Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. 27 people, including 20 children, died last Friday, shot at point blank in their classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
We will grieve as a nation and take a deep breath before the full horror of the young lives lost hits us.
Cable news networks will flash headlines for the next few weeks declaring the incident a “tragedy” or a “massacre.” With pictures flashing across the screen, an anchor will profile the 20-year old “perpetrator” through his neighbors and high school friends as sometimes troubled loner but not anyone they would suspect.
But when this tragedy fades from the national spotlight and our eyes are no longer glued to TV screens seeking out every lurid detail, I fear that we will be no safer than we were on a Dec 14, 2012.
Wearing combat gear, Adam Lanza pulled the trigger on “similar to a weapon used by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to the New York Times. His mother, who was shot in her home immediately prior to the shooting, legally owned the semiautomatic weapons used in the shooting.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, the deadliest school shooting yet, state legislators failed to ban concealed handguns on public universities and require registration of guns sold privately within the state.
I’ve been particularly irked by calls to hold off on political action and not turn our outrage into action. Every time a “massacre” happens, we follow a script of sharing in the horror and publically scrutinizing every moment of a shooting, but every shock never ends in any measures to prevent another mass shooting or examine our attitude to gun violence.
We can not ignore the fact that we are a nation of gun owners. Over 40 percent of Americans own guns and Although I personally would never dream of having a gun in my house, more than a few people you encounter on a daily basis own one of America’s 300 million guns. Pro-gun organizations rally behind the “right to bear arms,” when those arms 300 years ago certainly could not shoot dozens of bullets in a minute and with any sort of precision.
It is pragmatic, cautious and prudent to plan for these emergencies. But it is also a chilling acceptance that shootings will happen on school campuses and that guns will continue to be easily accessible.
No one gun law will definitely prevent further shootings but the gun registration laws are not enough as last week’s tragedy illustrated. But the reasonable measures that a majority of Americans support such as banning the sale of semiautomatic weapons and limiting the size of magazines would reduce the risk of another mass shooting without infringing the right to self-defense.
These incremental changes may not change the reality of the situation but a strong reaction to limit gun violence will send a message that we cannot let this happen again. To do nothing would be an acceptance of the status quo: more shootings, more intruders in military gear on breaking news and more dead children.
It’s a long term project for America to move beyond the Wild West and join the rest of the industrialized world in limiting gun ownership. Now is the time to start.