I have hesitated to write about guns in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. For one thing, I find it difficult to put words to an event that every parent thinks about at one time or another: What if my child were taken from me? As a father of two fine young men, I have to wonder how, or even if, I would retain my sanity.
Earlier this year, I came close to finding out. A troubled student brought a gun to my sons’ high school and threatened a class. My youngest was close enough to hear the commotion. One of his friends had the pistol pointed right at his face. A quick-thinking teacher who was able to talk the student into laying down the weapon tackled and held him until police arrived. How close, how close. I can barely think about it.
In the face of senseless violence, we want an answer. In the face of inexplicable catastrophes, we want an explanation. It offends our sense of self-importance to face the real truth, that not a single one of us is immune to the vagaries of events beyond our control. We howl, we rage, and we weep–all to no avail. Nature pounds us and drowns us. Deranged people do damage that sane people can barely imagine. Our lives, important as they are to us, are nothing to the Universe at large. No power on Earth can change this horrible fact–we are but a flicker in the darkness, a flash of consciousness in the vast blackness of eternity.
And yet for all this, we try. We have to. It is what we are. We imagine the faces of the innocents who were barely old enough to understand death. They were of the age that sees Grandpa sleeping, but as an understanding parent explains, the kind of sleep from which he will never awake. He is at peace now. No, it doesn’t hurt. I will miss him too. We accept and understand Grandfather dying, but we are outraged that the Universe saw fit to send a madman to take kindergartners away. It isn’t right, and it shouldn’t happen.
Our instincts are to do something. Right now. We want to make it go away, but we are no more mature than the children who were taken away when it comes to this kind of thing. We see the instrument of murder, but do not want to look into the eyes of the one who held it. We want to snatch every gun away from everyone. Anything to get the image out of our minds. Anything to convince ourselves it will never happen again.
Grief stirs us to action, but not wisdom. Just as counselors advise the aggrieved not to make major life decisions for a year after the death of a loved one or a personal tragedy, so we should take time to ask ourselves some hard questions about guns and violence in this country.
The first question is as obvious as it is unaddressed in the popular media and among the millions of social network posts of the last several days. Will taking away guns even help? It is sometimes said that every complex problem has a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong. Such is the case here. No bloodless method exists for 200 million-plus guns to be gathered up and destroyed. Even martial law imposed to accomplish such a feat would be met with violence from Second Amendment supporters and non-compliance from criminals. I so hope we do not go there.
The second question is no less trivialized in popular dialogue these days. The overwhelming majority of gun owners never do violence. Most do not even show their weapons in self-defense. Ever. When they do, we rarely hear of them then going on a rampage, the smell of gunpowder and blood having intoxicated them into senseless mayhem. Yet enough of them do just that to prompt this question: Why do those few take weapons and callously set about killing other people?
The answer is troubling and hard for many to swallow. We have grown ourselves into a nation of children without boundaries. We have become seduced into systematically destroying every rule of decent conduct and propriety that threatens our childish whims. We do not want to hamper our childrens’ “free expression.” We do not want to “stigmatize” those who will not learn and who refuse to work. We hesitate to point out when others have fallen short, even when it would clearly be to their benefit. More so for ourselves. We live in fear of offending anyone, anywhere, anytime, for anything. It is a miracle that more people are not mindless killers.
This from a libertarian? Damn straight. Freedom is not synonymous with lack of self-restraint. Liberty is not the same as unbridled narcissism. No one but a perpetually stoned refugee from the sixties would believe so. Yet here we are pondering how so many could show so little human decency so much of the time. And secretly we wonder how we will fare when they come after us–the muggers, the gang members, the insane. We want to believe we have freed people from the constraints of an uptight society, but deep down we know we have raised a nation of misfits. And the more there are, the more likely we are to run into one who has gone over the top, whose self-restraint never flowered because the seed was never planted.
For now, and until all human being become angels, guns are part of the answer. Would that it were not so. Would that every parent taught that we do not need a law to tell us that taking a gun to school is wrong, that human life is sacred, and that each person is responsible for his/her own path through life. Alongside those lessons, would that they also impart the willingness to defend themselves, wisely and with authentic regret for the violence they have to do to save themselves and their loved ones.
We live in a world in which fewer and fewer parents love their children enough to discipline them. We see the result daily, even in those who stop short of shooting up the place. And the rest of us? Are we to applaud ourselves for establishing gun-free zones? Are we to pat ourselves on the back for cosmetic solutions like banning clips that any hobbyist can make himself in a half-hour? Are we to beam with pride that we know how to make laws but cannot make good human beings? Will we smugly watch law-abiding citizens give up their arms while thugs watch the world tilt toward them and their kind?
I think not. I think rather that we will do what human beings have always had to do to survive. We will have to address reality. The reality is that there are now, and likely always will be, those who would do us harm. Whether culpable thugs or pathetic cases of mental illness, the grim necessity is the same. We do whatever it takes to save our own lives and the lives of those we choose to protect. Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is the clear, simple, and wrong answer to a problem that runs deeper than any law. It runs through our very souls. We who seek only to live our lives in freedom will never give up our right to defend ourselves. Those of us with decency will also work for the day that we don’t have to think about it constantly.