Last Friday morning just as the Pledge of Alliance was completed and attendance taken, the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in a small Connecticut suburb began what felt at first like just another ordinary day. It was in the midst of Hanukkah and just days before Christmas. The day was cold and clear, with a bright blue, near cloudless sky. To every child and teacher there was reason to believe that last Friday would begin and end as nearly every Friday did.
But around 9:30 in the morning, all that changed.
Witnesses including the school nurse and other teachers and administrators say it began with a loud “pop-pop-pop.” Can we imagine what went through the minds of the adults? The teachers and administrators whose job it was to care for these children, to mentor, teach and protect them? Whenever what was happening began to crystallize in the protector’s minds there must have been an awful, sick and helpless feeling that ran through their very souls. They were here, in a building that was supposed to be safe, locked, and secure with hundreds of children assigned to their collective care. And now someone had penetrated that fragile veil of safety.
This was a tragedy that no one could ever conceive of…no one. We tend to try to justify tragedies like these as the limited work of a few sick and twisted souls-an irregularity, a fluke, just innocent people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But the school children at Sandy Brooke were exactly where they were supposed to be, last Friday morning and exactly at the right time. They were in their school on a sunny winter Friday on the cusp of the holidays. The school was securely locked, the administration had protocols in place, and drills had been done for fire escapes, storm winds and even “lockdown procedures.” But none of it was adequate to deal with a deranged 20 year old who apparently had exhibited significant social and psychological issues much of his life. A man-boy who killed his own mother that very morning and took weapons from her upscale suburban home, including two handguns and a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle. He dressed in military garb, donned body armor and deliberately drove his mother’s car to the front door of the school.
There have always been sick and deranged people in our society. Those who fall through the cracks, or go unnoticed or ignored. People viewed as “odd-but not someone I ever thought capable of that kind of thing.” How many times have we heard that…after the fact?
Here however is a real fact: every year in this country thousands of children lose their lives in violent attacks by people who used guns, many of them automatic weapons. I am specifically referring to military issue assault weapons that fire multiple rounds per clip. No deer hunter or self respecting target practice aficionado could credibly suggest that “practicing” with one of these weapons makes you a good shot. These are killing machines which allow even the worst marksman to hit almost anything. Surely no hunter, sportsman or true marksman could make the case that automatic weapons, or body piercing artillery makes for a better hunting season. The statistics and facts in all of this are inconvenient especially for this of us who believe that 2nd Amendment rights are important.
Here’s where I make my big pronouncement: It is clear to almost any reasonable person, even the most ardent supporters of 2nd Amendment rights, that the framers of our Constitution never meant for 20 year old psychopaths to murder innocents with automatic weapons in a public school. Clearly the framers meant that the citizen’s rights in their words “to maintain a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” never ever fathomed the kind of carnage we have witnessed in recent years-especially the kind we witnessed last Friday in Connecticut. Those who suggest otherwise are irrational, delusional or both. Either way, if a country such as ours which also guarantees its citizens the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” under the very same Constitution, but doesn’t find this in at least some conflict with the mass murder of children in a public school, then they are missing something indeed.
I do not believe amending the Constitution is a good thing, or something we as a nation should take lightly. That is the brilliance of this document of liberty. The language chosen by the framers is purposeful and in at least some cases open to interpretation by reasonable men and women. This maniac who shot all these kids and their teachers…I’m thinking it’s a long shot to call him the member of any “militia.” We have a pretty good militia in this country already, several branches in fact; we call them the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, US Coast Guard and the National Guard and Army reserves. They do a pretty good job protecting our nation and each of our “inalienable rights.” Now some in my party would suggest that we need other militias to protect us from those “militias.” That’s all well and good, although slightly paranoid, but by any definition we can hardly call the slaughtered innocents of Sandy Hook a militia that threatened anyone. The security of a free state means that we should be able to walk the streets, go to the movies or the mall or send our kids to school and not expect a maniac with an assault rifle and unstable mental capacity to gun them down. And while the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be “infringed” - does that mean it should be enhanced? How about hand grenades? They make great Christmas gifts! What about homemade bombs? Another great gift for the holidays! Those of the pipe bomb variety make wonderful stocking stuffers-as long as the stockings aren’t too close to the fire.
For 30 years I have worked for Republican candidates –all of whom have supported 2nd Amendment rights. I have supported the 2nd Amendment and still do, but the time has come for conservatives, those who respect the idea of law and order, of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness to wake up and realize there is NO cogent or reasonable argument to license assault weapons. There, I said it. I know the old line “if guns are criminalized, only criminals will get guns.” In fact I’ve used it myself again and again to justify 2nd Amendment freedom. And the bottom line is that banning these weapons is no guarantee that the sick and deranged won’t get their hands on them. But as a just and moral and allegedly civilized society, we must be pragmatic enough to see some moral imperative to preventing this kind of carnage from ever happening again. That gun show loophole with regard to background checks - close it NOW. Instant background checks for anyone purchasing a gun anywhere? Make it better, tighter, stronger. Eliminate the right to “keep and bear” assault style weapons-they serve no useful purpose and make gun owners look like idiots who fight to keep these things in public circulation. Give states and towns more control over the oversight of individuals who have weapons. Don’t ban guns-hunters and sportsman should have the right to collect guns for the purpose of engaging in hunting for deer, game birds and moose…..not children.
Every person should also have the right to protect themselves and their property and that’s why I maintain support for any person who applies for a weapons permit and who qualifies to own such a weapon. If you can’t stop someone from entering your home with the business end of a rifle, or hand gun, then forget it. You don’t need an AK-47 to stop a would-be attacker or thief who means you, your family or your property harm.
I believe we need to protect the rights of gun owners to own guns-but not just any gun. I believe that unless or until we accept the fact that with such freedoms come personal responsibility and a moral obligation to regulate, provide oversight, education and compliance to reasonable controls that we have failed a fundamental moral test. Just as record federal deficits left for our children are fundamentally amoral, so too is leaving to chance the possibility that one more nut job has the chance to kill one more child. If we turn a blind eye from the fate of these innocents, from the dedication and bravery shown by teachers, administrators, the police and others who witnessed the Newtown tragedy, we have failed a moral imperative that will forever jeopardize our Republic.
I have long believed that when the federal government attempts to control too much, it often fails. But it is clearly time to look toward some sense of at least trying. We need to be able to say that we did what we could, we didn’t just sit back and watch, we realized as a civilized society that government has a role and responsibility to try to keep these weapon away from those who would harm our innocents and take away our right to the pursuit of happiness. Look to Newtown this day for a lack of happiness and the deep morass of loss, helplessness and ruin felt now by so many families. The time to make uncomfortable choices is now. We have an obligation.
Abraham Lincoln said it best:
“When an end is lawful and obligatory,
The indispensible means to it
Are also lawful and obligatory”
The time has come for gun owners and defenders of 2nd Amendment rights to admit that an assault weapons ban is necessary and past due. For the GOP- and all of us who have fought for and will continue to fight for reasonable, responsible rights of gun owners - this is a chance to stand up and be part of a constructive dialogue. If we who understand this issue and believe in the 2nd Amendment most don’t fight for what is right, then our opponents will, and some of them believe the answer is to ban all guns. That too is an absurd alternative. For who has more credibility, more moral authority on gun ownership this issue than we do?