"The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight..." ~ President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing
Following a tragedy such as took place yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut, one often hears the statement, "Let's not politicize this." The failure to recognize the political implications, however, is as irresponsible as attempting to use them for political gain. Remaining silent on the pretense of respect, renders the needless, senseless deaths of children meaningless. Can there be anything worse?
In the later days of the war in Iraq, when it had become clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, when the Bush administration determined a "war of liberation" would play better in the media, families of soldiers killed in action relied on those three words to assuage a loss no parent should ever have to face. The alternative was a sacrifice without meaning, and that was unthinkable.
But we flirt with meaninglessness when a murderer rips our loved ones from us and from the public stage we hear, "I hope no one uses this as an excuse to talk about gun control." What we've witnessed in Connecticut isn't an excuse, nor is it evidence we need an armed electorate because those we've empowered to protect us against violence and mayhem are impotent. What we've witnessed in Connecticut is evidence of our national refusal to listen to the voices of victims at Columbine High School and a theater in Aurora, Colorado.
If we could tune down the noise of our own convictions we'd hear one voice shouting from the periphery of those convictions, "For the love of God, please, don't let this happen again." But we do. The gun lobby argues, "guns don't kill people, people kill people," and there's an element of truth in that. I've never seen an M-16 walking down the street, creating havoc. Not without a person at the butt end, pulling the trigger. Then again, what if they couldn't get hold of a semi-automatic weapon with a 30 round magazine in the first place? Would that really impinge on anyone's Second Amendment rights?
We treat gun ownership like pornography. We put up with Hustler because we want to be free to purchase a copy of The New Yorker or Road and Track at the grocery. We also regulate Hustler to keep it from falling into the hands of children. We presume the right to own an assault weapon secures our right to own the 12 gauge we take bird hunting in the fall. Maybe it does, but that doesn't mean anyone who wants one should have one. Mutual responsibility in a free society requires us, at key times, to limit the exercise of our freedoms for the sake of the common good.
We regulate pornography better than we regulate guns. If we're going to honor the memory of those who've died tragically, we've got to change and we've got to start now.
(The West Wing citation from 20 Hours in America, (2002); GNU free documentation image of the Columbine High School Memorial via Wikipedia)