Now I have read through tears what there is for me to read, wept for the parents and myself, rejoiced selfishly in the knowledge my own children are safe and tried without success to connect in my mind with the horrific scene that greeted the first responders to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
President Obama was able to bring some words to the broken families, perhaps some comfort, but with the wounds so fresh, what comfort can come? All I can understand about those parents would be falling through a bottomless tear in time, sound having no meaning, only the noise of breathing, trying to breathe.
He said, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Further, he said “What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
We must change.
That is the hardest part of his charge to We, the People. We must change. As my sister Diana wrote in response to my last column, and as Tracy said to me as we talked, we have a culture of violence in this United States that we must address before ever we can address the issue of prying the guns from the lifeless hands of those who see them as a solution to their problems.
But there has to be a realization, as part of that change, that guns ARE a part of the culture of violence. That in no way impinges on those who like to hunt, or need to hunt for their sustenance. There is no reason to limit that license to hunt, and my own experience with hunters is that they are particularly aware of gun safety, and the proper use of the tools used for killing.
And yes, there will always be crazy people who will do crazy things, but finding ways to limit access to such weaponry seems a small price to pay to lessen the possibility that some grocer who is a volunteer EMT in a small town will walk into a classroom filled with the bullet-riddled bodies of 6 and 7-year-olds.
In discussion with those vehemently opposed to better gun control legislation, I often hear the frightening scenario painted of only criminals having guns if tighter controls are instituted, and the innuendo of the government wresting control of the citizenry by keeping them unarmed.
Two points to ponder relative to those conceptions.
First, we live in a land of laws, and we pride ourselves on that fact. Those laws are not always obeyed, but the idea is that we agree to certain restrictions on our actions as a baseline of civil society. I don’t believe guns will ever in my lifetime be outlawed in these United States, so that fear need not be addressed here. But the idea that better controls of guns and access to guns would enable only criminals to have guns is an argument for no law at all. If we followed that logic, we would have no speed limits on our highways, because people speed despite the laws; we would have no laws or enforcement of burglary or murder, because the laws do not unequivocally prevent burglary or murder. Is it true that people speed, steal and murder? Yes it is. Should we therefore scarp the laws against speeding, stealing and murder, because only law-abiding citizens who follow those laws? No we should not. Should we have better control of what types of weaponry are sold in the US and to whom? Yes we should.
The second point deals with the Second Amendment and our right to “keep and bear arms.” Folks for and against gun ownership twist those 27 words into combinations no framer of the original Bill of Rights would recognize. There is no sense in trying to unwind all of that here.
But I would like to point out that the Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
I don’t have to be a Supreme Court scholar to understand that the people keeping and bearing arms referred to in the amendment are part of a militia, and a well-regulated one at that. Those who profit from the buying and selling of guns spend enormous sums of money to enshrine their right to profit from a very favorable interpretation of this amendment.
There are also those who have argued that tighter control of guns would not affect the daily splash of death across news outlets in the US. In the real world, that has not proven true, but it is an inconvenient truth, and so, little reported in the US where gun ownership is a religion.
After 35 people were murdered en masse in Australia in 1996, Conservative Prime Minister John Howard with bi-partisan support revised the gun laws. An article in Slate.com explains, “At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.)”
What happened then? The Slate article continues, “[H]omicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.”
Let me repeat that last sentence…”There hasn’t been a single one since.”
I think there are at least 40 parents in the United States tonight that would agree it’s worth a try. Forty-one including me.