We would rather forget?
Sitting down on the last day of 2012, I find myself trying to make sense of so much that has happened during the recent holiday season. Most of it defies comprehension. So many of us find we cannot talk about our feelings or our fears. It is as though in a strange way keeping silent keeps us and those we love safe.
I want an alternative reality, a new world — a calmer and more peaceful one — one without interminable war and definitely one without the home-grown violence that targets first-graders, teachers and firefighters.
There is much in the last year that we would all rather forget, but cannot. Try as we may to remove images from our minds of small children cut down by a semi-automatic weapon, they persist — like a nightmare that will not go away even during our waking hours.
Horror has built on horror over this past month and on the heels of the murders of young Connecticut schoolchildren, we learned of the deaths of New York firefighters also targeted by an assault weapon. The firemen responded to a call to put out a fire at the perpetrator’s home, which had been set by the killer himself. We find ourselves powerless to understand. Are we also powerless to stop the carnage?
‘How will you protect us?’
These tragic scenarios have continued to be played out in movie theaters, military bases and schools across our country — and each time the weapons in the hands of the human predators have been guns. Are we simply meant to cry in outrage, grieve, forget and move on?
What do we do now that we have a new year on our hands? What do we make of ourselves and our world and how do we answer those children who ask us, “How will you protect us?” Do we ignore what is increasingly blatant: That there are too many guns too easily accessible in our society? Are we simply to accept that we cannot get rid of them because a segment of our population holds us hostage to an outdated rationale for gun rights?
In spite of those who feel their Second Amendment rights are being threatened, what the rest of us feel is that we are overwhelmed by the needless deaths by gunfire that we are asked to accept.
The Second Amendment then and now
Ratified on December 17, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights, along with nine other amendments, the Second Amendment sought among other things to allay the fears of the citizens of a nascent nation, who dreaded attack from without or by a future unscrupulous domestic government.
During the pre-revolutionary period, Britain attempted to curb the colonists' access to arms, threatening to curtail the establishment of what were referred to as patriot militias. Eventually, these restrictions on the rights of the colonies and the oppression of the ruling nation led to the great conflagration known as the Revolutionary War.
In 1791, with the taste of that war still in the mouths of those who made the desperate bid for independence, the framers of our Constitution wished to extend those protections into an uncertain future. They did so by enshrining as many personal liberties for its citizenry as possible.
To those and other ends, it sought through a Bill of Rights to identify those freedoms, among which the guarantee of individuals to defend and involve themselves directly in law enforcement systems were held prominent.
The text of the Second Amendment reads: “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 on.”
There is, however, a vast incongruity between what the founding fathers had in mind for a frontier nation in a world in which they needed militias, and the 21st century in which the citizens of our municipalities across our land are protected by police departments. In our law enforcement agencies today — local, state and federal — we have those militias; we have put in place the means of protecting the public. None of us is denying people the right to hunt or to defend themselves.
Threat to liberties or self-indulgence
However, the very agencies in place for protection are overwhelmed and subsumed by the forces of a mega-lobby — the National Rifle Association — that has gained a stranglehold over a significant number of legislators in our country, even as it perpetuates its own distortions of the truth to the American public. The NRA has woven a myth about a threat to civil liberties, while obscuring the self-interest that drives the argument. We are repeatedly told there should be no limits upon an individual’s right to own whatever kind of weapons he or she desires.
Why is there such widespread opposition to background checks on individuals wishing to purchase weapons? Certainly law-abiding citizens would have nothing to worry about, while those who raised some cautions might be stopped or slowed down in their attempt to gain access to guns.
Why should assault weapons be available to people who are neither in the military nor in a police force in the first place? Actually, my 15-year-old grandson asked me that. He thought it didn't make sense.
Who needs a semi-automatic weapon to kill a deer or another animal? Perhaps more importantly, does an individual’s perceived liberty to possess any kind of weapon supersede the right of the society to protect its citizens — particularly its children?
Why should individuals be permitted to carry concealed or unconcealed weapons in public places? Whose right is protected by this liberty, and why — other than to be always prepared for a shoot-out? Is it not beyond sanity to allow persons to wander through public areas carrying weapons?
It is hard to believe that law-abiding hunters and gun-collectors are all represented by the strident voice of the NRA, or that they simply accept the suggestion that the answers lie in placing more arms in strategic locations around our country — especially in schools. We must believe there are many who have the heart and will to do something different — even inconveniencing themselves — if necessary to protect our children.
To them and to the rest of us who mourn and stay silent, perhaps it is time now at the beginning of a new year to end our silence and engage life. We should have done so after Columbine, or after Virginia Tech, or after the assault upon Congresswoman Gifford and so many others. We have been slow to act.
Perhaps it is time — this time — to contact our representatives and demand they place serious restrictions upon the easy acquisition of arms in this country. We must ask them to help us answer our children and grandchildren’s question: “Can you keep us safe?” We must be able to assure them and ourselves that we can and that we will. No other response will do.