fears?
I cannot imagine my own reaction, or place any confidence in the idea that I would somehow miraculously be able to stop screaming at the heavens.
The thoughts bring shivers to my body. But again, only loosely affected and somewhat disconnected to the realities in Newtown, I like many have the privilege of being able to push the thought from my mind. I can convince myself that I will be greeted by their smiling faces later in the afternoon. I will get to read their bedtime stories, make their lunches, attend their school plays. I will be quietly grateful to wipe their noses when sick and hold their hands when frightened. I will perhaps be less irritated when they misbehave and adjust my patience levels accordingly. And one day, I fear, I will be required to explain to their curious minds the darker side of humanity.
They are, after all, only kids. And kids deserve the time and freedom to live and explore and seek and figure things out at their own pace and on their own time, more so than anyone’s right to wield an assault rifle. No one should be granted the ability to take this freedom from them. The heroic, adult victims of the school were surely in solidarity on this last point, and their sacrifice is proof of that.
Which again brings about the anger. This should not happen, ever. And while this case is particularly damaging due to the nature of the victims, violent, mass shootings are all too common in our country. This grotesque injustice is laid upon countless families across the country who are afterward forced to come to terms with one of the most senseless and horrific acts against our humanity.
And while in the brief aftermath appeasement and condolences are the order of the day, little has been done - year after year, month after month - to stop these crimes from happening.
Now that the 2012 elections are behind us, the topic of gun control (or, as Mike Barnicle put it on yesterday morning’s episode of Morning Joe, “gun sense”) has been catalyzed by the Newtown shootings. And the ensuing debate is both scary and equally maddening as the crime itself.
"I think we have two conflicting traditions in this country. I think it’s important for us to recognize that we’ve got a tradition of handgun ownership and gun ownership generally. And a lot of law-abiding citizens use it for hunting, for sportsmanship, and for protecting their families. We also have a violence on the streets that is the result of illegal handgun usage. And so I think there is nothing wrong with a community saying we are going to take those illegal handguns off the streets. And cracking down on the various loopholes that exist in terms of background checks for children, the mentally ill. We can have reasonable, thoughtful gun control measure that I think respect the Second Amendment and people’s traditions." - President (then Senator) Barack Obama, 2008Forget hunting rifles and handguns; the standing arguments for the unimpeded right to ownership of assault weapons and military-grade ammunitions can be broken down quite easily: if guns are more accessible and widely carried, criminals are both less inclined to commit crimes and, if so inclined, are more easily stopped from doing so.
Why? Because the Constitution says we can; the Second Amendment says so. Or so we would be convinced.
Worried about guns in schools, hospitals, and places of worship? Install metal detectors, they say. Employ trained, armed security, they say. Allow third grade English teachers to holster a Glock, and equip hall monitors with kevlar vests. Enact martial law in day care centers.
“I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office locked up,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), speaking on the heroic sacrifice of Newtown’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who died on Friday. “So, when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."
Similarly, Rep. Mark McCullough (R-OK) “plans to introduce legislation that would give school teachers and administrators the right to carry firearms in school,” (source) and Republican Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry said to a Tea Party crowd that schools would be safer if and when staff were allowed to carry firearms in schools.
There are, to the American thinker, more problems here than solutions. Forget for a moment the safety risk of equipping civilian teachers, principals, and hall monitors with firearms, trained or not. Put aside the discomfort of armed police patrolling the halls of an elementary school, like some dystopian juvenile prison camp, or the irrelevancy of metal detectors against a crazed gunmen (metal detectors deter carrying weapons, not the actual use of them). Think, instead, of the sheer irrationality of the suggestions.
The same folks crying over "Second Amendment Rights" (Republican legislators, largely, influenced for decades by lobbyist groups like the NRA) are the same voting to defund public schools, eliminate teacher/union rights, police precincts and other emergency services. Try training/employing someone with the appropriate skills to own and operate a deadly weapon in the presence of 300-plus children, yet not paying them to do so or investing in the right education/training to do so. It just doesn't work.
And even if armed, what then? I have this image of my child’s kindergarten teacher - a young, kind woman who looks like a kid herself - wielding a cold, steel firearm, lifting it to aim at her would-be assailant who is equipped with a military-grade arsenal reminiscent of a Navy SEAL crossed with a super villain. I wonder how many shots she would get off - assuming her hand stopped shaking long enough under the weight of the weapon itself - before the madman’s rapid-fire bullets mowed her down, as well as her cowering students? Should she be able to squeeze off more than one round - perhaps, say an entire revolver’s worth - how many children would potentially be caught in the crossfire?
True, American citizens have a “right to bare arms,” and often under special circumstances. But is it realistic to expect that this right is our only defense - our only take-away, rather - from the atrocities of another Newtown?
