This picture is of a five-year-old. More specifically, my five-year-old. Energetic and friendly and excited for kindergarten. Now that boy is long past kindergarten. Still energetic and friendly, but now excited for college. In his twelve years of primary and secondary schooling, he never once had to endure a lock-down of his school; never once had to cower under a desk or huddle with other children because someone with a gun lurks nearby, maybe even right in front of him; never had to witness his classmates or his teacher shot and lying bloody in front of him; never had to close his eyes to walk past carnage to exit his school. Maybe he was just lucky.
But no child should have to endure such things. No child. Anywhere.
By the time my sons entered school, mass school shootings were already on the national radar, thanks to the Columbine school shooting in 1999. And, sadly, mass shootings generally have made regular appearances in their lives since then: the Westside Middle School shooting in Arkansas, the Beltway sniper attacks, the Amish school shooting, the shooting at a Brookfield hotel where church services were being held, the massacre at Virginia Tech, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and others, including a nine-year-old girl, in Tucson, and just this year alone, the Aurora theatre shootings, the shooting at Oak Creek’s Sikh Temple, the shootings at Texas A&M, the shooting at Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, the Portland, Oregon, mall shootings, and now the Sandy Hook School shootings in Connecticut.
When Bob Costas addressed Kansas City Chief Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide during a recent Sunday Night Football half-time show, it took less than a heartbeat for gun advocates’ collective head to explode over the mere suggestion that guns be further regulated. And all Costas was doing was quoting local sports reporter Jason Whitlock’s words.
But it’s time. There must be a serious conversation at all levels and in all corners of society. We need to talk meaningfully about gun control and, more deeply, about our gun culture; about domestic violence and mental illness and about their connection to gun violence.
While in my ideal world, there would be a ban on assault rifles, if not stricter laws about access to guns, I fully realize that such laws would not stop those who are determined to access such weaponry and use them in heinous ways. Some of the guns used in the above-mentioned shootings were purchased legally by the shooters. Thus, access to guns and owning guns isn’t the whole issue. As gun advocates correctly point out, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” As Jon Stewart said on “The Daily Show” shortly after Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot, “Crazy always seems to find a way; it always has” (at approximately 5:00).
But, as Stewart points out and I agree, such a statement need not mean there is nothing that can be done. Any conversation we have about guns, gun violence, and gun culture must go deeper: we must talk about the minds and the motives of the people who use guns. That, I’m afraid, is a murkier conversation. But we must have it. Far too many innocent lives have been lost, nay, taken away too soon because someone with the means and the will so desired it. And perhaps the worst part? By and large, that desire was to shoot randomly.
My heart is simply broken for the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting. May each little angel rest in peace. And may we, as a society, honor them by embracing a commitment to truly address the root of the violence that took their lives so that we can spare others from such tragedy.