Yesterday’s school shooting left me, like the rest of the nation, shaken and saddened. This tragedy, more than most, affected me deeply, partly because it involved children – kindergartners – in an elementary school. I have a child – a kindergartner – in an elementary school. I speak very carefully about my kids on the Internet. I don’t use their names. I don’t post their pictures. I don’t say where we live or what schools they attend. I do this because I want to keep them safe. And yes, I know that 99.97% of you would never dream of doing anything untoward with any of that information, should I choose to give it. The thing is, it’s worth it to me to withhold that stuff from all of you, because it protects my kids from that .03% of you. You don’t really need that information. You and I can get along without it.
I feel much the same way about guns.
Now, before anyone starts shouting about HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT GUN CONTROL WHILE WE ARE MOURNING THIS TERRIBLE TRAGEDY (which I have already seen plenty of on Facebook and Twitter,) let me say this: Discussing our gun laws in no way diminishes the deaths of the innocent people – the children, for God’s sake – in Connecticut. Quite the contrary. Pointing out that their deaths were not only tragic, but also preventable, is only to mourn them more deeply. To grieve silently does not give the victims deaths any more dignity. To think that these children might be the face of what Never Happens Again, to think that, finally, these lives have not been ended in vain, is to honor them even more highly.
That said, let’s talk about our gun laws. When they were written, they were necessary. THE BRITISH WERE COMING! The world was different. We were different. Our government was young and uncertain, and only our ability to rise up in the face of oppression kept us safe. The right to bear arms was relevant and logical. Imperative, even. In the late 1770′s, our gun laws made perfect sense. Of course, one might do well to note that, when the Second Amendment was drafted, the men who wrote it also believed that it was absolutely fine to enslave other people, and the idea that women should have a say in the nations laws was laughable.
Things have changed. The British are not coming. Or, rather, they are coming, but armed with credit cards and tickets to The Book of Mormon, rather than muskets and red coats. The British, incidentally, have changed their laws about weapons in the years since we gained our independence. So have the Japanese. Yes, there are still crimes committed with guns in nations with stricter weapons laws, but it is at an entirely different rate than here in the United States, where this year alone there have been multiple massacres committed with high-calibur guns.
Indeed, yesterday, while CNN was reporting that twenty children had been killed by a lone gunman in Connecticut, they were also running a story about a school attack in China. Which was carried out with a knife. In which twenty-two children were wounded. The parents of a wounded child would still be preparing to spend the holidays as a family. I am sure that any one of the families in Connecticut who lost a child yesterday would gladly trade places with them.
Our gun laws were written in a different time, in a different society, with different purposes in mind. When we, as a culture, declare that clinging to an outdated tenent is more important than acknowledging that our needs have changed, we belittle our own progress. We become self-limiting in our evolution. Just as we recognized that slavery was an abomination and that women could and should vote and hold office, we must now recognize that the time has come to alter a system that does not keep us safe from an armed colonial force, but that rather perpetrates a culture of violence and fear. We are capable of living to a higher standard. No one ever became greater by staying exactly the same.
In the same way that the tragic deaths of four young girls in Birmingham sparked the Civil Rights movement to a fever pitch, so should the children in Connecticut become the face of change for our shamefully outdated gun laws. We mourn the victims of this violence best by working to ensure that they are the last to be slaughtered in such a horrific way. It is time to face forward. In the midst of our sadness, it is time to do better. To be better.
So I say, with a heart weighted by both grief and conviction: Change these laws now, in the names of the lost children of Connecticut, but for the sake of all our kids, everywhere.