Monday, December 17, 2012

The solution

Last Friday the unthinkable happened. While mass killings in public places are nothing new, the massacre in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and its victims, mostly children in their first grade class and teachers, have taken this horrific trend to a new low. The question of what kind of sickness would lead a person to commit such an atrocity has been first and foremost on my mind since Friday. And yes I question the wisdom of easy access of weapons capable of deadly precision on such a scale. Anger and rage over our inability to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of dangerous private citizens have dominated the airwaves and social media.

Predictably, people who advocate gun rights have been chastising the other side for their rants. How dare they take advantage of tragedy to lobby for their agenda.  The possession of guns they say is our constitutional right, and if we start banning assault weapons intended solely for the purpose of quickly disposing large numbers of human beings, they're afraid that in the words of one gun advocate this weekend: "Once you draw the line, where do you stop?"

Now admittedly I don't have much of a desire or need to own a gun. Even though I live in a big city with a murder rate to match, even though its not unusual to hear gunshots outside our window, AND even though I've been the victim of more crimes than I care to remember, I still don't feel that I or my family would be safer if we owned a gun. On the contrary, I think a gun inside our home would be asking for trouble. But what do I know? People on the other side are clamoring to get more guns in the hands of people, not fewer. Proving I'm open minded, here is something I stumbled across the other day, written by someone whose opinions are diametrically opposed to mine:

Like clockwork, before the gun smoke had dissipated from the elementary school in Connecticut, all the gun control people posted, tweeted and blathered on and on about how we need to change this country's gun laws to prevent crazies from going on rampages. Don't they realize that guns don't kill people, people kill people? Don't they know that taking guns away from honest, law abiding citzens means the only people who'll have guns will be the criminals?

No, the solution to the problem of all the shootings isn 't to take our guns away from us. On the contrary it's to make sure that all honest, law abiding citizens have at least one gun, to protect themselves, other honest, law abiding citizens, and our way of life.

Just think about it, why did that guy up in Connecticut walk into a school to do his shooting? Because he knew no one was packing heat at the school. It was easy pickings. If I were in charge, I'd pass a law requiring all teachers in the classroom to carry on their person, a loaded firearm. That way the teachers instead of huddling in the corner trying to protect their students, could stand with their heads held high, and when the perp walks into the classroom, pop him right between the eyes.

Now you might think it would be dangerous to have a loaded gun in the classroom. Well I'd give teachers classes on how to handle firearms. But what about the children you might say; what if the teacher was having a bad day, something snapped, and he or she used it on one of the students? Well all I'll say is this: have you seen kids today? They have no respect, they don't listen to their elders, they misbehave, they do things that kids in my day would never have dreamt of doing. I'll tell you one thing, you'll find a whole lot more respect coming from those little hooligans after you point your piece at them and say: "I'd like you to meet my little friend." Now eventually some of the little thugs might catch on that you don't mean business after all, you wouldn't dream in a million years to actually use the gun on them. That's why my plan would have the teachers learn how to shoot to maim, not to kill. Better to inflict a leg wound than have a kid who doesn't take you seriously.

It turned out that the Connecticut shooter lived with his mother who was a gun collector, and all the guns he used on his killing spree were registered in her name. She was in fact his first victim. That was her first, and I guess last mistake. All those guns in the house aren't going to amount to a hill of beans if you don't have one loaded and ready. If that poor woman had been on the ball, she'd have had a gun loaded, cocked and at hand. That way when her son came into the room to kill her, she'd have been ready for him, and plugged him before he had the chance to take her life and the life of all those kids.

After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Well at least I agree with the last sentence. The rest of that piece was clearly written by a disturbed individual. I should know, I wrote it last Saturday, the day after the massacre. Yes the irony was intended, but not at all with tongue in cheek. It was written out of unchecked anger over the direction this country is going. It's true I made it up but with the exception of the part about the woman shooting her son, those words reflect actual words I've heard over the past few months from people in the gun crowd. Allow me to go over them one by one.