Or would it better serve our society to realize that the type of weapons of which we "have a right to possess" needs to be thoroughly addressed, as well as to who, what and why exactly those rights were put in place how they correlate with today's national conditions?
In this growing debate, no one - not even the President, whom the gun lobby loves to paint as the ultimate enemy against self-armament - is even suggesting “taking away our guns.” However, high-powered, semi-automatic assault rifles are not needed in civilian life, nor are they conducive to a civilized society, as evident by the 330 Americans who have been killed by gunfire in the 4 days since the Newtown massacre.
Those in favor of “gun sense” are merely suggesting that - just as I am trained and licensed to drive a car and not a stealth bomber, nor am I able to purchase a canister of nerve gas or a bucket of grenades - certain regulations be in place to protect innocents at the hands of those who would be far more irresponsible.
And let's face it, we are a nation comprised largely of irresponsible idiots.
In many cases, in the wrong hands or the wrong circumstances an average automobile can be a very dangerous weapon. Statistics suggest that - similar to firearms - they are most dangerous with people ages 17-25. We would not consider forbidding this age group to drive completely, of course. But, we would - and can - do everything in our power to educate and prepare drivers ages 17-25 to drive safely. We have laws that govern our roads to keep people - as best we can - out of harm's way. Our vehicles can be required by law to come equipped with the latest and most technologically advanced safety measures. We have seat belt laws. We made texting-while-driving illegal. We have stop lights, and require child-safety seats and airbags. We have "street legal" car regulations and vehicle inspections.
Why are we so stringent on automobiles, and not actual deadly weapons like guns? The United States currently employs some of the most lax gun laws in the developed world, and the violence/mortality rate due to this sad fact are proof of this. Why is it that it is incredibly easy for people to gain access to military-grade weaponry, legal or otherwise? How and why are semi-automatic and automatic caches of weapons finding their way into our communities, under the guise of legitimate business? Why does the Wal-Mart by my home look like the Punisher's arsenal cabinet?
Want/need a handgun, hunting rifle, or shotgun? Have at it, and happy shooting - as long as you are responsible, respectful and careful enough to own one. And as a means of protecting its citizens, the government should be tasked with making sure that only responsible owners can have access to sensible firearms.
I happen to live only a stone's throw from Indian Point. Should the day come when the place is in nuclear meltdown, and my community around me is scrambling, looting and pillaging, I would very much want and expect to wrap my palm around the grip of a handgun or shoulder up to a rifle and protect my doorstep from anyone who may do me or my family harm, and I'd be thankful for the ability to do so. My right as an American to protect - not indulge in narcissistic, rapid-fire fantasies at the shooting range or provoke adolescents to blow shit away for the fun of it, nor run the risk of a military-grade arsenal falling into the hands of the mentally unstable (which is another topic altogether concerning health care in this country) - is as important to me as it is to anyone else. But let's not pull out of context where this right comes from.
The Second Amendment was written to arm a "well-regulated militia" at a time when the country had no official defenses against European aggression and Native American uprisings. It was meant to defend against violence, not enable it. Today, we have a military and police. We have education and technology at our fingertips. Proponents for lax gun laws are placing so-called "liberties" over security. What would I do if I was staring down Adam Lanza's barrel from across a hall? I would fight with every fiber of my being and every weapon at my disposal, until my dying breath. But firstly, I would momentarily wish he was not able to access the weapons in the first place, legally or otherwise.
"If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. If one person in this world; the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing. This is our fault. This is my fault and your fault. All of your faults if we don't get out and do something about this." - Syracuse University basketball coach Jim BoeheimAnd yet, we see and hear legislators refer to gun control as “complicated” and “hard”. Really? For the families of the Newtown victims, this must be like a knife in the heart.
Advocates of lesser gun laws lament that bad people are going to do bad things and we best equip ourselves to stop them. Which to an extent is true. However, at the same time, we should be addressing the cause, or causes, and not just the symptoms. Is gun control the only one? Of course not. We live in a “culture of cruelty” that values sensationalism and shock value. We consistently de-prioritize mental health issues and proper social education. These are each issues that are truly “complicated” - curbing the sale of assault rifles and body armor seems like a no-brainer.
Instead of fighting common sense, we should consider how we as a society are actively enabling “bad people” by associating our rights as Americans with the very means in which innocent Americans are being killed time and time again.
This reality, in its entirety, continues to unravel as the days go on. And with each new detail, the one outcome that is infallible is the telling sign that we as Americans are failing our youth and our fellow citizens as a whole. We have allowed our actual rights to freedom and protections of the innocent to be bullied by the status quo of disingenuous lobbyists, a reluctance to address the needs of the mentally unstable and a culture that glorifies sensational violence at every turn.