Tag: Sandy Hook
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.
Trained to look at the bigger picture and to deconstruct what seems to be apparent; I am pushed to apply these ideas to the massacre of children. As a forty plus year resident of Connecticut who only recently moved to Massachusetts, I still feel like a Connecticut-er, and the killings in Sandy Hook affected me in a familial way. These were my people, my state. Any news of people being slaughtered will shock and tear but these were my babies. That is how it feels.
Beyond the grief, then anger, comes a desire to make sense of it all. Make sense of our society, our nation. Why, I ask myself, are we like this? Why do we need to have guns, and more basically, why is ‘personal freedom’ so pervasively core to our priorities in this country?
Religious freedom (which, ironically, became intolerance to anything differing from the new religious practice) is the historically taught cornerstone for the establishment of many settlements in the colony of America. But the idea of a place to go away from King and class restrictions had to have been appealing to many of this country’s first settlers. And then there were the amazing natural resources of this country. People came here for opportunity. This is how most, if not all human societies start. One culture usurps another and then works out how it will establish itself and grow. As it matures, it faces and addresses the growing pains of being a society.
The United States, as a nation, is a young society. I think of us as adolescents. We are not children anymore, but we are not adults either. We still think our personal freedoms are more important than what is good for our society as a whole. Like adolescents, we are the center of our universe. Our wants and needs are the most important thing to us. This is not a bad thing, it is the way things grow. Before you can look beyond yourself to establishing your place in the world at large, you must first figure out who you are. That is the role of adolescence.
In the United States, we are figuring out who we are. And like individual adolescents, our black and white ideas are being challenged. Some of us need to feel we are free by being able to own guns, and others of us need to feel free by feeling safe from people owning guns. Whose freedom is the right one? That’s what we are wrestling with now. I have no doubt that, as a society, we will grow and mature like all successful societies have. And that means limiting personal freedoms for the general good of the society as a whole.
After all, if a society cannot keep its children safe from itself, then it has failed its primary purpose—that of perpetuating itself. All successful societies have realized this at some point, and it is at that point that personal freedom has grown up and become collective good.