It's true that guns don't kill by themselves, but it's a heck of a lot easier to kill twenty seven people in a few minutes with an assault rifle than a knife, or a bow and arrow. Saying only criminals would have guns if guns were illegal implies that guns are only dangerous in the hands of criminals. That's a huge leap of faith blown to pieces by the events of last Friday. All the guns used in the massacre were legally obtained; the mother who owned the arsenal, and her son the mass murderer, were at least until Friday morning, both law abiding citizens. There is simply a clear and present danger to the public in the manufacture and distribution of firearms, especially high powered, assault weapons, intended solely for the purpose of killing lots of people in a short period of time.

To answer the question of where do you draw the line if you ban the sale of these weapons, I have a simple answer: common sense.

The reasons most people bring up for private ownership of guns are hunting and self protection. Now I've known lots of hunters but never met one who used an assault rifle to bag a deer or whatever. As for protection, well a hand gun, conventional rifle or shot gun should be quite sufficient for most personal protection needs, unless of course an entire division of the Waffen-SS, al Qaida, the bogeymen or any other enemy that we can conjure up in our imagination comes knocking at the door.

Common sense allows us to limit certain forms of speech without anyone objecting. You cannot write harmful lies, defaming someone's character legally. You cannot lie while under oath in a courtroom. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. If common sense can limit certain forms of speech, our most basic and sacred right, why can't common sense limit the kind of deadly firearms we're able to obtain?

Certainly with all the bright legal minds in this country, a clear distinction can be made between weapons one can reasonably use for hunting and self protection, and weapons of mass destruction. The Second Amendment is not going anywhere, we will always have the right to bear arms as guaranteed by our Constitution, even though the Founding Fathers' true intent, as stated explicitly in the first clause of the amendment, is conveniently overlooked by the vast majority of gun advocates.

I'm not blind to the inexorable fact that banning assault weapons alone will not prevent such tragedies. A person who wants to do something badly enough will always find a way. But the very least we can do as a society is to not make it painfully easy for a person with such an intent to procure the weapons to wipe out dozens of innocent men, women and children in a matter of minutes.

At the exact moment of the massacre in Connecticut, I was sitting in my children's school attending a holiday assembly. Ever since the tragedy in Newtown, the faces and voices of those little children keep going through my head. I can't stop hearing them singing their hearts out, and seeing the determined faces of their teachers who work so diligently, day in, day out, giving so much of their lives to those kids, our future. Then in a perpetual nightmare, I see a deranged killer shooting his way into their school, silencing all those voices forever.

Children should feel safe at school. Human shield should not be part of a teacher's job description. Unfortunately those days are gone for good. I heard one legislator say this morning that mass killings such as the one in Newtown, once rare occurrences, are quickly becoming the "new normal." We are more than likely to see more and more of these attrocities taking place in the not too distant future. Both of my children, including a kindergartner, have gone through the terrifying experience of a lockdown drill at school. I grew up during the sixties through some pretty heady times, but I saw nothing as terrifying as some of the things my children have seen in their young lives.

I don't pretend to have the solution to this rash of mass murders. We live in a society that is continually turning inward; we prefer texting to face to face contact, our children are playing video games, usually violent ones, rather than going outside to play with their friends. We've lost respect in all our institutions and become a society of self centered, cynical individuals, losing much sense of hope or community. The list goes on and on, and unfortunately they're mostly problems we cannot solve through legislation. Then we have the issue of mental illness, its stigma, and the difficulties of dealing with it, let alone treating it, again issues that are very difficult if not impossible to solve through legislation.

Then there are the guns, the one piece of the puzzle than can be legislated. If only rational minds on both sides could come together and work out a reasonable compromise. A law aimed at keeping weapons out of the hands of sociopathic individuals by banning assault rifles will not be the solution to these devastating tragedies, but it will be the start.

Liberty does not come without a price. What the gun advocates who oppose a ban on assault rifles are saying in not so many words is this: our freedom to possess these weapons of mass destruction is worth the cost of the lives of the children and teachers lost Friday in Connecticut, as well as the lives of those most certainly to come including possibly, God forbid, my own children, or even yours.

And you wonder why so many people are sick and tired and mad as hell?

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