Saturday, December 15, 2012

Now What?

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.


  1. Very well expressed, Chris. I keep asking myself: "why did a substitute kindergarten teacher need to have a cache of such deadly weapons in her house"?

  2. Chris, I come down in the same place as you, although I am very discouraged. I've begun to think that there are certain cultural qualities to our country that prevent what I believe would be a saner approach to gun control. When you layer on top of this the really effective gerrymandering that's been done by Republican governments, then it's hard to see a way forward.

  3. I read the article to follow today and it is exactly what I have been thinking is at the heart of this tragedy. I don't think taking guns away is the answer, I believe as people we have to turn back to God. Taking guns away or not isn't going to stop stupidity. Humility towards God is a start to help society.
    The following is part of what the Father of a Columbine victim's father has to say:
    "In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA - because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder I would be their strongest opponent

    I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy -- it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves. I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.

    Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
    Your words are empty air.
    You've stripped away our heritage,
    You've outlawed simple prayer.
    Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
    And precious children die.
    You seek for answers everywhere,
    And ask the question "Why?"
    You regulate restrictive laws,
    Through legislative creed.
    And yet you fail to understand,
    That God is what we need!

    "Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, mind, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc. Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact. What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs -- politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws. Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre. The real villain lies within our own hearts.

    "As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America , and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA -- I give to you a sincere challenge.. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone!
    My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!"

  4. Disclaimer: I am not a gun owner, and never even have owned a BB gun.

    "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?"

    The third amendment is hardly ever mentioned in the gun debate, which is odd, because it sheds light on the intent of the amendments. Unlike what most most people think, the Ten Amendments are not to tell people what they can or cannot do. Their sole responsibility is to tell the Federal Government what the God given rights of all people are and the last two restrict the Federal Governments involvement in the affairs of the States. All the Bill of Rights does is limit the federal governments power. In fact the Founders have written, they give no rights to citizens, and that it is God who gives these rights to men; governments constantly try to infringe on these rights.
    The right to keep and bear arms stems from the right of men to protect themselves, from their own government, if necessary. Again, not necessarily an "American" right but a God given one that all men have that most governments take away. They were trying to prevent that from happening in the new U.S. Their intention, which is heavily documented, was to allow the citizens to be as well armed as any army, especially theirs. This is the premise behind the law. The fact is the 2nd amendment states, "shall not be infringed" which means I can purchase any and every weapon I can afford and get my hands on, without the government say so. They have written prolifically that the general population was to be as well armed as the standing military.
    Back to the third amendment, we were not supposed to have a standing military, unless we were at war. The Militia was to be our main fighting force, Alexander Hamilton argued against this based on the trainability of farmers and merchants, and won. He also stated that the Militia and well armed populace would be the Republics protection for the citizens.
    That fact that technology progresses actually strengthens the original intent of the Amendment in the first place. It would be very hard indeed to fight off modern armies with single shot black powder muskets.

    The other consequence of the Second Amendment is as a deterrent to foreign invasion. A Chinese leader (I don't know which exactly, since they all look alike to me) recently quoted Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, when he related to the inability to invade America because "we will find a gun behind every blade of grass." That is a image of America, I for one, would love the world to have.