If good can come out of evil, then it has done so with the transformation of President Barack Obama from the sealed-lips on gun control to the saddened eulogist at Sunday’s memorial service in Newtown, Conn., for the 27 victims, mostly grade-school children slaughtered by a gun-wielding 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had also just killed his own mother.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” Obama said, although he and most Americans have been accepting them as routine for years. While we have consoled the survivors and offered our prayers, as a people we have accepted the killings, in the sense that we have not risen up and demanded that they stop. Rather, the nation seems to have lived with recent massacres—in far-away locales like Virginia Tech, Columbine High school, and Aurora, Colorado — the way we live with tornadoes, shipwrecks and the bombing of cities in Gaza as sad bulletins on the evening TV news, not as something we are obliged to do something about.
Nevertheless, since Friday’s story first broke, multiple voices, now including Obama’s, have cried out “Enough!” “Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage?” Obama asked on Sunday. “That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Yet, that is exactly what we have been saying.
Yes, there are studies that indicate that the public, including many gun owners, has been open to a variety of gun-control suggestions; but the National Rifle Association, with additional funding from the gun manufacturers, has taken an absolutist position, even leading to recent state laws allowing gun owners to tote their weapons virtually everywhere—church, shopping malls, theaters, parks—as if they were appendages of the human body. Now that it is even suggested that the school teachers should have been armed, the next logical step is to arm the students so they can protect themselves. Newtown is peppered with numerous unlicensed private firing ranges which make the neighborhoods sound like machine-gun battles; a recent fad is to load targets with an explosive called Tannerite, which detonates when hit, a big BANG sending shockwaves through the area. Indeed Adam Lanza’s mother was an enthusiastic gun collector, until he aimed one of them at her head. Will the slaughter of the town’s children make them reconsider their attachment?
Doug Kmiec, the Catholic law professor whom Obama made an ambassador, writes in the Huffington Post that he lost a family member 20 years ago by handgun violence in a Chicago book shop, and that no NRA bumper sticker stating that it is people who kill people satisfies his loss. We have become a nation of killers, he says, and have justified it with a false conception of freedom. Film, TV and video game violence, abortion and capital punishment have cheapened life. Add two long wars and the drone strategy that has killed innocent thousands.
Kmiec excoriates Justice Scalia’s opinion in Dictrict of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 as the basis of the “false freedom to justify the unjustifiable.” The reasons given for gun ownership in the Second Amendment are no longer relevant: militias no longer exist to fight off invading armies, suppress insurrections, become a large standing army or resist tyranny. Today’s gun in the house is often used to kill and family member, sexual rival or an intruder who could have been chased out or otherwise overpowered.
As a result of our loose gun policies, the rate of deaths from firearms in the United States is eight times higher than any developed country; the deaths of U.S. children under 15 is 12 times higher than in 25 other industrialized countries; more preschoolers are killed in any year than law enforcement officers in the line of duty; and the United States has the highest rate of youth suicides and homicides among the 25 wealthiest countries. The lesson is clear: more guns equals more murders.
Clearly the emotional reaction to the Newtown murders is broader and deeper than other tragedies because the victims are little children and their teachers. It is more natural to feel the horror of the event. But now we come to the second idea of Obama’s key sentence: Are we willing to accept the deaths of our children to satisfy the wide desire to own guns? If Obama uses all his God-given gifts to reasonably disarm America, he deserves the enthusiastic public support of every religious person, especially those in authority with access to the pulpit and the media, who consider themselves pro-life. The question is clear: What do Americans value more? Our guns or our children?