I am writing these words during the height of the holidays, when families all across America are rejoicing and happy and filled with glad tidings. That may be a bit of an oversentimentalization of this time between Christmas and New Year’s, as there is always sorrow and discomfort and pain somewhere, no matter what the season. But mostly, it’s a happy time.
However, this year there is grief so palpable, so raw and so excruciating emanating from Newtown, Conn., that it’s hard to see through to the joy this time of year normally holds.
Newtown is where a lone gunman broke into an elementary school on Dec. 14 and murdered 20 children and six educators. The ripple effect has gone across the nation, and we as a country are perhaps more staggered by this outrageous act of violence than any of the others that have come before it – at the high school in Littleton, Colo., outside the grocery store in Tucson, Ariz., at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, at the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and recently at the mall outside Portland. I mean, how could someone just slaughter a group of sweet-faced first-graders like that?
And as happens after such horrific acts, the question of greater gun control laws, that third-rail of political subjects, zooms up toward the surface from the place where it floats semi-submerged when things are relatively quiet on the gun violence scene. Here we are again, and, frankly, I no longer know what to think – and I used to be so sure about the answer. But I think it’s vital to have a national conversation about it – but please, in memory of those precious children, can we please do it without the usual rancor?
In the spirit of full disclosure, I tell you I come from the school of guns-are-icky. I’ve never fired one and have no desire ever to do so or even to hold one. I have been pretty strongly pro-gun control. My husband grew up in pre-statehood Alaska, where he hunted moose and caribou to fill the freezer in the winter and where, when he was in the third grade, he was a member of the National Rifle Association, where he took gun safety classes and learned the proper use and handling of weapons. Even so, he no longer recognizes in today’s NRA the organization he knew as a child.
So ours is a mixed marriage, if you will, and conversations on the subject of gun control are lively at our home. Once I was for any and all gun control, but now I just don’t know. I mean, it seems intuitive that there would be fewer crimes of opportunity if rapid-fire weapons were less available, less legal. (Feel free to keep your garden variety handguns and shotguns.) Sure, bad guys can always get what they need to do bad things, but how about slowing down the process and maybe even stopping at least spur-of-the-moment mass assaults? Makes sense, even in a Second Amendment argument.
But in the larger gun-control sense, I look at the fact that we have a bunch of laws already on the books, some not enforced because of lack of proper funding and some which perhaps don’t target the right things – and others of which have been allowed to expire. That muddies the water. I mean, how can new laws do a better job if the old laws aren’t fully in play? And I doubt gun laws alone are enough to fix what’s wrong with us.
But then again, there are 30,000 firearms-related homicides in America each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surely that’s not tolerable. Since 1982 there have been 61 incidents of mass murder using firearms in 30 states, from Hawaii to the East Coast, and most of the weapons used were obtained legally. There are a lot of statistics out there, some showing that states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence, for example, but also statistics showing that gun ownership in America is declining overall.
I’m finding it harder and harder to figure out what is the best way to prevent the unbalanced and the zealots among us from murdering whoever they feel like murdering. I want a good fix to this thing, but I don’t know how we should go about that anymore.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by the murders in Newtown, whether they have children of their own or not. The Newtown children have become everyone’s children, and I’m pretty sure we’re all hugging our own a little longer, a little more tightly and a little more often as a result.
And I think we all want this violence to stop. That’s a wonderful wish, a wonderful resolution for the New Year. But wishing alone won’t do that. Will greater gun control do that? I don’t know. Will greater attention to mental health issues do that? Again, I don’t know. Will greater love and caring and reaching out to the shy kid in our classroom, the distraught neighbor or the friends suffering loss? I don’t know, but I do know that these outreaches couldn’t hurt.
So these are my resolutions for 2013: personally, a little more attention, a little more kindness and a whole lot more peace; and for us as a nation, encouraging insight and wisdom in a good-faith effort to heal the gun violence that plagues us. And from now until the end of time, a huge, all-encompassing, from-the-depths-of-our- national-soul hug for Newtown, Conn.