On May 5th, 2009, in the last month of my last year of high school, a former cross-country teammate of mine walked into the building with a sawed-off shotgun. Earlier that day he had brought in a duffle bag containing thirty extra shotgun rounds and some molotov cocktails and stored it in his locker. He planned to use these to take the lives of his fellow students, but for some reason that I can never learn, he instead went into the bathroom next to the new gymnasium, sat down in one of the toilet stalls, turned the gun on himself, and pulled the trigger.
I can’t hear the news of the 28 dead in Connecticut without being transported back to that day, almost four years ago, waiting behind locked doors in the library, with little information other than that shots had been fired and no contact with the outside world, certain that somebody I loved was going to die and wondering whether one of the tables in the room, flipped on its side, would shield me from bullets. I remember the police leading us out of the building with our hands on our heads. And then I imagine if I’d been six instead of eighteen, or if I’d been a teacher in charge of the children. I imagine the kids running and screaming as the gunman came into their classroom. Or I imagine them sitting quietly under their desks, shaking, crying, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t be noticed. This was real; this is no political or media construct:
Kids are dead in Newtown, Connecticut.
The shooter, a 20 year old monster whose name does not deserve a mention in this or any written report, forced his way into the school with a Glock 17 pistol, a Sig Sauer p226 pistol, and a Bushmaster .223 – a semiautomatic assault rifle based on the M4 carbine that American soldiers carry to war and the same weapon that the so-called DC sniper used several years ago. These were all purchased legally, under his mother’s name. He could fire any of them as fast as his finger could squeeze the trigger.
His mother was shot and killed Friday morning.
Many people have written or said, and will continue to say, that now is not the time to talk about gun control. Nor is tomorrow, or the next day: it is a time for mourning. And it is a time for mourning. But at least two dozen Americans perish every single day of the year because of the violence enabled by guns. This simply does not happen in other countries that we think about as “modern,” or even in a lot of countries that we like to think are far behind us. Americans have more guns per person than any other country on planet Earth, including places like Afghanistan and Yemen. The people who say that we cannot – should not – talk about the laws that allowed this and other massacres are overwhelmingly the same people who say we should do nothing. If now is not the time, then there is no time.
These are the the victims of this needless, senseless, horrible act:
- Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, principal, and Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist, who died running towards the perpetrator, not away
- Nancy Lanza, 52, the mother of the perpetrator, who was found dead in her own home
- Anne Marie Murphy, 52, a teacher and mother of four who tried to shield her students with her own body against an unending hail of bullets
- Lauren Rousseau, 30, a substitute teacher who had just received her “dream job” that fall
- Victoria Soto, 27, a first grade teacher who hid her students in the closet and then told the gunman that they had gone to the gym, knowing that she would die for it but putting the lives of those precious children ahead of her own
- Rachel Davino, 29, a teacher
- Charlotte Bacon, 6 years old
- Daniel Barden, 7 years old
- Olivia Engel, 6 years old
- Josephine Gay, 7 years old
- Dylan Hockley, 6 years old
- Madeline F. Hsu, 6 years old
- Catherine Violet Hubbard, 6 years old
- Chase Kowalski, 7 years old
- Jesse Lewis, 6 years old
- Ana Marquez-Greene, 6 years old
- James Mattioli, 6 years old
- Grace McDonnell, 6 years old
- EmilIe Parker, 6 years old
- Jack Pinto, 6 years old
- Noah Pozner, 6 years old
- Caroline Previdi, 6 years old
- Jessica Rekos, 6 years old
- Avielle Richman, 6 years old
- Benjamin Wheeler, 6 years old
- Allison N. Wyatt, 6 years old
These children will never work a paper route or babysit. They will never feel the agony of a middle school dance or the ecstasy of senior prom. They will never walk across the stage for graduation. They will never go to college, marry, or have children of their own. They are dead – stolen from their families, from this world, and from this life by a sad, small, frustrated person able to steal the leverage from his mother to earn himself a mention in every newspaper of note across the country.
Those guns never would have killed anyone without someone to pull the trigger. But the Colt 45 revolver was named “the great equalizer” because it allowed someone who never would have prevailed through mere physical strength to assert his power over others. Guns give power to those powerless to change their daily lives. This simply could not have happened with a knife or a bow and arrows. The only real purpose of guns is to take the life of another living being. Saying that their real point is “target practice” is like saying that you need a supercomputer to browse Facebook or a Aston Martin to drive to work. There are some instances when they make sense. But nobody sane hunts deer with a Glock or a Bushmaster.
The second amendment says that “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It was meant to protect citizens from a tyrannical government. Not from their neighbors, or the grown children of their neighbors. Anybody who says that this would have been averted by teachers carrying weapons misses the entire point of civilization; to move beyond anarchy and a world where the armed do whatever they want, we surrender the role of defense and punishment to our government. That allows us, supposedly, to live our lives in the belief that we and our children will be safe. If you don’t like that world, try living in Somalia or Afghanistan for a year and see how well your business does.
I will almost certainly buy a gun in the very near future. That fact alone represents a failure of society. I know that every criminal in America has easy access to a weapon, so I cannot trust that the police will be able to protect me or my family. They cannot drive faster than some psychopath can pull a trigger. It’s a prisoner’s dilemma where we are all worse off.
This was a preventable slaughter. If the shooter hadn’t had easy access to the military style rifle his mother legally purchased, could he have killed 20 six year olds? If the NFL player who killed his girlfriend with a pistol the other week hadn’t had that, could he have taken her life with her mother and their son in the next room? If the shooter in Aurora, Colorado this summer hadn’t had an extended magazine that on his rifle, would he have been able to kill so many? There are common sense measures that we can all support without taking rights away from law-abiding citizens, hunters, and sportsmen. The problem is that those same people often buy the ridiculous stances of the NRA and the politicians they back.
Kids are dead in Newtown, Connecticut. They are not the first victims of this kind of senseless horror; odds are that they will not be the last. But if we can do nothing to try and prevent this kind of thing from happening then we do not deserve our place in the international order of nations.