I am almost too tired of the whole issue to write any more words about it. My entire career in journalism I have periodically been forced to compose some outraged paragraphs about the latest massacre or “normal” gun violence in Chicago, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Camden ... you name it (how many children died last week because of handguns in America’s cities? How little was that death toll remarked upon?) and then inevitably the complete lack of response from our elected officials. We all know the statistics. We know what can easily be done to reduce, if not completely contain the bloodletting. We simply lack the will to do it.
The first graders and school teachers and administrators of Newtown, Ct., God bless these poor children, these educators and their families, maybe will become the final martyrs to the cause of gun control, but I find myself doubting it. If Columbine weren’t enough or Virginia Tech or a Portland mall or the tragic deaths each year of children whose parents did not properly secure their weapons is not enough, could this finally be enough, this unexpected, what shall I call it, “tragedy”? No, tragedy suggests an incident that could not have been foreseen, and sad to say we have come to expect such occasional explosions of depravity in American life. This is the collateral damage of our absolutist interpretation of the second amendment and the price the gun lovers in our culture, with their unhealthy obsession with weapons of intimate destruction, are quite willing to allow the rest of us to pay while they nurture warped fantasies of liberal fascism and the heroic virtues of personal defense.
We will hear now the familiar rebuttals to common sense responses to contain gun violence in the U.S. We have already heard the moronic “regret” expressed that more people weren’t armed when Adam Lanza stormed an elementary school; we have even, remarkably, heard some claim that it is the public school’s paucity of prayer that opened up the world to this tragedy. I encourage any who have expressed this violently diminished understanding of the great mercy of God to devote the rest of their days to absolutely silent contemplation. (First they should personally apologize to the parents of the Newtown children, and anyone else they meet on the way over.)
The gun absolutists will argue that if handguns and automatic weapons are outlawed then only criminals will have access to them. Fine, let the criminals have them. The criminals out there are not quite so likely to storm elementary schools to prove to the world how much they hate themselves. Their gun possession will just offer an additional offense to charge them with when they are caught. The simple arithmetic is that there are too many guns in circulation in the United States and that virtually all of the guns used in crime in the United States begin their lethal careers legally and that reducing that pile of weapons will inevitably reduce the death toll. I will worry about how to respond to a fascist, left-wing takeover of America AFTER I am confident my kids can come home from school safely.
We will in the aftermath of this mayhem be told that we do not spend enough on mental health interdiction and treatment, that, with one in 88 children (one and 54 boys) coming of age diagnosed to some degree with Autism, we are not devoting enough energy and attention to Autism Spectrum Disorder. That is all certainly true. (And please let's not allow this awfulness to further estrange young people with Asperger's and ASD; they are your friends and neighbors and family.) It is also certainly true that no mental health system, however well resourced and widespread, can be foolproof, that some will seek to exhibit their alienation and rage in the most hurtful ways imaginable. In China, that happened last week when a lone man also attacked schoolchildren. He was armed with a knife and wounded 22 of them. He did not have a gun at his disposal and no fatalities resulted from his lapse into rage and insanity. We cannot control all violence in the world, but we can limit the damage.
We can require training and liability insurance for gun owners; we can force them to take responsibility under penalty of law to properly secure their weapons; we can enforce high-tech registration and trigger-lock mechanisms that prevent non-owners from using weapons; we can control the nature of the weapons and ammunition we allow into our society; we can simply reread that part of the second amendment that acknowledges our collective responsibility to maintain a “well-regulated” militia and ask ourselves how well-regulated our militia seems. If we did maintain a formal militia, empowered to carry weapons, would we tolerate its continued presence among us if every so often individuals among it lit out for a mall, schoolroom or Amish community center to shoot the place up? Not likely.
We can also ask God and these children to forgive us our indifference and fatigue. Everyone who has blindly supported gun owners’ privileges over the right of these children to life and the pursuit of happiness share some responsibility for this catastrophe; everyone who argues that the solution to gun violence is more guns, ..., I don’t know, perhaps they deserve a good thump on the head to see if that reboots the system. And the rest of us, like me, who merely add more piles of words to this ongoing crisis perhaps likewise require a good thump or two.
This week I dreaded having “the” conversation with my oldest about human sexuality (some lifeless if logistically accurate descriptions have been moving around his classroom of late). Instead of that talk, however, I have been forced to have another conversation with my son and his three siblings today. This one will concern the nature of evil, the problem of mental illness and how to survive if an intruder blasts his way into their school. I would like to tell them that they will be safe, that I can guarantee that they will be safe, that such a thing would be unimaginable at their little school in the Westchester woods, but I would be lying and I dislike lying to my children.