Six Months after Sandy Hook. Where are we?
This Friday will mark the six month anniversary of the Newtown/Sandy Hook massacre. It is hard to think of anything good that has come of this awful atrocity. The temporary outpouring of love and support for the bereaved families means nothing if we allow it to happen again. And again. And again.
But who is the ‘we’ in the paragraph above? In the wake of Newtown, the general public made it clear that it supported stronger gun laws – starting with something as benign as expanding background checks to apply to all, rather than some, gun purchases. The United States Congress has so failed in its duty to implement this public will, despite a majority of Senators voting for such a measure. The Manchin-Toomey bill is not dead in the Senate, and an identical bill, the King-Thompson Bill, it is gathering sponsors in the House; its time will come. But it needs to be sooner rather than later. Every day, we lose more people, many of them entirely innocent of any crime, victims of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here is the Facebook posting from the Childrens’ Defense Fund this Monday morning, June 9:
“Today’s Headlines: Five dead in Santa Monica shooting rampage… Boy, 4, accidentally shoots, kills father… 17-year-old girl found shot dead in East Orange home… Muskegon Teen Shot… Teen shot while taking a walk… Suspect killed self after deadly Tacoma shooting… Teen shot outside convenience store in Elkhart… “
So how have ‘we’ changed in the last six months? On the up side, we have seen the formation of some powerful grass roots groups, such as Moms Demand Action and Occupy The NRA, and we have witnessed a number of States, from New York to Maryland, Connecticut to Colorado, literally taking the law into their own hands and passing (stronger) gun legislation to better protect their residents. On the down side, we have experienced the awesome lobbying might of the gun industry, we have seen a frightening growth in terrorist threats against our democratically elected leaders (the Ricin letters being but a single prominent example), and we have had to watch a number of other States, including South Dakota and Texas, pass ‘pro-gun’ laws in what does not serve to better protect their residents, but perhaps speaks instead to the legislators’ views on the manifest importance of guns in their culture.
And that brings me to this feature in Sunday’s Washington Post. Writer Eli Saslow spent time with the Barden family, whose son Daniel was murdered in cold blood at Sandy Hook Elementary. He was seven years old. He left behind not only grieving parents, but grieving siblings. He left behind grieving friends and neighbors, school bus drivers and teachers. He left behind a whole life that he did not have a chance to experience because military weaponry is easily accessible in our society. Saslow’s article offers a deep journalistic but unavoidably emotional insight into how the Bardens are attempting to continue some sort of family life, in which their two remaining children still attend the Newtown schools, and the parents have become, of necessity, spokespeople and activists for some sort of change in American culture and the laws by which it should the nation should be protecting its citizens. Read it and you will, especially if you are a loving parent, find it hard not to weep. You will also, I hope, be reassured and perhaps energized by the Bardens’ resilience and fortitude in the face of such awful tragedy.
Some people, however, read such articles and see something different. These people are so immersed in their culture of guns, their misinterpretation of the Second Amendment as entirely absolute and, it has to be said, their vitriolic hatred of President Obama and anyone else they believe they can insult with the term ‘liberal,’ that they show up on the comments pages of such newspapers as the Washington Post and hurl insults at the Bardens and other bereaved families, not just of the Newtown massacre but of almost any gun violence one seeks to reference. For them, there is always somewhere and someone else to place the blame, somewhere other than this American culture of easy access to deadly-by-deliberate-design firepower. There is never an acknowledgment that Americans suffer violent deaths at five-ten times the rate of other leading, First World countries, let alone that this is a disease that needs to be addressed and cured, to all possible extent, for the USA to hold itself up as any sort of global role model – or even to look itself in the mirror with anything approaching self-respect.
Until now, I have refrained from using the term ‘collateral damage’ for how these people appear to feel about the victims of gun violence, but Stephen King went ahead and used it for me in his Kindle Single essay, Guns. Specifically, King wrote, and I concur:
“Gun advocates have to ask themselves if their zeal to protect even the outer limits of gun ownership has anything to do with preserving the Second Amendment as a whole, or if it’s just a stubborn desire to hold onto what they have, and to hell with the collateral damage. If that’s the case, let me suggest that fuck you, Jack, I’m okay is not a tenable position, morally speaking.”
I am not willing to allow my own children to be collateral damage. I am not willing to allow other members of my family to be collateral damage. I am not willing to stand aside and allow my local school to be collateral damage, nor my son’s future college, nor my barber shop, my street corner, my bar, or my place of worship. As someone who took American citizenship, I won’t give up the battle to make this country safer for my American-born children to grow up in. My readers outside of the States must surely be scratching their heads in amazement at all of those, especially those in Britain and Australia, who have seen an almost total reduction in mass shootings since stronger gun legislation was introduced in the late 1990s. For those who live here in the USA, and who care similarly about their families and their future, I would ask you to likewise refuse to accept or to become collateral damage. Keep up the letters to the press, keep up the postings on your blogs and social media, keep up the civilized conversations with those who are willing to have them and most of all, keep up the pressure on your politicians. Only then will we – perhaps, just possibly – be spared a preponderance of such gut-wrenching stories of grief as this.