On Friday morning, one the most deadly mass shootings ever in the history of the United States, took place at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut, with a gunman claiming the lives of 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10. Twenty young boys and girls taken from the world far too soon, who will not be tucked into their beds by their parents tonight, who have been senselessly and brutally murdered just because they showed up for school today. It is impossible to explain the depths of despair that those who have lost their sons and daughters; or brothers and sisters; friends and classmates; teachers and parents; members of the community will be feeling tonight. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.
When tragedies like this occur, one of the first things that is reported by the media is whether or not the perpetrator acted alone and if they are among the dead. This helps us as a society to cope with the situation – we can point at the evil man (and it almost always is a man) who has done this to us and be glad that they are no longer a threat. While the events that have transpired may be beyond comprehension or belief, they are over and the guilty party can do no more harm. Even after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the primary focus of “payback” was finding and killing Osama Bin Laden – one man who embodied the wrong that was done, as if eliminating a single person can prevent further bad things from happening.
Yet this provides a false sense of security – as long as guns are as prevalent and readily available as they are, there will always be another mass shooting somewhere, be it a primary school in Connecticut, a mall in Oregon, a movie theatre in Colorado, or a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In the aftermath of these massacres, we are told that it is not the right time to talk about gun control and to do so would be to use a tragedy for political gain, but those protestations are in themselves merely a tool for people to avoid a conversation about which they know they are wrong. Even if you do not agree with my interpretation of the Second Amendment – a self-evident truth must be that when the Founding Fathers adopted it as part of the Bill of Rights, this was not the vision of America that they had in mind. The mantra of “guns do not kill, people do” will be used in defence of weapons that have one purpose – to take lives. Perhaps if a madman is intent on murdering others, they will do so with other instruments, but nothing else has the brutal effectiveness, speed, and efficiency of a gun.
All of us who are parents will have hugged our children a little tighter today, inside feeling lucky that it was not us who have to endure the unthinkable tragedy of losing a son or a daughter, especially at such a young age. But as a society, we cannot leave such things to fortune – we should be able to send our kids to school without having to fear deep down that the next news story will be coming live from our own community. At best, President Obama may now manage to pass a gun control law that limits sales of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, but what is needed is a complete overhaul of the system. An amnesty program for people to turn in their guns voluntarily, alongside a dramatic reduction in the licenses that are given out – in my opinion the only people who should be legally allowed to carry a firearm are law enforcement officials and those who need to protect their families from wildlife such as bears. Not only this, but there needs to be a review of the mental health treatment that people receive in this country, as far too many people fall through the cracks and do not receive the help they need.
One of the two students who carried out the Columbine High School Massacre – Eric Harris – had previously told a psychologist that he was depressed, angry and had suicidal thoughts, as a result he was prescribed Zoloft. Without his mental health issues being addressed in any manner other than medication, and with guns and ammunition easily available to him despite his age, Harris -along with Dylan Klebold – was able to claim the lives of 13 others before following through on those suicidal thoughts. There could be a similar story to come out of the tragedy that happened today, or perhaps there will be from a future massacre. Unless as a society we initiate serious changes to gun laws and mental health treatment, there will be more of these incidents – surely we do not want to leave it just to chance that it will not be our own family or community that has to deal with the next one.