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Tragedy in Newton: What’s wrong with the USA?

The post I had planned for this week seemed frivolous and inappropriate in the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, so I’m going to take this time to briefly express my views, as simplified as they are, on this hideous and sickening event.

First of all, I grew up in Canada where guns are rare and for the most part belong in the hands of the police or terrible criminals. There was no “gun culture” in Canada so even as an American I feel no constitutional pull to “bare arms” in any way. I don’t want a gun. I don’t like guns. I don’t understand, other than hunting (which I’m also not big on) why you would need a gun. I understand the concept of protecting yourself but at what point does your right to “protection” start infringing on the protection of everyone else? Sean and I have decided that we only really want a gun “if the zombies come” because it’s not as if we’d be using it in any other way. Gun in one locked box. Ammo in another. Probably in two completely different places in our house. It’d be useless in a crisis and, frankly, I’m fine with that. Bringing a gun into play changes the game and it’s a game I’m not equipped or interested in playing.

.223 assault rifle, like the one used in the shootings.

.223 assault rifle, like the one used in the shootings.

Guns were made to kill. That is their purpose. Why regular people in no eminent danger feel the need to have them is foreign to me but I realize it’s a big part of the American culture so I can understand even if I don’t agree. Assault weapons on the other hand – AK-47, semi automatic weapons, fully automatic weapons – I simply can not abide. Assault weapons were created to hold and get out as many bullets as quickly as possible. They are weapons of war that I believe have absolutely no place outside of the military. They don’t belong in the hands of hunters, home owners, collectors or God forbid, mentally ill sociopaths. They are a weapon akin to a bomb as far as destruction, and as far as I know bombs are illegal.

photo 2 copy“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” I know, love and respect many people who say this but I think it’s a trite phrase touted for years that allows people to pass the buck. Of course people kill people, but the access to guns makes it a hell of a lot easier and destructive. A child who picks up his father’s gun to show a friend and ends up shooting himself can only do that because the gun is there. The angry and disturbed young man who shot 32 people at Virgina Tech could only accomplish that because he was able to get his hands on two semi automatic hand guns. Yes, it is essential we figure out what’s at the bottom of all the anger. Why these young men feel there’s no alternative but mass murder and suicide. We must get to the root of the problem and better respond to the issue of mental illness. We must weed out the cause, but in the meantime, we must also make it harder for disturbed people to follow through with their plans. Even without a “No Guns. Period.” law – which I realize is impossible – limiting the access to weapons can only help. If Adam Lanza only had access to a knife like the mentally ill man in central China that attacked an elementary school on the same day, rather than three semi-automatic weapons with multiple round magazines, the death toll would have been exponentially lessened, as it would have been in the movie theatre in Aurora, CO, the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or the High School in Columbine, CO.

We have to stop being afraid to talk about this. As Ezra Klein for the Washington Post said in Twelve Facts about Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States, “If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it. Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.” 

The innocent child victims of Sandy Hook Elementary

The innocent child victims of Sandy Hook Elementary

We have to stop falling back on old rhetoric and realize the system is broken if our citizens are not safe. Our children are DYING in their classrooms. Whatever you feel your rights are, they can’t possibly trump the safety of our children, or ourselves, as we go about our daily lives. Guns are a serious problem that needs to be addressed in a serious way. It’s not going away, if anything it’s getting worse. Time Magazine has a list of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years and 15 of them are in the US. The second place goes to Finland who has 2. Of the 11 deadliest shootings in the US, 5 have happened SINCE 2007 and that doesn’t include these Connecticut murders with it’s death toll of 28, now the second-deadliest mass shooting in US history.*

David Remnick from the New Yorker recently wrote an article entitled What Obama Must Do About Guns  in which he clearly and adamantly insisted our President stop falling back on empathy following such a tragedy and take some serious and decisive action to deal with the issue of guns. It may be a heated political topic that polarizes the country but what kind of country are we, and what kind of leader is he, if the safety of our citizens isn’t our paramount concern? As Mr. Remnick says, “We have grown accustomed to what will happen next. The President will likely visit a funeral or a memorial service and, at greater length, comfort the families of the victims, the community, and the nation. He will be eloquent. He will give voice to the common grief, the common confusion, the common outrage. But then what? A “conversation”? Let there be a conversation. But also let there be decisive action from a President who is determined not only to feel our pain but, calling on the powers of his office, to feel the urge to prevent more suffering. His reading of the Constitution should no longer be constrained by a sense of what the conventional wisdom is in this precinct or that. Let him begin his campaign for a more secure and less violent America in the wake of what has happened in Connecticut.”

