by Brenda Berry, December 16, 2012, 5:41 p.m.
Like most of you, I am feeling gutted with sorrow and frustration. I can’t imagine a Christmas with presents wrapped and now forever waiting for a first grader who will never have the joy of opening them. A child, just barely past babyhood, shot for no reason, no reason at all.
Some say the best thing to do is to hug your own children, and certainly I will do that, but how do I hold my own without feeling the unspeakable pain of those mothers and fathers whose children’s lives were cut short in the worst way possible? We shouldn’t feel lucky in our own particular good fortune. We should feel outrage that as a country we continue to allow this to occur over and over again. We should feel disbelief that a lack of political will and cowardice will ensure that mass shootings will continue to happen over and over again.
I don’t know about you, but I had a notice from my children’s school about how to talk to them about the tragedy—how to reassure them and how to answer their inevitable questions. Really? There are no rational answers and no blanket reassurances to offer. As is often the case, our children are smarter than we are, and my own children’s questions were pointed and insightful.
My eighth grader, who is studying the constitution right now, wants to know how this “obvious misinterpretation of the second amendment freedom has been allowed to trump freedom of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” We talked about the term “arms,” how 200 years ago the term meant arming a militia with single shot rifles or muskets, and how unlikely it was that the framers of our constitution meant for mentally disturbed young men to have easy access to military grade firearms. My sixth grader wanted to know if “arms” might eventually be taken to mean hand grenades or bombs and, if not, why not? Would the adults in his world be smart enough to see the absurdity of allowing that and, if so, then what about assault weapons? My sixteen year old astutely observed that the same people who are so desperate to save the life of one unwanted embryo seem to care very little about what actually happens to most children once they are born. Sure, someone tell me how to talk to my children about the complete moral failure of their parents and grandparents to set reasonable limits. Please, by all means, tell me how to tell them that the reality of going to school, or the movies, or the mall could mean death at the hands of random fate and that is the price we pay for the current interpretation of the “right to bear arms.”
Have I ever personally shot a gun? Yes I have. I enjoy skeet shooting and sport shooting at clay and paper targets. I appreciate that hunting sometimes is a means to an end. I feel that with proper training and safety procedures there can be a legitimate place for private ownership of guns. However, I do not see why a weapon made for wartime—and the wholesale slaughter of human beings—should be easily available to the public. I will never understand the vocal NRA crowd for whom all weapons are sacrosanct or how the “right” to own them trumps the right to life, education, healthcare, and public safety. Don’t give me the nonsense line “guns don’t kill people, people do.” If that is your stance, let’s make it a little harder for the insane and violent people among us to get hold of these weapons. And here is a really radical idea: Let’s take care of the mentally ill and distraught people in our communities, those “people” most likely to use these weapons to take innocent lives as well as their own. It should be at least as difficult to acquire a firearm as it is to adopt a dog.
My fear is that we will all once again be very, very sad for a very short period of time. That good people will shake their heads in sorrow and disbelief and finally, when they can’t stand the pain anymore, turn off the TV, turn the page in the paper, and begin the active process of forgetting. We Americans have short memories, and our sense of futility overwhelms us. We are far beyond needing meaningful dialogue. What we need are leaders who actually lead, and we desperately need President Obama to step up and become the leader we hoped for. Tears of compassion are fine. Action is better. Perhaps Elie Wiesel said it best: “ All that is needed for evil to flourish is that good people do nothing.” Let us not be those people.
When your children and grandchildren ask you why—why did you allow this to happen—and somewhere, once again, a mother screams in unbearable agony, “Why . . . why . . . why . . . ,” in your heart, you should also ask yourself, “Why, indeed.”
Photo courtesy of Sandy Hook Elementary.