Friday, December 14, 2012

Guns and Innocent Blood: What Are We Going to Do?

EVER AMERICAN OUGHT TO BE SICK TONIGHT. Gun-owners and non-gun owners, alike, it doesn’t matter. Every one of us should be ill.  

How else does one react to news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown? We now know that twenty children, mostly first graders, were cut down in a fusillade of gunfire. An elementary school here in America was reduced to a charnel house. Eight adults are dead, too, six of them men and women who rose this morning for work, never expecting to die, and dedicated only to helping children learn to sing and spell and subtract and smile at the dawn of knowledge.  

Maybe, I’m too emotional.  

I’m a retired teacher and a parent and I think about all the terrified children inside that slaughter pen and parents outside, not knowing the scope of the tragedy, praying sons and daughters were safe, learning, horribly, that they weren’t. I think back to my own experience in 1985, when a young man brought a gun to my school to shoot me.  

At times like this, most of us shake our heads and have no idea what to say. There’s no pattern to this kind of violence. It can happen anytime, anywhere, we think. 

The problem is that there’s a pattern. It keeps happening all the time and it keeps happening here, in this country. In Ohio, where I live, a bloody shooting occurred at Chardon High this past February. Before the carnage finally ended three teenagers were dead and two others badly wounded.  

You can find Demetrius Hewlin’s obituary on line if you care. Known as “D” to friends, he was one of the slain. Born March 8, 1995. Died February 28, 2012. A sixteen-year-old gunned down in the cafeteria by another teen with a gun. 

That’s the thread that runs through all these stories, the guns. Don’t you see? Don’t you care? When do we admit that we are already the “best-armed” nation in modern history? When do we agree that guns are absurdly easy to acquire? Already, there are 88 handguns, rifles and shotguns in private hands for every 100 Americans. Boil down the pro- and anti-gun arguments to their essence. You don’t read about people in this country killing each other with hand grenades. That’s because it’s not easy to get your hands on hand grenades. 

Guns are easy, though. 

As a result, we lead all modern nations in murder rates and lead by a gory mile. The murder rate in Iceland is close to zero. In Japan it’s .5 per 100,000 people. If you study a list of 32 advanced nations The Netherlands comes in tenth, with 1 murder per 100,000. Finland is 31st with 2.5. The United States stands last with 5.2 per 100,000.

Guns in America are a problem and that fact is written again in the blood of innocent children. Think of the guns, the guns, the guns. Twelve dead, fifty-eight injured in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. The massacre in Arizona that ended with 9-year-old Christina Green-Taylor and five others dead, twelve wounded, including Gabby Gifford. Thirty-two dead and seventeen wounded at Virginia Tech in 2007. 

The list is long and horrific and it comes down to guns.  

Better than most, I understand what it’s like to have a loaded weapon carried into a classroom. Twenty-seven years ago a young man brought a pistol to school to shoot me and to shoot one of his teammates on the wrestling squad. The other boy had been taunting him about weight and I had caught the boy during class drawing an obscene picture and told him to take it home and show his dad. That was all it took—a teen with emotional issues—easy access to guns—a potential disaster in the making. The boy carried a loaded weapon around all day in our school, hidden in a book bag, but for reasons unknown never pulled it out to start shooting. He didn’t shoot me. He didn’t shoot his classmates by mistake. He didn’t shoot his wrestling teammate. Ten years later, however, he picked up another gun—still just as easily accessible—and shot himself.  

IN THE END, THIS ISN’T about gun owners vs. non-gun owners, or hunters vs. vegans, or conservatives vs. liberals. This is about the massacre of elementary school kids. It’s about blood on the floor—in classrooms —theaters—and malls. 

It’s about guns.  

You can either address the issue in a reasonable fashion or you can keep burying the innocent—this time mostly six and seven-year-olds. Or you can make some absurdist argument that we’re all better off the more guns we have, that first grade teachers (and everyone else in America) should be armed and ready.  

In the face of this tragedy every American should be asking today, “What are we, as a society, going to do?” 

Say a prayer for the dead.

Allison Wyatt, murdered at age 6.
Sandy Hook Elementary.


  1. It's happening all over the world.

    Chinese state media say a man stabbed 22 children and an adult at an elementary school in central China on Friday.

    How do you stop evil people from killing?

    1. I wish I knew; as a retired history teacher, I know there's plenty of blood spilled in history.

      I suppose we take solace in knowing that millions of Americans, yesterday, would have done anything in their power to have averted this terrible crime; that we all sorrow in the same way.