An Unspeakable Pain
I was supposed to be in the delivery room for the birth of my first. But it was the urgent voice of a nurse that changed all of that. I was left standing alone in the hospital hallway watching as the gurney was rapidly transported out of sight. After wearing a path into the waiting room floor for what seemed an eternity, a voice finally called my name. The staffer told me it was a boy…and that he was breathing.
What happened next was something for which I was completely unprepared. The moment I first laid eyes on him, a young struggling life in the stark and sterile environment of that ICU, the bonding was immediate. The speed at which it struck overthrew me. It was complex, both humbling and daunting – a mix of purpose, protection, love and responsibility that forever changed my life. In that flash of an instant we became parent and child. It was the beginning of a lifelong journey for us; a bonding that would be repeated with another who would follow in later years.
Like other parents, I would have the occasional, and thankfully rare, nightmare where I would lose one of them to some awful event; awakening to reassure myself that it was only a dream. However, for the parents of Newtown, CT, and far too many others around this country, their’s is a nightmare from which they can not awaken. They have experienced the visceral tearing of parent from child by an instrument designed to end life. It is a loss, a void, that perhaps only another parent could begin to comprehend. And what we hear is that the massive proliferation and possession of such instruments in our society, some designed to take numerous lives in short order, is an inalienable right that trumps the pain and loss that these parents have been made to endure. It is with that perversion, and lack of intervention, we watch our children senselessly lose their lives to gunfire in numbers far greater than that in other industrialized nations.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), NRA-A rated and whose voting record has been described as being ‘notoriously pro-gun’, stepped forward following Newtown to question the need for citizens to be in possession of semi-automatic assault-style weaponry. However, his statement regarding the Newtown massacre, that “We’ve never seen this happen”, is mind numbing.
Are our lawmakers really claiming amnesia to such horrific events as the Cleveland School massacre (Stockton, CA 1989) where Patrick Purdy, a misanthrope who was in possession of a military assault rifle, fired off 106 rounds in 3 minutes killing 5 children (aged 6 to 9 years) and wounding 29 other young students and one teacher before taking his own life? An act that contributed to both the California and Federal assault weapons ban? The federal ban being allowed to expire in 2004?
And have they forgotten the globally reported Dunblane school massacre, 1996, where a mentally disturbed individual, in legal possession of 4 firearms, fired 109 rounds into a Primary One class of 5 and 6 year olds, killing 15 children and their teacher who lost her life trying to protect those children? An event hauntingly similar to what occurred in Newtown? An event that contributed to the ban of handguns in Great Britain? Or that somehow we would be immune to such a horrific event here?
And are they unaware that since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms in 30 different states; or that 15 of the last 25 worst mass shootings over the past 50 years occurred in the US, the next in line being Finland with two; or of the 11 deadliest shootings in the US, five have happened from 2007 onward?
And are they claiming ignorance about the long known fact that the gunfire death rate in US children dwarfs that of other industrialized nations? And that mass shootings, as horrific as they are, are but a small contributor to the overall problem?
Mass Shootings Involving Children: The Tip of an Iceberg
In the 1990’s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published that 86% of gunfire deaths in children from 26 industrialized countries occurred in the U.S. The overall death rate in U.S. children under the age of 15 years was nearly 12 times greater than that for the other 25 countries combined. U.S. children were 16 times more likely to be murdered by gunfire, 11 times more likely to take their lives by gunfire, and 9 times more likely to lose their life in accidental shootings than those in the other 25 combined countries.
The response of the gun lobby to such research? The NRA was successful in getting lawmakers to cut federal funding for firearms research, first with the CDC in the 1990’s and more recently with the National Institutes of Health. Following these legislative achievements the NRA published the following: “These junk science studies and others like them are designed to provide ammunition for the gun control lobby by advancing the false notion that legal gun ownership is a danger to the public health instead of an inalienable right”. This while the Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had described the morbidity and mortality associated with firearm injuries in U.S. children as being “a significant public health problem” and “epidemic”. In that same 1997 report the AAP forewarned that “The recent occurrence of several highly publicized shootings in suburban or middle size town schools deserves continued serious study and prompt local and national responses.”
By turning a blind eye, legislating to obstruct availability and generation of information while continuing to expand public exposure to firearms, the risk that events like Newtown, Aurora, and Tucson (all taking the lives of youngsters) was increased; they were permitted to happen. Our lawmakers, in kowtowing to the gun lobby, can not and should not be allowed to duck responsibility. They need to make it right.
Defining the Right Endpoint
Newtown has reignited the gun control debate. But, will proposed legislation be intended to simply reduce the frequency of mass shootings and/or or the level of carnage in such events? Or should the endpoint be to bring the loss of life in US children by gunfire to parity with other industrialized nations. These are different endpoints. Consideration of some of the controls being discussed in the media follow.
