We drove past Sandy Hook and Newtown on our way home from Virginia this Memorial Day and next to the exit sign was a hand-lettered placard: “Free coffee and doughnuts.” This community had twenty first-graders and six teachers and administrators massacred by a man with an assault weapon. And what were they doing on this Memorial Day? Trying to keep drivers alert…and alive.
I hear people defend their right to own assault weapons because they say they need to be safe from “bad guys with guns.” I hear people say they need to protect their own. I never hear them say they want to protect their neighbors. I never hear them say they want to help. I hear them only expound on themselves and their rights.
But Sandy Hook, a town whose children did die from a bad guy with guns—they care about keeping you, anonymous you, alive.
Who has the bigger heart? Who has the richer soul? Who holds the future of our species? Do you want higher walls, bigger guns, more rampant paranoia? Or do you want the compassion of a town trying to keep holiday drivers alive, even as they continue to mourn the senseless slaughter of their children?
I wish I had thought that up, but I confess I heard it in an interview and I can no longer remember who said it. At any rate, for me it gets to the heart of a warped belief system in this country.
The other night I watched a documentary on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where girls and young women burned to death because there were no laws in place to make their workplace safe. The staircase door was locked, the elevator could hold only a few people at a time and the fire escape was so decrepit, it collapsed. Girls as young as 14 jumped to their deaths, while others died wreathed in flames. Predictably, public outrage was great, and that outrage led to federal laws being passed to protect workers in their workplace. At the end of the documentary, the narrator said: “but before this could happen, women had to burn.”
When I heard those words, a chill ran through me, because it brought to mind Sandy Hook and the massacre of 26 people, 20 of them first-graders. Public outrage was great then, too. But not enough to pass new laws to protect other children from the same fate.
We have sunk to the level of making our children pay for our fetish of individuality. We think our personal freedom to carry an assault weapon is far more important than the lives of our children.
If a society cannot keep its children safe from itself, then it has failed its primary purpose—that of perpetuating itself—not to mention a certain reverence for life. Fetishizing personal freedom spells the end of a civilized society.