I feel like I should write something about this Connecticut shooting. It’s been a week now since it happened, but a few things have kept me from writing: One has been a truly debilitating sadness that has overwhelmed me since last Friday–I am the parent of a first grader and a second grader, and I keep thinking about those Newtown parents hearing that there was a shooting at their child’s school, hurrying to the school and watching other parents hug their kids, and having their stomachs turn and their fear grow as the minutes go by without seeing their child. Another thing that has kept me from writing has been the fact that just about everyone with a blog (or a Facebook or Twitter account, for that matter) has weighed in with their thoughts about this tragedy, and I didn’t want my voice to add to the noise. The third thing keeping me from writing is that I couldn’t figure out how to start…. So I took the easy way out and started by writing about how I didn’t know how to start writing.
I’ve spent a large portion of this past week feeling on the verge of tears. I don’t know why I keep listening to NPR–I’m going to end up getting into a car accident driving around with these blurry, tear-filled eyes. On the bright side, all this snot in my beard is like an all-natural styling gel for my mustache…. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. But mostly, I’m just a mess. Today I talked with some fourth graders about bullying, and I asked them a question that I have asked fourth graders hundreds of times before: We talk with them about how it’s everyone’s responsibility to make bullying stop, and we ask them “Who is responsible for making your school a safe place?” But that question doesn’t mean the same thing that it used to…. And I don’t think it has the same answer anymore.
When something like this shooting happens, I think it’s natural to try to find something to blame. Everyone (rightly, I think) asks the questions, “How could this have happened?” and “What can we do to keep this from happening again?” And judging from what I have seen people writing, there is a lot of blame to go around: Everything from lack of services for the mentally ill, violent video games, and not enough security in schools…. all the way to taking down the 10 Commandments, getting rid of prayer in schools (which didn’t happen), and the president calling the White House Christmas Tree a “Holiday Tree” (which he totally never did). And then, of course, we have have people blaming guns: Everything from too many guns to not enough guns. Larry Pratt, the executive director of The Gun Owners of America went so far as to say,
“Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.”
Mr. Pratt must not have heard about the shooting at Fort Hood, where a U.S. Army Major working as a psychiatrist, shot 42 people, killing 13 of them. He did this on a military base. A base with a lot of armed MP’s close enough to respond quickly, a whole lot of security, and many, many people who know how to use guns (though not walking around with them). If you’ve ever been to a military base, you know that everyone is not walking around with their guns–only special personnel can carry on base. You know what they DIDN’T do after the Fort Hood shootings? They didn’t change the rules so that everyone can carry a gun (in case something like this happens again). You know why? Because even though these people are highly trained and trusted with guns, they know you don’t make an army base safer by giving everyone a gun. And that strategy doesn’t work for a neighborhood either. And certainly not for a school.
I suppose it was naive of me to hope that something with the gravity and the heartache of this massacre could bring us together in our grief enough to push past the politics and talk about some common sense ways we can work to prevent this steady drumbeat of deadly mass shootings. Instead, we watch as people run to gun stores to buy their very own Bushmaster AR15 (the semi-automatic assault rifle that was used to put multiple bullets through 20 first graders) and buy so many that they CAN’T EVEN KEEP THEM IN STOCK. In addition, it seems that the weekend of the shooting set a new record for FBI background checks (which are required to purchase guns) as an indicator of record gun sales. And then I also have to endure all the pro-gun crap people post on Facebook immediately after this shooting….
Now, I realize that both sides of the gun control issue have claimed that the other side is using this tragic event for political gain, but I feel like the people who post this garbage just don’t get it. Here’s the deal: If 20 kids just got killed by walking onto some land mines, it would be a really bad time to post about how important land mines are to the safety of the country. If 20 kids just died from eating rat poison, it would be a really bad time to talk about how overrun with rats we would be without rat poison. If 20 kids just died in a school bus accident because they weren’t wearing safety belts, it would be a really bad time to talk about how seat belts on buses are an infringement on our rights. It would, however, be an appropriate time to discuss how many land mines we need, or how much ready poison is too much, or how much freedom a person needs to have if that freedom is getting people killed.
Every hour, three people in the United States is killed by a gun. Every three hours, a child or a teen is killed by a firearm. People in the United States are 20 times more likely to die from gun violence than in any other developed nation. Here is an article showing how having guns around does NOT serve to make people more safe, but instead has been proven to make people more likely to die–usually from a gun (seems like common sense). There are things we can do to decrease gun violence without people freaking out about a tyrannical government takeover.
A discussion has started about how we handle mental illness in this country, and I think that’s appropriate, but with each new mass shooting we endure, there is an instantaneous new round of push back and rhetoric from people who believe that every attempt at regulation of firearms or a change to our guns laws is just a thinly veiled attempt by the government to disarm and enslave its people. Listen–Our government has a whole lot of tanks. They have plenty of chemical weapons. Hell, they even have robots that fly through the air and kill people via remote control. They have missiles and bombs and nuclear weapons. If there was really a diabolical/governmental (synonyms?) plan to wage war on its own populace, your crappy handgun would be no match for our military. And that’s another thing: I think all of this conspiracy theory stuff about how attempts at gun control are the first steps toward rounding up and killing dissidents (a la holocausts in the Soviet Union, Germany, China, etc….) is really dishonoring to the men and women in our military–That if given orders to wipe out millions of their fellow citizens, the soldiers would blindly go along with it. They deserve way more credit than that.
So now we have people talking about having teachers carry guns. Imagine a teacher being overpowered and that gun being used to hurt other students–You’d think that the public outcry would be against the idea of guns in the classroom…. But I could just see the pro-gun lobby (and their hordes of followers) suggesting that the solution is to arm the students so that they would have been able to prevent the teacher from being overpowered. And on and on and on. Until everyone has a gun in their hand and we’re all prepared to use it…. I saw a tweet by Eli Terry that said, “The only way to protect ourselves from eagle attacks is of course MORE eagles.” And this is the rational….
I don’t know. I don’t want to be another person over-simplifying this situation–I know that banning assault weapons is not going to end school shootings. But it’s got to make it harder for some crazy person to kill so many so fast. These children that died are not the inevitable eggs that need to be cracked to make some make-believe freedom omelet called “the right to bear arms.” And you know what else? These jackasses running to the gun stores to buy up all the AR15 and high capacity magazines are NOT part of a “well-regulated militia!!! God help us.
So…. Nearly lost in the coverage of the Sandy Hood tragedy was a story about a man in China who, on the very same day as the Connecticut massacre, walked into a school and went on a rampage of his own. He was carrying a knife, and started slashing kids. I probably wouldn’t have even heard about it, but a few of my pro-gun friends posted the story as a sort of proof that getting rid of guns is not going to solve the problem–That crazy people will just find something else with which to start a killing spree. And that’s true. “Someone might use a knife to kill people, does that mean we should get rid of all knives?” But here’s the difference: Of the 22 children that were wounded (some seriously) in the attack in China, all of them survived. And the difference is that the attacker here had access to guns–One of which can fire 30 rounds in under 10 seconds.
We’ve got to come together. This shit has got to stop.