Banning Assault Weapons and High Capacity Ammunition Clips
There has been a massive proliferation of such weaponry since the last assault weapons ban, the NRA stating that “There are more than 3 million [AR-15s – the weapon used in Newtown and Aurora] in the hands of law-abiding American citizens”. As long as individuals are permitted to keep these weapons that they have already purchased, the risk of another Newtown still exists. Adam Lanza, the disturbed shooter in the Newtown incident, did not purchase the weapons he used. He took them from his mother’s home after putting multiple bullets into her head.
Expanding Background Checks
These checks help prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, including felons and the mentally-ill. However, many things that lawmakers have allowed to occur will need to be undone. Decades of lobbying by the NRA has loosened laws, allowing felons to regain gun rights often with little or no review. And following the Virginia Tech massacre, the NRA was successful in extracting a concession from lawmakers – the inclusion of a mechanism for restoring firearms rights to those who lost them for mental health reasons. And can Mr. LaPierre (NRA CEO) be taken seriously in blaming a deficient mental illness database and guns falling into the hands of felons for incidents like Newtown when the NRA has successfully opposed closing the “gun show loophole” that by-passes background checks and where up to 40% of US gun sales occur?
And gun theft is not uncommon. As recently published in the Raleigh N&O (NC), the ATF reports 25,000 guns were stolen nationally in 2010 with only 23 percent of those being recovered during a typical year. Law enforcement officials from several NC counties reported an increase in stolen guns in 2012, one stating “If more people are owning more guns, it’s not unreasonable to think more will be stolen during property crimes.” Another noting “There’s a market for stolen weapons. That’s because felons can’t go in and legally buy a gun, so they have to buy it off the street…”.
Regarding mass shootings in the U.S., in most cases over the past three decades the killers had obtained their weapons legally.
Enhanced background checks will provide some level of benefit but will be an incomplete solution.
Other Familiar Scapegoats
Whether one looks at different countries or different states, the Harvard Injury Control Research Center has concluded that more guns tend to mean more homicide (ibid and ref). And higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not found to be correlated with more deaths from gun violence; states with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths (ibid and ref).
Also, the higher gun ownership, the higher the loss of young life from accidental gunfire . Pre-schoolers aged 0-4 years were found to be 17 times more likely to lose their lives from a gun accident, and school aged kids aged 5-14 were over 13 times more at risk to die from accidental firearm death, in the 4 states having the highest gun ownership versus the 4 with the lowest gun ownership.
In light of the above, one can consider the frequent scapegoat, media. Great Britain, as but one example, is no stranger to graphic media including movies, comics and video games. That culture published the graphic ten-issue comic book series V for Vendetta and has brought to the screen the James Bond series and the Guy Ritchie crime films Revolver, Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, staring popular British actor David Statham. Statham has additionally starred in multiple US action films, also viewed in Great Britain, including The Transporter series, Death Race, Crank, The Bank Job, War, and The Expendables 1 and 2. And yes, video games are played in Great Britain, with age rating restrictions; only two titles have ever been banned and both decisions were later overturned. Gunfire murders in Great Britain, 2008, totaled 39 (equivalent to 195 in the US); in 2009 the US reported 9,146. Great Britain reduced public exposure to guns by enacting legislation that banned handguns following several mass shootings, including the Dunblane School massacre. Other examples, such as Japan and Australia, correlate tight restrictions on gun ownership to low gunfire murder rates.
Police in Schools
Consider that some committing mass murders with guns today arm themselves with high powered weaponry and that some wear protective gear. So should not a police officer patrol the hallways carrying an assault rifle and wearing full protective gear? There is no guarantee that the officer would be successful in stopping a shooter, or multiple shooters as was the case at Columbine, before lives were already taken, including perhaps the officer. And would not this solution beg for an exchange of fire from high powered weaponry in schools that harbor our children? That such has even been suggested is an admission as to how unsafe our children have become to the increasing availability of guns in our society.
The Right Endpoint
It was never the intent of the Second Amendment to justify the epidemic loss of young lives we experience in this country. The morally correct endpoint of legislation should be to bring gunfire injury and death in US children to parity with other industrialized countries. That’s where the dialog needs to be.
A Cold and Broken Hallelujah
In reflecting on the several mass shootings in 2012 that claimed the lives of far too many youngsters, the words of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ haunted me this holiday season. The work is compellingly emotional and the lyrics can be taken on many levels. I provide Jeff Buckley’s rendition for those who may be unfamiliar with the work.
Our children are a ‘Hallelujah’ in our lives. We nurture their development and share in the joy of their existence through that special bond between parent and child. But when a child is senselessly torn from us because we have tolerated our lawmakers placing a higher value on ideology, special interests and keeping their office than that young life itself:
“It’s not a cry you can hear at night/It’s not somebody who has seen the light/It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”