A vigil for the victims outside a church in CT.

A vigil for the victims outside a church in CT.

Nicolas D. Kristof sites some excellent and plausible suggestions in his Op-Ed piece for the New York Times Sunday Review called Do We Have The Courage To Stop This? After pointing out this “isn’t about one school shooting, but the unceasing toll across our country. More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months (approximately 15,500) than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.” (2000 casualties in Afghanistan as of 09/30/20124,326 in Iraq since 2003, and 2,751 victims in 9/11 Attacks total 9,077) After suggesting such changes as limiting gun purchases to one a month to curb gun traffickers, restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines so a shooter can’t kill as many people without reloading, imposing a universal background check for gun buyers (even with private sales), he directs us to the examples of other countries who have adjusted their gun policies in the wake of similar tragedies. “In 1996, a mass killing of 35 people in Australia galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “National Firearms Agreement” led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. The law did not end gun ownership in Australia but reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and all but eliminating the kinds most likely used in mass shootings.” And it worked. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings, but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The firearms murder rate also dropped by more than 40 percent with the suicide rate being reduced by more than half (Harvard Injury Control Research Center). Kristof also suggests looking to Canada which “now requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun and it imposes a safeguard where gun buyers must have the support of two people vouching for them before the transaction is able to be complete.” Finally he cleverly suggests we simply look to our own history on auto safety. “As with guns, auto deaths are often caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.” We require seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and are trying to curb the use of mobile phones while at the wheel.” And the policies have worked. With these governmentally implemented auto safety regulations America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven has been reduced by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s. Kristof rightly points out that if we don’t get as serious about our gun safety as we are about our auto safety, many more will die because of our failure. **

photo 1 copyThis is no longer a situation that can be blamed on one crazed madman. Yes, one man is responsible but the problem is much further reaching. As John Cassidy said in his New Yorker article America’s Shame: Words and Tears Aren’t Enough, “All societies have deeply troubled and alienated young men, some of whom end up violently lashing out at the world. But in most other advanced countries, such as the United Kingdom, which banned handguns after what happened at Dunblane (in 1996, a former Scout troop leader entered a primary school in Scotland, and shot to death sixteen pupils before killing himself), these misfits don’t have easy access to guns and the gun culture that glorifies them. During recent years, politicians of both parties, President Obama included, have been far too reticent about spelling out this elemental truth. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre at the cinema in Aurora, President Obama refused even to talk about the gun laws, preferring to keep the focus on the victims.” ***

We have to stop making excuses. We have to stop hiding behind an amendment from over 220 years ago and accept that we live in a different world now. A more unkind, angry world with laws that no longer fit the hostility of certain factions of society. Yes, we should also seek the root of the problem, to discover what’s broken in our system causing people to become so desperate they see no other way out or lets mentally ill people fall through the cracks, but in the meantime, we must seriously consider taking the weapons away. As Adam Gopnick, also of the New Yorker, recently said in his article Newtown and the Madness of Guns, “Let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.” photo 3

I cried my eyes out when I picked Loch up from school on Friday. Hearing his little voice in my backseat, seeing his chirpy face in my mirror. So many parents will never hear that voice or see that face again. That is unacceptable. So many people have been forever devastated by this senseless monstrosity. My heart is broken. My faith in this country is shaken. I’m sick to my stomach. I want to do something to help but how do you make people listen? How do we enact change if even cataclysms like this don’t wake people up?

We can do better. We should be better. If no one stops it, this will go on. As Nicholas Thompson says in America’s Culture of Violence “Voters need to be loud, politicians need to be brave, and the gun lobby needs to be defeated.” There are other issues at hand, but this is the first step and it must be taken.

