The Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia being necessasry to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.
In the past week, the past week, there have been three shootings in public places–two malls, and an elementary school. We can all recite the names of such places where similar things happened: Columbine, Springfield, Aurora…the list goes on and on.
In the wake of such overwhelming tragedy it is perhaps natural that we seek meaning. Was the student bullied? Was the shooter obsessed with Gabi Giffords, or acting at Sarah Palin’s unspoken behest? Was the shooter mentally ill? Was he or she suicidal?
We look for reasons. And sometimes we find them–whether they are there or not. Most of the time, we don’t. Instead, we learn that the person who has just blazed his way through a crowd, a school, a theater, is “just like us,” and the crowd, too, is “just like us.”
We seek for differences–distinguishing traits that we use to create a distinction, to put a little distance between ourselves and the horror. “That kid came from a broken home…was molested…had learning disabilities…a personality disorder…was mentally ill…was depressed…was manic…was on drugs..” and the very plethora of our reasons hammers home the central fact that the kid is no different from millions of other kids who face similar challenges.
“The teachers weren’t alert enough…the town had a lot of crime…the victims didn’t act fast enough to defuse the danger…they hadn’t run enough lockdown drills…they disregarded the advice of the police…they refused to believe their eyes…they didn’t run fast enough…they were in the wrong place at the wrong time…they were wearing provocative clothing…they weren’t nice to the shooter…”
And so we seek try to justify why classrooms full of children, theaters full of movie-goers, public servants, mall shoppers–people like us–lost their lives. And implicit in our search for a reason is our need to somehow make this, if not the shooter’s fault, the victims’ fault, something that happened because of their failure to respond quickly, effectively, and decisively to mortal danger.
The horrifying reality is that increasingly things like this are done by and to people who look just like us. Just about a year ago, my plumber was gunned down in his shop by an angry neighbor who chose to exercise his “Second Amendment Rights” by spraying bullets through the store’s plate glass window. I was just talking to my little sister, who lived with her schoolteacher husband a few blocks away from Springfield high school when Kip Kinkle decided to take a gun to school for a little target practice one day. She was visiting her best friend, whose house backed up to the school playground. She and her friend stood on her friend’s porch and and watched the big, strong boys on the football team come pouring out of the school, screaming, “Help us, help us.” They watched as a school yard filled with terrized children, while inside two brave farm kids took down a classmate and held him down until help arrived. Every role in this tragedy was played by people like us, and by children like ours.
“Tom and I spent this morning at the school,” she told me today. (My brother in law is the principal at a private school in Texas.) “We were checking all the intercoms both on intercom setting and on “All call” settings. We’ve been talking to the police, getting their suggestions about how to keep the kids safe. We have to start running more lockdown drills. There are security guards in the school, but it would be easy for a shooter to come into one building when there was no guard there…”
And once again, I am reminded that what is happening in our theaters, shopping malls, and schools isn’t something apart from us. Incidents like these are gaping, self-inflicted wounds. The monsters and the victims in every one of these cases are ours. They are, in many ways, us. The principal who died protecting the children in her school could have been my brother in law. The teachers who barricaded themselves into closets and bathrooms and turned their bodies into living shields for their pupils could have been the tiny, tattooed blonde who taught my son in Kindergarten. This is not terror that has stalked us from without. This is a horror we have nurtured in our bosom, rooted in the very things that make us who we are.
It’s time for us to stop pretending the problem lies in some identifiable, culpable Other. As Pogo says, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.” Which begs a lot of questions. The first is, are we prepared to change who we are, at least in part, in order make terrible days like this less common–or even non-existent? If not, are we prepared to accept mass murder at ever-decreasing intervals as the right we pay for a minority of us to own guns designed for mass murder? Would we be willing to defend a citizen’s right to stockpile nerve gas–arguably another form of weaponry designed exclusively for killing humans in large numbers? That’s different, you say. How?
As a nation, we chose to sacrifice a number of our liberties in the name of safety in the wake of 9/11. Though questions remain about those sacrifices, the crucial point here is that we chose to limit our own liberties in our effort to curtail terrorist access to treasured freedoms, rights, and privileges. What will it take for us to take a similar look at our “right” to keep and bear guns designed with the slaughter of humans as their sole purpose? How many children have to die before we get serious about removing “Second Amendment Remedies” from our list of first responses to conflict?
We are comfortable with the idea of limiting access to alcohol based on age, criminal record, and so forth. Why are we so very resistant to the idea of effectively limiting firearms based on the same criteria? And before you say, “We do…there are laws…” may I just point out here that laws or not, firearms are getting into the hands of those who are clearly unable to use them in responsible, positive ways. So how do we fix this? Do we consider this an unwinnable war? Or do we value our “right” to fill our homes with assault weapons above the lives of people we know and love? How do we balance our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness against the right to stockpile weapons designed for mass murder–weapons that we say “we never plan on using that way,” but that are increasingly being used in just “that way?”
To say that this is the wrong time to talk about this issue is foolish–now, right now, when the terrible cost of our current gun laws is fresh in our eyes–is the perfect time to talk about this.