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Can We Talk?

Posted on the 18 December 2012 by Paullanning @paullanning

I rarely post ‘political’ commentary, either on blogs or on Facebook posts or anywhere else. I’ve become so disturbed by so much of the rhetoric I see, particularly during the recent electoral cycle that seemed to go on forever, that I prefer to educate myself on specific issues and candidates and vote my conscience without necessarily sharing it, debating it, and fighting with others about it.

A flag flies at half-staff on Main Street in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 15 2012 (David Goldman/AP)

A flag flies at half-staff on Main Street in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 15 2012 (David Goldman/AP)

However, the events of these past few days, both the Connecticut school shooting and the aftermath, have left me unable to focus on everyday life this Christmas season…yet thankful that’s my biggest issue and that I’m not a resident of Newtown.

Like millions of others, I was stunned and shaken as news of the Sandy Hook shootings broke, and it only got worse as we learned the details…the ages of the children…the heroics of the school staff, both survivors and, sadly, those who perished…the horrific scene the first responders walked into…and the senseless losses that will continue to be felt for generations.

As that sadness gradually mixed with a growing anger, I found my anger had many targets. It wasn’t just the crazed gunman, a coward who assaulted an elementary school and then took his own life. It certainly isn’t just the issue of “guns” per se. I’ve never been opposed to the right to bear arms, though I think that Constitutional right has been bastardized in this nation to mean things the framers of the Constitution could never have imagined. It isn’t just the media, who in their zealous efforts to convey the gravity of events sometimes ask such bone-headed and insensitive questions of people living with the aftermath of a mass killing. And it isn’t solely the toy companies or movie producers or TV executives or rappers and heavy metal musicians or NBA stars or video game designers who all, in very different but stark ways, contribute to a culture of violence that is now – again – being so hotly debated on the Sunday morning talk shows and elsewhere. Rather, it’s all of them.

I watched a reporter on CNN put a microphone in the face of a first-grader and ask if everyone was screaming when the shootings were happening. I saw the NRA tweet that it would have “no comment” until more information was known – no sympathy for loss of life, no emotion whatsoever – just “no comment.” I saw politicians take to the airwaves to bemoan this tragedy and use it as a platform for political action – action they’d neglected to take until now, despite Columbine and Aurora and Arizona and so many other traumatic events in just the past few electoral cycles. And I saw the pro-gun Senators decline to appear on Sunday talk shows to defend their views – or better yet to offer reasonable discourse on the topic.

Was this really necessary the day after a mass killing of children?

Was this really necessary the day after a mass killing of children?

And then I saw the pro-gun zealots start posting provocative “memes” on Facebook, within 24 hours or less of the actual shootings, photos and artwork with statements that showed no remorse for the loss of life, no sadness for the children and teachers, no sensitivity whatsoever for anyone who might be affected by the events in Newtown. No, rather they took to social media to continue the same mean-spirited propaganda that characterized the recent elections. It’s all about protecting “rights” (namely one right in particular), not worrying one iota about any sense of reason.

My own father – a man with political and moral views entirely different than my own – took to Facebook Saturday to re-post a statement from a pro-gun group saying “I can’t wait to be lectured about my gun rights by an Administration that supplies guns to Mexican drug cartel members.” Really? That’s our focus? This is a time for sarcasm? He followed that up with other posts of gun-toting Americans in all their ’80s jingoistic pride. And everyone’s entitled to their opinions.



Several friends have posted a staged photo of a  lady holding a baby in one arm and a shotgun in the other, calling her “a wise American mom.” Is this insinuating that parents without guns aren’t wise? Using this logic, the one “wise American mom” in the Newtown event was the one who was shot in the face by her own deranged son, with HER own gun.

Somehow these folks are neglecting the facts of every incident, including the sheer firepower these lunatics bring to the table, or the armor they wear to defend themselves, or the fact that they plan to die on the scene anyway.

A scene all too familiar: Family and friends light candles in memory of those who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Corbis)

A scene all too familiar: Family and friends light candles in memory of those who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Corbis)

Not only have we become somehow accepting of tragedy on grand scales in recent years, we’ve also – as a society – become so hateful of anyone who believes differently than ourselves. This was so evident during the elections, with all the crazed rants from both extremes that went way past propaganda and into the land of lunacy. And now we have some of those same elements ignoring human decency and celebrating their guns, their militancy, and – amazingly – their self-presumed expertise in what drove a madman to kill children. It’s not about guns, they say, and in fact some say we need MORE guns out there as deterrents.  Elementary school teachers should carry guns? Are you kidding me?

Then I see the statistics…numbers showing we have more gun-related deaths in our country than the next 22 richest nations in the world COMBINED. That sounds like a statistic from the war-torn Congo, not the USA. I see lists showing the number of mass shootings in this nation since Columbine – and the number of fatalities. And I remember my horror when I was watching the news one night just a few months ago as the Aurora shootings took place – at the very same time my own daughter was in a movie theater in California watching the very same movie.

President Obama said Friday that “we’ve endured too many of these tragedies.” He’s absolutely right. This trend cannot continue.

I don’t pretend to have answers, but it saddens and sickens me that so many don’t want to even allow questions to be asked. Do U.S. citizens really need access to assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips as a “Constitutional right?” Do we need to look at why “Call of Duty: Black Ops” is the most popular video game on the market? Do we need to look at the thug life that MTV and other “reality”-obsessed networks so wantonly promote as a dominant culture for our youth? Are movies like “Savages” and “The Expendables” too readily marketed to young people? I have no idea, but why can’t we have the discussion? And is it right to ignore human decency in everything from reporters’ questioning of eyewitnesses (children!) to the thoughtless statements we throw around online as we blindly continue the same mindsets we had before every one of these tragedies? At what point do these events start to add up into something more than just “isolated events,” as so many want to say they are?

I’ve always supported individual freedoms to the fullest extent. Live and let live. I believe in the Constitution as the single greatest governing document created in the history of the civilized world. I studied Constituional law as an undergraduate and believe for all the world our system is the best system there is. But that document called slaves something less than human, and it denied women the same rights as men. It obviously didn’t account for modern tactical weapons and ammunition. Times have changed, and we as a society have changed. Our laws – gradually, painfully – have changed as well, just as the framers intended. Isn’t it time to recognize that our rights regarding guns need to account for the fact that modern warfare didn’t exist in the 1700s?

I’m actually not sure this is a political statement at all, but it no doubt will be taken that way by those who use and misuse others’ words to support their cause, however blindly. I’m just a father in California who is sickened by what the parents in Newtown, Connecticut are coping with right now, and I hope the conversation over what to do to make our nation, our communities, our public places safer doesn’t dissipate between now and the next mass shooting at another school, or shopping mall, or movie theater.

It’s time to ask the questions.

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