Let us take this as a call. We must stop sitting in the complacency of our safe, little lives and realize if we don’t step up, that safety could be gone forever. There are rights and there is the greater good. When our kindergarden students aren’t safe in their own classrooms the time has come to stand up and say No More. Every killing is a tragedy. This is a call to arms.


*Ezra Klein Twelve Facts about Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States

** Nicolas D. Kristof Do We Have The Courage To Stop This? New York Times Review, December 15, 2012

*** As of 12/16/2012 Huffington Post and NBC News reports Dianne Feinstein is to introduce an assault weapon ban on the first day of congress. Please don’t turn this into an impotent circular debate of cow towing to your constituents and lobbyists. Pull together for once and do what is best for the country.

The Me First Mentality

Dear Loch,

The world is not the same as it used to be. It’s harder, tougher, more self serving. People don’t take care of each other like they used to, or at least as I’ve heard they did in say, Grand Mimi’s time. Even when Granny was young it seems people were more willing to look out for one another. That’s not to say there aren’t twenty-first century people who give of themselves, but just that it seems they’re more the exception than the rule. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my generation never lived through a major coming together like a great war or depression. We’ve faced financial hardship and God knows there’s been enough blood shed for generations to come, but wars over oil or perceived nuclear threats are different from the Great Wars fought for ideology and losing your house because of loose banking regulations is less uniting than the dust bowl and the crash of the entire economy. Those times forced our country to band together to weather a storm. It was a time where people on the home front sacrificed and contributed and the war was the news of the day. These days it feels as if we’ve become complacent, leaving the wars to faceless soldiers halfway around the world, it barely registers in our daily lives. Our most recent conflicts didn’t even raise taxes. We’re paying for it with our hideous deficit, but it’s almost as if we thought we could get involved without really involving ourselves. We’ve become so used to looking out for the individual that we’ve created a culture that celebrates and rewards those who put themselves first.

Lochie, I’m sorry to say that you seem to be growing up in a “what’s best for me?” world. I’m not sure how to advise you to navigate it other than to say try and choose a higher path. It’s fair to wonder how you’ll be able to compete if you aren’t playing the same game as everyone else, but I’m confident it’s worth striving to rise above your most basic nature and attempt to be better than the lowest common denominator. Hold yourself to a higher standard than expected. Ask more of yourself and more of your friends. I often think of this idea when people are shocked by your manners. Fifty years ago, children were expected to behave. A child not saying please and thank you would have been a disappointment, an anomaly. Today, a child that doesn’t bowl you over is a delightful surprise. Often, when we’re with guests or at someone’s house and I correct you for doing something impolite (interrupting a conversation or climbing on the back of their couch) people will say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s ok.” As if the mere fact that you’re not destroying their house is cause to be impressed. My answer to their kind overlooking of your behavior is always, “No, it’s not.” I hold you to a higher standard. I expect you be well behaved and follow the rules. It’s how you were raised and I hope it’s how you’ll continue.

Adam Zyglis Cartoon

Nowadays more and more people – adults, not just children – somehow feel the rules don’t apply to them. They’ve convinced themselves they are somehow exempt from the standards to which others are accountable. I recently witnessed this first hand waiting for a treatment room at my acupuncturist’s office. A girl came into the lobby with a big golden retriever. My acupuncturist sighed and I looked at him and said, “The dog?”. He nodded and went over to speak with her. The conversation played out like this:

Acupuncturist: I’m so sorry but we can’t have dogs in here. We treat a lot of people for allergies and the pet dander makes it a really tough environment for them.

(Her response should have been something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Of course.” and promptly removed her dog. What actually transpired was an illustration of a society that thinks it’s special)

Dog owner: (non-plussed) Oh. Really? Can’t I just keep him in here this time?

Acupuncturist: (long pause) Um, well…no…because he’s a really big dog with a lot of hair and we’re really trying to keep the office pet free.

Dog owner: But he doesn’t like being tied up.

Acupuncturist: You can leave him on the patio. It’s fenced in.

Dog owner: I’d rather just keep him in here.

(At this point I wanted to go over and say, “Hey! This place is no dogs. That includes YOUR dog. The rule applies to YOU. Take. The. Dog. Outside.” But I said nothing.)

Acupuncturist: Um, unfortunately, I really have to ask that you take him out.

