The professional and social media are thrumming with commentary about yesterday's grim events in Connecticut. My various FB friends have posted memes that support positions along the entire continuum of opinion (from arming teachers to eliminating all firearms). And my own heart is aching--as are the hearts of all who are parents--or who have an imagination. That image: a man dressed in battle gear--entering an elementary school--seeing children there--firing a weapon into their small bodies ... We all struggle--and fail--to keep such images from our minds.
I am not sanguine at all about any significant changes occurring as a result of yesterday. Our legislators and other leaders are cowards. And our culture enjoys--celebrates--violence in myriads of ways--from our music to our computer games to our TV shows and films and literature. Among our most popular sports are the most violent ones. On Friday nights, millions of Americans crowd into bleachers at the local high school to watch their sons hit others' sons as hard as they can. Standing by are EMS units. Physicians. Can you imagine a school--a community--sponsoring any other activity that guarantees the injury of children? Yesterday I overheard two older men talking sadly about the shootings, then segueing seamlessly into an excited discussion about some vicious hits they'd seen on ESPN the night before.
I also see little hope for all of this because we are such a violent species. Our DNA drips blood. We have been killing one another for as long as we've been able to. We are killing one another right now, as I type these words. We will kill one another tonight, tomorrow morning, and on and on. In another context, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: "So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind."
We're also incredibly adept at rationalizing our killing. Others are evil; they asked for it; the world is better off without them; it's a war; they attacked us first; ...
So ... a few thoughts about what I've been hearing about guns and violence, even though I know that my words will change nothing other than arouse the ire of those who oppose my views. As the Chinese writer Lu Xun wrote, I feel "the futility of an arrow aimed at the sea."
- "Guns don't kill people." I've never found this the slightest bit persuasive. Of course guns kill people--lots of people, with little effort. To me, it's a bit like saying "Lawnmowers don't mow lawns." Sure, by themselves they don't. But that is what they're designed to do. You don't cut the grass; you and and your machine do. Same with firearms. Handguns are designed to shoot people. Quickly and efficiently.
- "We'll be safer if there are more guns." Equally unpersuasive. Picture this: You're in a crowded movie theater, somewhere down front. A killer enters from the back, opens up with an automatic weapon. You are armed. You stand and return fire toward the rear of the theater (assuming you can really tell where the fire is coming from). Think you might hit some innocent folks? And this: Someone fifteen rows away, also armed, sees you firing, thinks you're part of it. Opens up on you. And besides: statistical evidence shows clearly that virtually all shootings have nothing to do with self-defense.
- "We need to lock down schools." Sure, we can always improve safety precautions, but we cannot stop someone who wants to kill. If the school's locked down, a killer will simply strike outside, where the buses are loading or unloading. Or attack on the playground during lunch or recess. Or shoot the person operating the metal detector, and move on into the building. People who want to kill--and who don't care about the consequences--are not dissuaded by any of our precautions.
- "We need to eliminate guns." As much as I love this idea, it won't work. Hasn't the slightest chance of working. History shows, over and over, that if authorities outlaw something that people want, people will get it from other sources. Remember Prohibition? How are our drug laws working out? Prostitution laws? If we outlaw firearms, a massive illegal trade will promptly ensue.
I think (hope?) that the vast majority of people believe in some restrictions, though. No one but a crazy, for example, thinks it would be okay for everyone to arm and dress like a S.W.A.T. officer to go to the mall. Few would argue that we ought to be allowed to drive a fully armed tank to work, or keep a missile launcher in the back yard. So most of us agree that we need to draw a line somewhere.
But where? Maybe after yesterday we can agree that our current line is woefully misplaced. We should not make it easy for folks to acquire rapid-fire weapons. It should be hard--very hard. Maybe impossible. (What are they for?) And punishments for having them illegally should be severe--and should involve everyone from the buyer to the seller to the manufacturer.
But I'm not holding my breath. For I am certain that--as I write--handgun sales are soaring. Even as I am certain that--as I write--people will be killing one another with them. Today. Tonight. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.