Friday, December 14, 2012

When Will We Ever Learn? How About Now?

I worked from home most of today. My youngest daughter, a 5 y/o kindergartner, stayed home to nurse her strep throat and her mother, my wife, works in the lunchroom at her elementary school. I was at work in the morning and news came in about shooting in Connecticut. The details were sketchy, but it seemed to have involved a school. I was involved in the ever important work and presumed I would hear more as the day progressed. I stopped by a friend's house to pick up my daughter, who he had been watching when my wife went to work and we talked briefly about sports and officiating. I drove home and my daughter, Amanda, "raced me" home on foot...she beat me, of course :).

When I came home, I decided to check the web about the shooting and that's when the horrific nature of this matter became apparent. It hit way too close to our home - to the parent of a child who is the same the age of those 18 (perhaps more) children who were executed in that Newtown elementary school. I broke down in front of my 5 y/o as I looked at her, asking the unanswerable: "How could a person shoot children?" A psychologist on CNN insisted constantly that society ("we" as he put it) have finally crossed a line and we have to take immediate initiative to change - from stopping the vitriolic talk in politics to identifying and helping potentially troubled people. The president of the US was overcome by emotion in his address to the country about the incident. It begs the question, "What the hell is happening in this country?'

I am more convinced than ever that we have a "gun problem" in this country. I felt this way before today's shooting, but I am resolute about it now. We had a shooting at a local high school a couple months ago and the story of how the shooter (a student) got a gun led back to his father, who is now allegedly jailed. Some people claim that we can actually reduce this kind of violence if we allowed people to carry "concealed weapons." Utter nonsense.

I was raised in Montana. Probably no state in the country has as many guns per capita as Montana. I was raised around guns and hunted with them. We understood how dangerous they were and we all knew that handguns and some kinds of rifles are purposely and primarily created to be used to kill people. They can either be easily concealed and/or hold a large number of cartridges in their magazines. Neither of these kinds of weapons is appropriate for hunting. Some of the rifles were variations of fully automatic weapons.

Even way back in the 60s and 70s, we knew the horror that guns could inflict on people, from watching the Vietnam War on nightly news, to living through assassinations of prominent people, to seeing the images of students gunned down at Kent State. Even the atrocities of the mass killings in World War 2 still resonated through photos and films created a generation earlier. Always, we asked “when will we ever learn?” We ask it again today. We will ask it again, wth the same incredulousness, when the next unspeakable, unfathomable act of horrifying killing occurs. We will debate rights, laws, acts, and other important and distracting topics, but will we actually agree that something has to be done and what that something might be? Or we again sing the tired refrain “When will we ever learn?” from “Where have all the flowers gone?”

We cannot continue like this. No community is immune from this violence, and getting more guns is not the answer. People committing these heinous acts aren’t “stereotypical” criminals and the mindset that someone else with a gun would have somehow prevented or limited the damage is ridiculous. Most people, even those who practice handling and firing their handguns, are not practiced or versed in these types of stressful and demanding situations. Such people would also hugely complicate the situation for police and demand even more options, actions and reactions of the police and other trained responders and adds even more risk to them and others.

We need to be more vigilant about others and that means we need to care and reach out even more, and become involved even more…and that requires something we cannot get by making and buying more guns: COURAGE. And that has to happen now.