Monday, December 17, 2012

Gunning for a Change

“It's very dramatic when two people come together to work something out. It's easy to take a gun and annihilate your opposition, but what is really exciting to me is to see people with differing views come together and finally respect each other.”

― Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

Who knew Mr. Rogers would have such words of wisdom to help us deal with this week's tragedy?

In light of the Sandy Hook massacre, the airwaves have exploded with people for and against gun control. This is not a surprise. Even President Obama toed the line during his recent, emotional media address when he said, " And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

The senseless shooting of 20 children and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was bound to reignite the debate about guns in America. On both sides, people are screaming. Get rid of all of the guns! Protect the Second Ammendment! Guns are ruining America! Guns are the only thing keeping America safe! And on and on it goes.

But as the president said, we need to put politics aside and figure out a way to keep shootings like this from becoming a regular occurance. Even Mr. Rogers agrees that we need to put away the weapons—metaphorically—and figure out how to remedy what's wrong in society.

I do not like guns. I do not own one nor do I want one. I will not let my children own toy guns or play video games that involve shooting people, characters or animals. I do not believe in hunting. We have been so desensitized to violence and weaponry that we no longer respect their power or their consequences. Children do not understand the ramifications of violence, and our society does not reinforce them, either. We are raising our children in a world that looks civil from the outside, but reeks of barbarity deep down. 

Petula Dvorak, my former editor at my college paper, wrote an excellent column at the Washington Post detailing how it's impossible to protect our children in a gun-loving and gun-accepting culture.

"We worry about the hormones in their milk, the violence in 'Spongebob Squarepants,' and yet this country tolerates the existence of a military-style assault weapon built for no purpose other than killing lots of people on a battlefield — fast."

Guns will never be abolished. Even if the government tried to take away all of the weapons and made owning guns illegal, there would still be guns. Prohibition didn't work, and there are still plenty of drugs around. So I'm not suggesting we toss out the Second Amendment, but redefine it in light of the modern world. In 1791 when it was passed along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the world was a very different place. Advanced weaponry was a musket and gunpowder. Access to guns was limited. Militias were necessary. Times have changed.

I am fed up with gun advocates screaming about how their Constitutional rights will be violated if we add some definitions to gun ownership. Look at it this way…Someone vandalizes a church, and so now it stays locked when not used for services. Does that not infringe upon the Constitution and violate my First Amendment rights to practice freedom of religion? Does it not "prohibit the free exercise thereof?" Of course not. Nor does placing limitations on the Second Amendment. It's time to address the problem.

Usually, when a threat is identified, we react. Sept. 11 changed the way we travel by airplanes forever. And we welcomed the changes because it was done for our safety. But things didn't stop there. Someone tried to use his shoes to explode an airplane, and now we must take off our footwear as we pass through airport security. Same holds true for bringing liquid on an airplane. Can't do that anymore, thanks to the action of one person. Since 1996, there have been 52 school shootings in America, resulting in more than 320 deaths.

But what has been done? What changes or modifications have been made? None. It's time to change that.

Let the Supreme Court define "arms." Our Founding Fathers could not fathom such weapons of destruction as the semi-automatic Bushmaster Patrolman's Carbine M4A3 Rifle, available at your local Walmart. I admit there may be a need by some to own guns. But semi-automatic assault weapons? No one other than law enforcement and the military needs anything of the sort. And most certainly not for "personal protection." The general public owning these types of weapons is problematic. And who needs 19 guns at home for protection? No one.

The creation of required safety and skill classes taken by everyone applying for a license or purchasing a gun should be mandatory. As should the regular renewal of said license only with the completion of refresher courses. Getting guns through private sales or through gun shows without proper screening protocol needs to be illegal.

Yet even if we remove the more violent weapons, institute stricter ownership rules and mandate educational stipulations, we are still left with a burning question: WHO gets the guns. Background checks, you say. Sure, that will work if you are convicted of a crime. But what about those who have yet to get in the system? Or the ones playing on a different field mentally?

All too often, shooters in mass killings such as the Sandy Hook slaughter are mentally unstable. Who knows why these people (usually young, white males) decide to murder innocent people as an "answer" to their own tragic issues. Many times, we will never know. Keeping guns out of their hands is key. But as we saw with Sandy Hook, the alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, used his mother's legally purchased guns to kill children. How can we stop that?

By making some of these weapons impossible to own, by anyone.

Let's not forget, there's something else we can do. We can start at the source. Our country has demonized mental illness as shameful, something to be ignored, ostracized or hidden. Help offered can be unaffordable, unfathonable or unavailable. Why not start reforming the way we identify, treat and support those suffering from mental illness so we can prevent the escalation of problems that all too often result in what we witnessed Friday in Connecticut? Liza Long wrote an excellent blog about her struggles with her teenage son's mental illness. Getting these  people the help they need at a young age is crucial.  


There are no easy answers to this complex problem.  I pray those in power will put aside the lobbyists and the money and the extremes and look at the facts. I  hope that they dig down to the source of this infection and figure out a way to at least start the healing so more school shootings do not occur.

Throughout the long days since Sandy Hook Elementary School made headlines, I have been swallowed up with shattering images, horrific news, heartbreaking stories. As has America as a whole. When we see the evil that destroyed a western Connecticut town and so many other areas before, we have to wonder what our world is becoming. It's beyond depressing.

And then, the wisdom of Mr. Rogers found me once more, and I felt comforted, even a bit hopeful.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So that's what we can all do now in this dark hour. We can seek good.

I choose to look for the helpers. I will focus on the heroics of the Sandy Hook teachers, the community that is rallying around its wounded, the compassion of parents nationwide and the countless others who say prayers of peace for all those affected. And I will focus on the helpers in government, like our president, who will hopefully be the ones who will find solutions to these tragedies so that someday, the term "school shooting" is extinct.

Long live the logic of Mr. Rogers. 

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea we'd had 320 school shooting deaths just since '96...extremely upsetting. We need to let our legislators know (especially Republican ones) that we won't stand for it anymore. Senator Feinstein is introducing an assault weapon ban return when Congress reconvenes. She needs to be supported.