16 December 2012

Newtown is Our Town

There is a scene in the play Warhorse where horses charge for the first time into the carnage that will become known as World War I. In that moment, the absolute change in the world is made clear. Where once a cavalry might have charged into a flurry of bullets fired from single-action riffles, the horses portrayed in the play encounter a new terror--the machine gun. Most do not make it through. They are mowed down in the unbelievable firepower released by those guns, and for the next scene their bodies lay inert and broken on the stage, while the other actors pretend that they are not there. It's a chilling scene, because it mirrors just how clueless the people back home were about the differences of this new war. How little they understood the ways that the world had changed.

Later in the play, a German officer gets hold of the main character--a horse called Joey--and saves him. Where another officer would have that horse charge senselessly into another barrage of machine gun fire, this officer knows the utter futility of that action. The utter waste of sending a horse into that sort of carnage. He seems the only one who realizes the futility of sending horses into modern warfare.

It's the moment when the history of war is confronted with the future--the moment when the deadly nature of technology is made startlingly visible.

I feel like we are at that sort of moment right now.

I'm having a hard time dealing with the tragedy in Newtown. It was hard enough to hear that it happened as I followed the news via Twitter on Friday, but it was devastating to hear that the children were all first graders--all 6 or 7 years old--the exact same age as my oldest. I look at him, so blissfully innocent of every danger, of the suffering of those people just a few states north of us. I think of him with his little friends, excited to go to school. Excited to be in a classroom with a young and energetic teacher. Excited to start each new day.

I look at him and I try not to imagine him huddled in a corner with his classmates--the little boys who defeated a dad playing Darth Vader at a recent birthday party. The little kids who were so sweet and gentle when he came to school with his arm in a splint, who ushered him around so that no one could jostle his injury. I think of all the little names drawn in crooked scrawls on that cast. I try not to imagine his small, lithe body torn apart by bullets meant for a battlefield. I try not to think about what I would do, how I would make it through that, and I fail every single time.

I know that I don't really know. That none of us save those twenty (twenty!) families in Newton. Those 12 families in Colorado. Those families of the 88 people who died in the last year in mass shootings. And the countless families of the countless people who have died from gunshots this year and every year before. I pray that I never do know.

And then I read responses of pro-gun advocates whose immediate response is to say that there should be more guns. That this is just a mental health issue. That guns don't kill people; people kill people.

True- People are at fault. But people can't put 3 to 11 bullets in each of the tiny bodies of 20 six year olds in less than 10 minutes with any old gun. Semi-automatic assault weapons do that.

And for what?

Why are these weapons necessary for the average citizen? And perhaps you will argue that they are not necessary, but they are a right. To that, my friend, I say bullshit. A driver's license isn't a right, but that sort of fire power is? That makes absolutely no sense.

Here's the thing--I'm not advocating a total gun ban. I don't think that such a thing is possible, nor do I think it could ever happen. America is a nation of guns. But--and this is a big but--there is not a legitimate reason for most ordinary citizens to have free access to the kind of weapon that was designed completely and solely for mass body counts.

Let's be clear here--when you are talking about semi-automatic weapons--about Glocks and Bushmasters and other guns capable of firing a large quantity of bullets without reloading, you are talking about an assault weapon. You are talking about the kind of firepower designed for battle. These are not the matches used by arsonists nor are they the knives used by the recent attacker in China. These are machines designed for the sole purpose of taking as many lives as possible in the shortest time possible. These are weapons designed not only to fire quickly, but for the shots to wreak devastation upon the bodies that they hit.

Which brings me back to the beginning. We are told that gun ownership is a right. Fine. It's in the Constitution. Fine. But our forefathers could not have predicted the sort of weapons we have today any more than those soldiers who rode horses into the first charges of WWI could have predicted the carnage the machine gun was capable of. To think about these sorts of assault weapons in the same way as we think about a simple revolver or the type of weapon necessary for hunting or other sport is ridiculous. To interpret the 2nd amendment without distinguishing between a single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle as our forefathers would have used and the type of gun that killed those children is irresponsible. It's like charging into battle on a horse when you're facing a tank.

Which, of course, happened.

Honestly, I don't understand why any law-abiding citizen needs that sort of firepower. You don't need that to shoot a deer. You don't need it to protect yourself from a home invasion (a simple revolver would do that well enough). You don't need it for target practice. You need it because you crave the thrill of holding something so powerful. You need it because there is something about holding an instrument capable of firing 5 bullets a second into the body of another human that appeals to you. And frankly, that makes me worried about you.

I know we can't prevent all violence. I know that someone with serious mental health problems who wants to kill will kill one way or another. But to say that's a reason for us to not consider ways to better limit and regulate the sorts of weapons that can do the sort of damage these types of weapons do is ridiculous. 

The twenty innocent children who died in such a horrific way Friday deserved more than that. They are worth more than the thrill of firing a high-powered gun. Their lives were and are worth more than some mis-placed fear that the government will take away all the guns from good law-abiding citizens.

I look at my own six-year old and can't help but wonder how I would cope. I look at my sweet boy and know how lucky I am to have him safe. This time.