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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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 09/30/2012, 4,326 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. **
This 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.”
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.