“There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another,
and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.”
Lee van Laer
On Friday, when I learned of the shooting, I wanted to drive to the elementary school in my own town and get my son. It wasn’t that I was afraid. We live over a hundred miles away from Newtown, CT. I just wanted to bring him home… because I could.
Instead, I let him finish the day and enjoy his long-awaited “Friday Free Time” with classmates. While I endured the wait, my heart broke for the parents who wouldn’t welcome home their children that day.Or any day after.
When my own son finally walked through the door, I exhaled, and drew him onto my lap to explain why I had been crying. His tears silently joined mine, and then so did his anger.
When we had exhausted both, I suggested we light a candle. Instead of one, Aidan dashed around the house to collect one for each child. Even as far as Pakistan, fellow school boys were lighting candles for the lives stolen. The President reflected on this global mourning during the Prayer Service in Newtown last night:
I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart.
He went on to say that our first job is caring for our children:
If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
But we aren’t getting it right. And to be honest, I’m not sure we can, especially when I see witness us reach back to the comfort of Mr. Roger’s words or over-reach toward heroes. It’s time to set sentimentality aside, and sober up with the facts–not only about guns: 94,871 people shot in this country this year, but also about ourselves: We believe in killing. It’s part of our national fabric. We celebrate it in history, in video games, in theaters, and in warfare around the world.
And yet, I don’t believe the situation is hopeless; because I don’t think that we have the right to collapse into such self-pity after first-graders were murdered during morning circle time.
Yes, it is complex. It is terribly complex. But one component is simple. Let’s start there.
Compare the U.S. to Japan, where almost no one owns a gun:
In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides while Japan had only 11–about half of how many children lost their lives in a few moments in Newtown. Incidentally, 587 Americans (including children) were killed in 2008 just by guns that had discharged accidentally. (Read more.)
We don’t even need to go anywhere near the extreme of Japan when it comes to fireaarms. We can look at Australia, where they only banned assault weapons.
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. (Read more.)
I know that some in our country are too afraid to give up their rights to weaponry. They cite a history of domination by dictators in the face of unarmed civilians around the world. I feel their fear. I understand it. They want to protect us.
What they won’t admit yet is that our greatest enemy is–within. We are actually killing each other (and ourselves) with the weapons we claim as our protection:
- A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
- Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home.
- The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.
- Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest household gun ownership.(Read more.)
- More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (Read more.)
So the real question is this: Will we stop pretending that this is about our right to protection? Or are we prepared, as President Obama asked, to say this:
Such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom
“NO!” my 12 year old cried out to his President. My 12 year old isn’t interested in “freedom” that takes his life at the school and at the mall and in the movie theater and at the mosque; nor does he want the the honor of meeting the President of the United States in response to the random death of his little sister or mother or grandmother or teacher.
This freedom for violence disgraces us as a Nation:
Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.
Isn’t it ironic how many uniformed men, with impressive weaponry, appeared at Sandy Hook–too late. How devastating to be prepared–for nothing. My heart breaks for them and for the fathers who weren’t there to protect their daughters. For the mothers who couldn’t comfort their sons as they lay bleeding. For the first-responders who found almost no one to rescue.
Though dozens of ambulances raced toward the school, only a few departed with such purpose. The hospital was readily prepared to care for massive casualties, but only two adults and two children arrived–the latter pronounced dead inside their doors. There was nothing for the highly trained doctors and nurses to do.
Contrast that with what happened in Central China on the same day: 22 school children were attacked by a man wielding a knife. Some of the injuries were serious. The act of violence despicable. The terror horrifying. While this points to the truth that madmen can always challenge our resources, this doesn’t mean that we can’t limit theirs. Those 22 children are being cared for–in a hospital–instead of buried–in the ground.
If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
“You GO!” my son replied to the President.
In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.
Can we admit to ourselves that this kind of violence has become routine in this country? Because by the end of this day, two-hundred and forty-four people will have been shot; an average so common place as not to receive national attention.
The massacre in Newtown simply brings to light what happens in the land of the “free” every day:
There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
“Yes…” my son whispered back, as he embraced me.
(Kelly Salasin, December 17, 2012)
More on guns and the USA:
Batman & Bullets
Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)
Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)
My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)
Parenting without Power (or a gun)