Erin McDaniel ’15
Assistant Opinions Editor
The two-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting, which left 27 people dead, is quickly approaching. Americans across the country will mark Feb.14 with angry, sad and contemplative thoughts and prayers. They will curse Adam Lanza for doing the unthinkable to a group of children. They will lament that which the nation lacks in the realms of accessible mental health care, enforceable gun control regulation or both. They will think of the parents, siblings, friends and schoolmates of those who were killed, who may never see their lives return to a state of equilibrium.
Then, at some point in the day, most will turn on the local news or open an online news page, and they will be slapped in the face by headline after headline detailing the absolute gridlock that has marked those same two months down in our nation’s capital. The elected officials who oppose gun control measures – a large and not wholly partisan segment of both the House and Senate – will be quoted talking about the gun-related proposals sitting on their desks, and they will use the kind of common rhetorical buzzwords that suggest gun control is, to them, just like every other issue on which they have made their political careers.
The fact that gun control, unlike most other political issues currently facing the country, is dripping with blood – more every day – seems wholly irrelevant to their pro-gun cause. The Newtown shootings spurned these politicians across the nation to send their condolences to victims’ families, to blink and then, immediately, to plow forward with the force of pro-gun measures in a divided nation, all without ever looking back at the tragedy they seem to have forgotten in less than two months.
That mindset of many elected officials, while disconcerting to me, isn’t so far from the mindsets of many whom those officials represent. Somehow, horrifically, gun-related tragedies have become commonplace in our newsfeeds and newsreels. We don’t – or hardly – notice as news of any given death-by-gun is cycled out of the media in order to make room for the next day’s. When elected officials gloss over gun-related tragedies within mere days or weeks, they are simply following the cues of a jaded nation: the violent culture we inhabit has rendered us incapable of feeling the real weight of violence and death when it happens to another person or another family.
I understand that trend. It disgusts me, particularly when I note its occurrence in myself, which is more often than I generally like to admit, but I get it. Admittedly, I am altogether numb to much of the violence and to many of the deaths I see in the news each day. I don’t have enough time or energy to grieve for even a small percentage of the world’s tragedies, so, like many other news readers, I simply don’t feel any of it most of the time.
After the Newtown shootings, though, I felt something. It was raw, searing and real. 27 human beings, just like you and me, were murdered in cold blood by one man’s guns. 20 of those human beings were children. How can any rational person who is elected to govern our nation look at those numbers – those lives – and then turn their backs in order to spew the same pro-gun rhetoric that sounded a whole lot less menacing before Newtown?
Enter misguided interpretations of the Second Amendment and extremely inflated profits for the politically potent gun lobby led by the infamous National Rifle Association. These people and groups often assert, whether in the following explicit terms or not, that guns are the only thing stopping the apparently power-crazed, liberty-stomping United States government from entering their homes and destroying their lives. They back up their stomping and whining – it really is not much more than that – with patently false claims about the history of guns in America and with blatantly misinterpreted statistics about gun violence and gun regulation in other countries. And they get away with it because the gun lobby is exorbitantly wealthy.
Frankly, we need to stop saying “gun control” in this country and start saying “massacre prevention.” The issue at hand is emphatically not that the United States government is trying to trample on its citizens’ Second Amendment rights in some crazed quest to dominate every sphere of private life. It’s just not. And frankly, to suggest otherwise is to regurgitate an old, illogical anti-government argument in the absence of true introspection and honesty on the part of the speaker.
When are we going to get serious about protecting our nation and all of its people? On Dec.14, many of us were wishing for a reformed gun culture in Newtown, Conn., just as we did not long ago in massacre-scarred towns like Aurora, Columbine and Seal Beach. Every day, though, we would be right to think, too, about the many perpetually gun-affected cities and communities in our country, those in which intense coverage of gun violence is extremely rare or often wholly absent. Those deaths matter too, and they are often every bit as senseless and sickening as those we mourned in Newtown two months ago.
Sending out thoughts and prayers isn’t enough. Signing an e-petition in favor of gun regulations, whether loose or strict, isn’t enough. Being a “responsible gun owner” isn’t enough. Acknowledging that, in the wake of such a tragedy, we are a nation capable of coming together in order to share the deep sting of aggression and violence against a helpless group of people – a rhetorical tactic heavily favored in the political sphere – isn’t enough, either.
While speaking at an interfaith vigil in Newtown during the first days after the shooting, President Obama acknowledged that same feeling of not doing enough for past – and future – victims of gun violence. During those remarks, he confronted himself as much as he did his colleagues on both sides of the gun debate: “Are we really prepared to say we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year is simply the price of our freedom?”
We should not be content to assume the answer to that last question is “yes.” An arbitrarily defined appraisal of “the price of our freedom” does not need to include the incomprehensibly high cost of human lives. And, to all those who march forward in the anti-regulation, anti-safety, anti-intelligence gun movement: asserting a blank “yes” in the place of true introspection is a cheap, disgusting cop out. For most – those who care, truly and deeply, about the people they’ve been chosen to serve – such a shirking of introspection and responsibility would be profoundly unconscionable. For the unaffected, though, it is simply an extension of an endless, selfish quest for political power.
This debate isn’t about politics, though, and making it so will not bring the dead back to life. Instead, right now, this debate is about 27 names – 27 human beings, just to be clear with the unaffected – and about the hunk of metal that obliterated them from the elementary school in which they last sat.
Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Rachel Davino, 29; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6.
Surely, America, we can do better than this.