Dog owner: What if he runs away?

(Seriously lady?!!!! Like that’s going to happen.)

Acupuncturist: I’m sorry. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

Dog owner: (much huffing and puffing) Fine.

Dan Goodsell illustration from

Dan Goodsell illustration from

The whole interaction was both ridiculous and representative of everything that drives me crazy about the “Me First” culture we’ve morphed into. Rules are rules. They exist for a reason and you’re not exempt just because of a sense of entitlement or inflated self worth.

I was infuriated in traffic the other day sitting behind a woman making a left turn at an intersection clearly marked (multiple times) No Left Turn. She sat there completely unconcerned with the honking and waited the entire light to make her turn. As I cooled my heels through the next light I grumbled to myself about people who think they can do whatever they want. From the backseat you asked me what I was saying. After explaining the situation, I told you it’s important that you respect the rules that are laid out in life, and even more importantly respect other people. You don’t do something just because you want to. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Frankly, I think you got it, and even more so I think you agreed.

Lest it appear that your mother is simply a wuss to the rules – a cow tower if you will – I should stress I’ve always been an advocate of rocking the system and I think you should challenge authority if authority needs to be challenged. I’m simply of the opinion that you can’t go through your life under the assumption you are special which somehow qualifies you to live under a different set of guidelines. And, yes, I believe that also goes for celebrities who continue to skate their way out of situations the rest of us would be in jail for. If that’s not the worst message to society I don’t know what is. Other people should not have to clean up after you. You’re responsible for your own actions. Blatantly disregarding rules for your own betterment does not make you better, and as you navigate this world I hope you’ll remember that.

Nothing brings this point home more succinctly than a recent altercation your Dad had at work. He was bartending a Laker’s game and a man (who’d already proved himself to be selfish and self serving) tried to remove one of the stools from the bar to put at his table. Your Dad informed him that, unfortunately, the bar’s policy was the stools had to remain where they were. They were for bar patrons only and could not be moved. Outrightly dismissing your father this patron continued to leave with the stool. Again, your Dad stopped him, telling him more firmly this time, he would not be taking the stool. The man proceeded to launch into an angry tirade about how his elderly mother needed a place to sit and what kind of *^#@ wouldn’t give a stool to an elderly woman. Your father suggested the man take his mother to their seats if she needed to sit, but reiterated the seating rules. About an hour later a regular arrived to have dinner with his daughter at the bar. At this point it was very crowded and he asked if there was stool he could sit on. Your Dad looked down and saw one stool was missing (there’s only 7 so it’s pretty easy to see). Knowing exactly where it was and who it was with, he asked his barback to retrieve it. When the barback returned shame faced without the stool your Dad asked what happened. Apparently the same man had told him the stool was needed for his one-armed son who was in the bathroom. The man had asked Dad’s barback if he really expected his disabled child to go without a seat. Your Dad lost it. He left the bar, found the guy and called him out for not having a “sick mother” or a “one-armed son”. Realizing he’d been busted, the guy gave up the stool, but made no apologies for his behavior. When your Dad got home five hours later he was still furious. He couldn’t believe someone would be so despicable as to fabricate a disabled child just to get what he wanted.

People can be disappointing and I wonder with our society’s current leaning towards the celebration of people’s base natures – reality television’s generated fame lathered on undeserving people to the greed of a wall street tycoon who takes a company into bankruptcy but feels it’s appropriate to collect a bonus – if things really have the opportunity to improve. I’m always touched when someone goes out of their way to help me or does something classy like hold a door or send a thank you note. It seems like a glimmer from a lost time, a bygone era, and I appreciate it all the more for it’s rareness. What I’d like to see is proper behavior being less uncommon and it’s my hope that we can find it in ourselves to overcome our grasping natures and remember we don’t live here, or do anything, completely on our own. At the end of the day we are all connected and though personal fulfillment and success are wonderful, collective success helps us all.

Take the extra step. Respect the rules. Use your manners. And unless you’re rushing to the hospital…don’t turn if it says don’t. Honestly, it’s just so ignorant.

I love you. I believe you have it in you to be better than anyone will ever expect you to be.

Anyone, except me.

xo your devoted and ever opinionated mama