The death of a child is every parent's worst nightmare. Even imagining losing a child to illness or accident is the kind of thought that keeps us mothers and fathers awake at night. So I cannot imagine the anguish of parents in Newtown, Conn., who have faced not only the deaths of their children, but their children's unspeakably violent, random, and highly publicized murders. The methodical shooting of 20 small children and six women, who, moments before, had been spending a perfectly normal day at school, will never be explained to anyone's satisfaction, since the killer also killed himself. It is nightmare become grisly reality.
In a year's time, far more people are killed by guns in the hands of people they know than are killed en masse by a sociopathic stranger. Mass shootings, while horrible and exhaustively reported, are rare compared to the typical one-on-one shootings that happen every day across our nation. But the mass shootings are the ones we hear about, and remember, and worry will happen to us the next time we go to the movies, or the mall, or the grocery store, or to a college campus or a high school cafeteria or, yes, even a first-grade classroom. Mass shootings often happen in small towns, in safe neighborhoods, even in upscale areas, places we like to think are immune from big-city violence. When another mass shooting happens, we all feel like we are walking around with a target on our backs. Then, after a week or so, our lives go back to normal.
But the survivors of Columbine or Virginia Tech or Tucson or Aurora or Clackamas or Newtown never get to go back to normal. A loved one's murder, especially a child's, can never be normalized, will always be devastating. The season of Advent will never be the same for the parents who've just had to bury children who still believed in Santa.
Our nation must engage in reasonable debate regarding gun violence, "but today is not that day," declared President Obama's press secretary Jay Carney on the day of the Newtown massacre. Chanted a group of protestors outside, "Today IS the day."
Indeed, we are past the day. Lately I have read the work of many columnists whose pieces begin with something along the lines of "I can't believe I am writing about this again." I can't believe it, either. As a society we are beginning to sound like a broken record: "Something needs to be done." Every time people are inexplicably mowed down by rapid gunfire, we wring our hands, wonder what's wrong with society, wallow in media saturation of the shooting-du-jour's circumstances, and then do nothing. Proposed laws go nowhere. The horror and outrage abate. Until the next shooting.
But maybe this time is different. The president has already organized a federal task force to make recommendations to curtail gun violence. A group of Newtown's citizens calling themselves "Newtown United" are seizing the opportunity to make their town stand for meaningful reform, rather than for simply another shooting tragedy on the list. There are calls to improve the inadequate and dysfunctional mental health system in our country, in order to reach and treat the troubled young men among us who crave a blood-soaked, sensational end for themselves and others.
These developments are heartening, and these issues clearly must be investigated and addressed. Because here's the question: Would so many children have died if we restricted casual access to military-type weapons? More questions: Does any private citizen require a gun that can fire a zillion bullets in a few seconds? Does any American need the kind of bullets that shred flesh and fragment apart on impact and cause maximum damage upon entry into a body? Are we crazy to allow these guns that kill with such ease among us?
I am anti-gun. The only reason to have a gun is to kill. I don't believe in killing animals for sport, or even for food. But I accept that some people find this enjoyable. I accept that some folks feel safer if they own a gun and keep it in their house, even though I personally think this is just asking for trouble.
I do not accept, however, that the right to own a gun for protection or sport justifies the availability of weapons and ammunition that have no place anywhere other than on a battlefield, in the hands of a well-trained militia. Gun control does not have to mean all or nothing, even though the elimination of all guns would be fine with me. But reasonable gun control is needed. It's overdue. We need to beef up the laws, and enforce the laws. We owe it to every child who died a bloody, unnecessary death before opening his or her Christmas presents.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org