Exposed Nerves, Gun Control, and the Connecticut Shooting

by Camille on December 16, 2012

A friend posted this poem on his Facebook wall yesterday:

Empty House

by Stephen Spender

Then, when the child was gone, 
I was alone 
In the house, suddenly grown vast. Each noise 
Explained its origin away 
Animal , vegetable , mineral, 
Nail, creaking board, or little mouse. 
But mostly there was quiet of after a battle 
Round the room where lay 

The soldiers and the paint-box , all the toys.
Then, when I went to tidy these away, 
My hands refused to serve: 
My body was this house, 
Each plaything that he’d touched, an exposed nerve.

After the Aurora shooting, I wrote many a blog post in my head, but I never allowed those thoughts to escape out my fingertips and onto this screen. What do you really say, after all? There just aren’t adequate words in our language for some horrors, and I was sure my muddled, messy ramblings would bring no sense to the senseless.

I feel the same now, but this time, my fingers refuse to be still.

Friday morning, a mother brushed her daughter’s hair into a pony-tail and clipped in a Christmas bow. A father helped his son into his winter coat and made sure his homework was tucked safely into his backpack. On the way to school, maybe they all sang about Rudolph and Frosty, laughing as an older brother changed the words.  And then those parents fist-bumped or high-fived their kids, and told them to have a great day as thoughts traveled to the morning board meeting or the day’s shopping list.

Another friend posted this quote:

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

– Elizabeth Stone

And so, no matter how hard I try to think of something else, I imagine the parents, standing in the fire station, their hearts savagely ripped apart by bullets, cold and bleeding on a schoolroom floor. I think of the brightly-wrapped packages under the tree, raw nerves, that will remain unopened.

As a nation, I think we can do better. As a people, I think we must do better.

So many have said that now is the time to mourn, and certainly, our thoughts and constant prayers are with all the victims of this tragedy. But mourning should not stifle much-needed discourse about how we keep this from happening again. We do not honor these children by allowing the same evil to occur in a new setting next week. As Ezra Klein writes for the Washington Post, when politicians call for us to not “politicize” a tragedy, that is a form of politicization. “It’s just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws,” he says.

Hurling insults and blame to the other side doesn’t accomplish change. Neither does sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending we don’t have a problem. It’s time for political parties, special interest groups, gun-owners, and gun-haters, to come together as Americans who value life above all else and come to a reasonable solution.

In my opinion, America does have a gun problem. I’m not denying that we should also address mental healthcare, video game violence, and overall morality, but we cannot hide behind these issues or use them as excuses to ignore the facts. Statistics from a variety of studies testify to a need for change, and other countries look at us, shaking their heads in horror and disbelief as one of the most industrialized, wealthy, and innovative nations in the world continues to turn our eyes away from proof that our current laws are failing miserably at protecting our citizens.

Klein’s “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States” reveals that the problem is complicated and has no easy solution, but surely that shouldn’t stop us from seeking improvement from the current situation.

Please understand, I write this as a lamb from within the lion’s den. I live in the deep South. My father has a display case full of rifles and and several handguns. My mother bought him .44 Magnum for Christmas one year, and he cried tears of joy. My husband owns a handgun and an assualt rifle. I bought him a sweatshirt saying, “Guns don’t kill people. Dads with pretty daughters do.” Almost all of his friends collect guns, and between them, they have an impressive arsenal including a Mosin-Nagant and an AK-47.

Of course, as far as I know, none of them have ever had to use a gun to protect themselves from anything. Also, few of them hunt. The guns are mostly the grown-up equivalent of collecting G.I. Joes. They keep them locked away in boxes and take them out on a rainy day to show their friends. They share stories about this one or that one and troll the Internet for good finds. Their idea of fun is to go out in the country, compare the size of their, ummm….guns, and target-practice.

And I’m fine with that, because while they do watch too many episodes of Doomsday Preppers, my husband and his friends are responsible gun-owners and don’t keep the weapons in a location where anyone else has access to them.  They’re sane, law-abiding citizens with no history of mental illness or violence toward others.

But the people selling them weapons didn’t know that.

What I’m totally NOT fine with is the incredible ease with which all these weapons were purchased. In Mississippi, there’s no waiting period. My husband walked into a farm supply store, showed his driver’s license, and walked out with a semi-automatic rifle. At gun shows all over the country, criminals avoid background checks and buy thousands of guns from unlicensed sellers. And yet, even background checks don’t ensure that an individual possesses the mental health to own a weapon.

I don’t think gun ownership should be completely banned, but I think it’s past time for us to consider some serious modifications to current practices including:

  • Closing the gun show loophole so that all purchasers must undergo an in-depth background check
  • Requiring a psychological profiling test for gun owners (such as the ones used by law enforcement/military) to hopefully limit gun sales to unstable persons
  • Banning semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity clips
  • Laws regulating gun storage in a home (especially for individuals living with children, teenagers, etc.)
Will everyone follow the laws? No. Will disturbed individuals still find a way to access weapons and harm innocents? Probably. But we don’t have to make it so easy for them.

Again, I realize there’s not an easy answer, but we owe it to the children in this country to do the hard work of fixing this problem. So yes, leave the Newton families to mourn in peace. But the rest of us, who still have our babies to hold, need to dry our eyes and get busy.

