Yesterday I had a very good day at work. My kids were nice to each other, they shared their toys willingly, they cleaned up when they were done, and I left feeling very good about working with small children. Some days are just like that.
Then I turned on the radio and heard the first reports coming out of Newtown, Connecticut. They mentioned 18 dead school children and it hit me like a hammer blow. I started crying and couldn’t stop for a long time. I pictured someone coming into my school and intentionally shooting my kids and I was dumbstruck. How could anyone put bullets in innocent children? This man didn’t just spray bullets randomly. He executed those poor children.
My first instinct was to call my wife, but she is in Israel and out of phone contact, so I e-mailed her instead and continued to cry as I listened to radio coverage of the massacre. My next instinct was to get on Facebook and rail against guns. Whenever this sort of mass killing happens, it is just about always with a gun. You rarely see massacres carried out by a knife-wielding killer or a machete-carrying madman. Semi-automatic handguns and rifles make it easy to shoot a lot of people in a short time without having to get close to them. If these guns were rare and difficult to procure legally, there would be fewer mass shootings. That is a fact.
About an hour after I heard the news, Erica managed to borrow a phone in Israel and she called me, distraught and teary. Our conversation soon got to the question on my mind: “what can we do to stop this shit?” I know deeply in my heart that America is a society with an unhealthy fascination with both guns and violence. We ban buttocks on tv but allow grisly scenes of violence. You can’t say “shit” over the airwaves but you can show blood-soaked victims lying on the floor of any weeknight drama or police procedural.
I also know deeply in my heart that the Founding Fathers really did intend for citizens to be able to own guns as a defense against tyranny. However, I also feel pretty certain they did not mean for this right to bear arms to be unregulated. The most advanced killing technology at the time of the writing of the US Constitution was all single-shot. There were cannon, howitzers, mortars, and muskets and all had to be reloaded after each shot fired. Second Amendment radicals today argue that any regulation of firepower or magazines is unconstitutional. This argument is ridiculous. If you take it to its most absurd length you end up arguing for the right of citizens to own anti-aircraft guns and shoulder-launched missiles. Is that REALLY what the Second Amendment protects?
One thing I can do in response to the tragic waste of life in Newtown is to contact local, state, and national lawmakers and push for meaningful regulation of gun purchases and magazine capacities available to civilians. If you add together all of the gun murders in the 23 wealthiest countries of the world, fully 87% of the children killed are in the United States. What does this say about us? I do not have much faith in the politicians of this country to take any sort of meaningful legislative stance against the gun lobby, but I feel like I need to express myself to them anyway. Maybe THIS time the horror of what happened will be enough to give lawmakers the spine needed to buck the NRA? I doubt it, but remaining silent will make it that much less likely.
I am realizing this morning that the most effective and, in the short term, least satisfying action I can take is to respond to the people around me with love and respect. The common traits these shooters seem to share are an overpowering wish to be seen and a desire to feel powerful. With a gun in hand, they feel like God. And with the wall-to-wall coverage, they are certainly seen. I do not believe anyone I know right now is a potential mass murderer. But people who knew Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Dylan Klebold, or other shooters probably would have said the same thing. It is not an easy thing to do, but I can work hard to respond to the people I meet each day with love and kindness.
In the end, that is really all most of us can do. As President Obama mentioned in his short statement yesterday, we can hug our children, tell them we love them, and then put politics aside and work to make further tragedies like this less likely. The work I feel that I can do is simply to be more compassionate with people I meet every day. Beyond that, I feel lucky to have a job that allows me to help 3-year olds learn how to deal with anger and frustration every day. It is part of my job description to love small children and listen to them, and, while listening. to help them deal with the frustrations that arise from living in a world where you don’t always get your way.
Maybe that makes me lucky. I have a way to respond to this tragedy that feels real and immediate and effective. When I get to work Monday morning you can bet I will have a bit more patience and a much deeper appreciation for each of the young lives I touch. My hope is that those with different jobs, like Representatives, Senators, and the President, will also step up and do what their jobs allow them to do. They are elected to carry out the will of the People, and the People want to live in a society where massive firepower is harder to acquire and our children are safe at school.