17 December 2012

My Reaction to the Newtown Shootings

Several people have asked me when I am going to write a post in response to the shootings that occurred on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My response has been "when I'm ready." But the truth is, I have no idea what to write about it.

I could write about my longstanding opposition to the ownership of assault rifles by civilians, about my disgust with those who insist that their right to bear arms is more important than the lives of little children, or about the movement my husband and I are trying to start to get some intelligent dialogue going about the gun issue. (You may wish to join our community on Facebook, March on Washington for Sensible Gun Laws, to stay in touch until we have a chance to get our permanent website up).

I could write about all those children, administrators, and teachers: the fear and horror they faced that day, the loss of innocent lives for no readily apparent reason, and the community permanently scarred by fear. I could write about the grieving families and their loss, if I could even begin to imagine it. I could write about the nightmares my fifteen-year-old daughter has been having, waking up in the middle of the night screaming, under the impression that someone has cornered her and is trying to kill her. I could tell you about her extreme reluctance to go to school this morning, and the fact that I had to take her out to lunch today because she could not bear to spend her midday free period by herself in the library.

I could even try to cover the broader cultural underpinnings of the disaster. The cowboy mentality of Americans and their guns, the every-man-for-himself society in which we refuse to contribute to other people's health care costs, the bloody and horrific violence that occurs every single day in our large cities and our small towns. People are shot in so-called domestic disputes; in drug deals; in robberies and home invasions; in hospitals, schools, places of worship, in theaters, on street corners. The victims are old, with years of memories stored away, or young, just beginning to experience all the world has to offer.

I could tell you about how my husband got up in church on Sunday morning at announcement time and hollered, at the top of his lungs, about his anger at the situation. About the young mother in the pew in front of me who dashed out in tears. (I found her a moment later in the ladies' room, gave her a hug, and talked with her for a minute before she wiped her eyes and returned to the service with me. I'd sat behind her for years, but I hadn't known until yesterday that she was a teacher.)

I could write about how we have decided to unplug that infernal X-Box thing in our living room, around which teenaged boys have been gathering for weeks without a meaningful break to do other things. Or how about last night at Stew Leonard's, a giant food and garden store in Yonkers, New York, where we'd gone to buy our Christmas tree? A group of rowdy teenagers burst into the store laughing and yelling and singing loudly - just being rowdy teenagers - and we all ducked for cover, terrified at even the slightest noise or disturbance in a public place.

I could write about the anger that has boiled over onto Facebook. The neighbor who scolded me and Sam for setting up the March on Washington page before the customary mourning period in his religious sect had passed. People who suffer from non-violent mental illnesses who took offense at my suggestion that the shooter must have been mentally ill. People who suggested that if we just let God back into our schools, this would not have happened. (Did they not hear about the shooting at the Amish school, or at the Sikh temple? Do they believe in a deity who metes out punishment for having secular schools by murdering our children? Good heavens) I could write about the arguments I've had about the nature of Asperger's syndrome, or why a mother with a troubled child would make automatic weapons available to him in their home.

But I can't really write about any of this. I wouldn't know where to begin. The problem seems so complex and overwhelming to me that I am paralyzed by it. Two thousand people will die in the next year in the United States in gun-related violence unless we act quickly and decisively to change things.

They say that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. (I apologize for the bizarre metaphor, but it's the only appropriate one I can think of at the moment.) What we can do now, in the short term, is tighten up the gun laws. I have always believed, and I still believe, that no American civilian has a need for an assault rifle in his or her home. Those are weapons designed for law enforcement and warfare; they are designed to kill large numbers of people in a small period of time. Let's get them out of the hands of regular citizens. We can do this; Senators Feinstein and Gillibrand are already working hard to get something passed early in Congress's 2013 term. Please support them.

In the mid-range term, we need to do something about the troubled, suicidal loners, mostly men, who commit mass shootings. Whatever their demons - and I admit I know very little about this subject matter - we need to get them help, and fast - before they kill another room full of first graders (or college students, or worshippers, or moviegoers). We need universal healthcare that includes mental health screening and treatment. The small amount you contribute to someone else's care could save countless lives. Stop being selfish, America, and start being forward-looking. Like you used to be.

And in the long term, we need to change the way we view violence as a society. We glorify it. We worship characters like Rambo. We adore movies where some guy dressed in black shoots a room full of people to get revenge for some past wrong. We must stop promoting a violent image of masculinity to our sons. The men we want to raise are thoughtful, intellectual, physically strong, helpful to the weak, and respectful of the rules that hold our society together. We can no longer afford to raise outlaws and problem-makers. We need to raise problem-solvers, cooperators, agents of social change for the better.

I'll probably write more about this as my thoughts settle. But for now, this will have to do.

As we end our Hanukkah celebrations or move toward the beginning of our Christmas celebrations, as we press forward into 2013, our hearts full of grief, may we turn sorrow into action. It is the least we can do in memory of those lost.


Marc Zazeela said...


Every one deals with issues like these, in their own ways. Is there a proper way to react/respond? Is there an established protocol? Is there a correct waiting period we must endure before we can inject our opinions?

Should this become a political issue? A moral one? An economic issue?

Incidents like these are so horrible that there is no right or wrong way to deal with them. Some folks respond with sadness and compassion, others with violence and venon.

I applaud your thoughts.


jhl said...

So well said.

I posted something similar --- though much less eloquent and less well-thought-out -- on Saturday. And then wondered, as I hit "publish," who would read it ... and whether or not they were already raising their children and working for social change in the way that I would want to see. That's the hard part, for me. How do we get the people who are NOT on board with this approach to take action with us?

I hope you'll publish this elsewhere, too. It deserves a wide readership.

Rev. K.T. said...

It is really big. I think we sometimes boil it down to only one issue because we are trying to comfort ourselves and make it manageable. But you're right, it's bigger than one issue. It's bigger than all of us. And if nothing else I take comfort in the fact that what happened troubles all of us.

Ann said...


Thanks for writing this. I agree that we need to be and raise problem-solvers. And the culture of violence is one which is really scaring me right now. I haven't gone anywhere that isn't absolutely necessary since Friday, which makes me very sad. I am missing the joy of the Christmas season out in my wonderful town of Pasadena, but I am skittish. And I am scared for my beloved Rose Parade. I hate this feeling. Thank you and Sam for doing something.


Jane said...

Some searing prose, Jennie. I applaud you. As one who views your country from across the Pacific, recent events both intrigue and sadden me. When we had our Port Arthur massacre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_(Australia)) in Tasmania in April 1996, we lost our innocence. And our leaders stood up to the challenge, making wide-ranging changes to gun control laws and setting up a national gun buyback scheme. I wish you all well in working to effect such changes. J x