Here are some facts, ideas, and opinions from across Web.

 Gun Control is a Parenting Issue, from Lisa Belkin

A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Every one of those nations has stricter gun control laws.

And then there’s this fact: add together all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world and 80 percent of those are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those nations, 87 percent are American kids.

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This? from Nicolas Kristoff

Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according toDavid Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence…

American schoolchildren are protected by building codes that govern stairways and windows. School buses must meet safety standards, and the bus drivers have to pass tests. Cafeteria food is regulated for safety. The only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.

Newtown and the Madness of Guns, from Adam Gopnik

So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.

Gun Control Reform is Long Overdue, from Peter S. Goodman

…We will root through his background for clues: Who raised him? Was he in the military? Did he play video games? Was he in a cult? Did mental illness take him to this dark place, and did we miss the warning signs along the way? 

In every country, some people lose their jobs and become enraged. Some suffer mental illness and seize on fantastical notions. They are spurned and hatch crackpot schemes and seek revenge. In every country, some people are disturbed, broken-hearted or angry enough to murder. What is special about this country is the extent of the damage that such people are able to inflict when the urge comes.

Making Gun Control Happen, from Patrick Radden Keefe

Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law. Should the gun dealer think it fishy that I might want to acquire a weapon capable of downing a small aircraft (much less six of those weapons) he may report the purchase to the A.T.F. But in most states, he’s not required to. 

If you’d like to contribute your  ideas for change, compromise, or positive action, be my guest. If you want to disagree, do so respectfully and back up your opinions with facts. If you’re of the “they’ll have to pry my guns out of my cold, dead hands” variety, then we’ll have to agree to disagree this time, and you can start your own blog and share those views.

Because the cold hands are tiny, innocent, and deserving of so much better.

Sammie December 16, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Thank you so much for your very thoughtfull post and for stepping out on this topic. In most cases it seems to just end up with people yelling (if you can yell on blogs) at each other and usually ends in nasty name calling. Your post is for looking at this with open eyes, and saying some things have to change.

It helped when you explained why your husband and his friends own guns. I don’t know anyone who owns guns, well my cousins son hunts so he has a few but other then him and maybe a couple of other hunters I know, no one else has guns. I just don’t see a reason though for anyone to have assult rifles. (which is what you are saying). It’s a complex issue, but hopefully this will make people more open to considering changes in laws so that we can all be safer. I would also like to see us do a lot to improve our very broken mental health system.

Camille December 16, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂 My husband is a bit of a worrier. His reasoning for the rifle is that our city is on an earthquake fault line, and he worries that in the case of a catastrophe, there would be a need for that type of protection. (This brings up an entirely different set of issues and concerns.) He also just enjoys the collector element of gun ownership as I explained. He may be right about potential catastrophes, but I don’t think we can make our plans solely on the “what-ifs” without considering the “here-nows” if that makes sense. Here now, we have a definite problem that needs a solution.

Thanks again, and have a blessed day!

Jason December 17, 2012 at 5:48 am

Your proposed modifications to gun laws are more than reasonable and should be at the core of whatever legislation hopefully arises in the next few weeks.

Here are the main arguments I’ve heard the last few days from those against changes to the gun laws (in no particular order):

1) We have a right to defend ourselves.
2) We need to be able to protect against a government takeover.
3) We should have the same means of protection as the government.
4) Tighter restrictions on gun ownership aren’t going to keep crazy or evil people from acquiring weapons.

These arguments strike me as awfully refutable:

1) Will a handgun not suffice? Shot gun? Hunting rifle?
2) Whatever firearms you own, they’re not going to win out against tanks, missiles, etc.
3) Well, then everyone should have the right to own a tank, missiles, drones, etc. I’m sure that’ll go well.
4) No one is saying laws eliminate the threat of mass shootings–the point is they can reduce it. Ex. See other countries who have enacted stronger gun control laws. But even if enacting tighter laws didn’t have any affect, isn’t it clear what we’re doing now isn’t working? It’s morally reprehensible not to respond.

Camille December 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for commenting. 🙂 (And for sharing the poem.) You make most sensible points, especially about missiles, tanks, etc. and the fact that it’s “morally reprehensible” not to respond. I just wish people would engage in sensible discussion and debate of facts rather than posting pics of Charlton Heston with snarky one-liners. Wishful thinking.

Jason December 17, 2012 at 7:19 am

I forgot to add the “preventing mass shootings is more complex than just restricting guns” argument. Yes, it is. But is that an excuse for not ameliorating laws with glaring flaws?

Nancy December 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

The key word is “reasonable” — it is absolutely unreasonable that private citizens can own military-grade weapons for fun. It was a sad and inexcusable day when President Bush let the ban on automatic weapons expire. A good friend of ours is a police officer, and it’s terrifying to me that at any traffic stop or domestic violence call, he could literally be outgunned. We should not be selling weapons to the general (and usually under-trained) public that we don’t allow our patrol officers to carry.
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Addison Cooper December 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Thanks for this post. I’m hopeful that there will be healing in Newtown. I don’t know how to make our country a safer place to live, and it’s scary. But talking about it is probably a good first step.
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