Opinion: A Personal Response to the Tragedy in Connecticut

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Kehrig

Schools have long been considered havens for children, and when this image is shattered our collective response is particularly strong.

It is difficult for me to write about tragedy. I love to write, to find words to express myself, but thinking of the seven adults and 20 small children, mostly first graders, who died yesterday, my pencil has simply quivered over the page as I organize my scrambled emotions, and pull my thoughts together.

When my grandparents died, it was a calm and steady stoicism that sustained me through grief. I sat in the corner of the room, slowly turning a gold dollar in my hands, and staring at the blank white wall. Yet last night I cried. I don’t know if it is because I am a different person now, more comprehending of death, or if it is because while my grandparents might have been ready, none of these teachers, parents, and children could ever have been prepared for the senseless slaughter that claimed their lives.

My mother teaches a first and second grade class. I visit her small and cheerful students, let them jump on me and drag me to play ball or play tag. I have watched their class performances, as they don handmade costumes and become hedgehogs or knights in armor. I have navigated my way through a classroom transformed into a habitat for baby dragons made of wood and ribbons. I have played piano for the kids’ classroom overnight stays. I have listened to their stories of their lives and their aspirations.

It is inconceivable that any of them, or any children like them, should have their lives cut short, leaving birthdays never celebrated, passions never fully explored, families never truly complete ever again. It is sickening that they should lose their lives in so brutal and violent a way, leaving a scene of blood and tragedy that I know my mind cannot fully comprehend.

One girl who died in Connecticut had just turned seven three days before the shooting. I never knew her, but now I never will. I remember my own seventh birthday, only a few months after another horrific tragedy, on September 11th the year before. I still had candles on my birthday cake, and I still remember being so proud to be a year older. I cannot stop thinking today about how lucky I am to have had 10 birthdays since then, 10 birthdays to think about how fortunate I am, how I can repay my family, and how I can dedicate my life to people and animals who share my world and could benefit from my help.

Since fourth grade I have had the same wish every time I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, and I won’t share it here, but I can only hope that someday it might come true.

The community in Connecticut is decorating Christmas trees to represent each person who died; maybe my family’s Christmas tree this year could be a 28th, representing a wish that nothing like this ever happens again.

Tragedies occur throughout the world, tsunamis in Japan and in Indonesia, the brutal damage of Hurricane Sandy that has the Northeast still recovering, earthquakes in New Zealand that have destroyed ancient buildings and left a population traumatized. Yet this tragedy comes not at the hands of nature, but those of a gunman with three semi-automatic firearms and hundreds of rounds. It comes only days after a mass shooting in a Portland, Oregon mall, only months after the nation mourned the victims of a shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, and at a temple in Wisconsin. These are tragedies that we inflict upon ourselves, as Americans, as neighbors, as human beings. Thus we grieve as a nation, but also must take action as a nation.

Across the world there are crazy people willing to do inconceivable, heinous things. Yet it is here in the United States that the equipment, and therefore the means of destruction, is so readily available to allow these people to turn their insane impulses into the irreversible grief of so many others.

It is awful to talk about guns, when all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and wish that guns did not exist. I want to tell every kid I know that there is no chance they will ever die because of a gun. I have worked with kids who have lived through shootings that happened on their streets; I want to tell them that it will never happen again.

I am all for liberty, but access to guns truly needs to be limited. These children and teachers did not choose to die. They were not free to make that most crucial of choices, between life and death; it was made for them. Nobody needs semi-automatic weapons that can carry 80 or 100 rounds, and can destroy a dozen young lives in under a minute. No hunter should train such a weapon on deer or on rabbits. Nobody who wants a gun to protect his or her home from potential robbery needs an assault rifle for intimidation. These weapons are sickening. Let us first deal with the scarier weapons before entering into a long and frustrating debate about whether regular citizens need guns at all.

There is a common argument among supporters of gun rights that arming the populace could help prevent tragedies like the one in Connecticut, as teachers or moviegoers could fire back at their aggressor. But this ignores both common sense, and a body of evidence showing that in scenes of panic and hysteria, not even trained police officers can consistently hit the correct target. Normal citizens quite likely would never even be able to draw and properly fire their weapons. And all of this aside, how often did we hear in first or second grade that the best solution for dealing with a bully who punched somebody was to punch him or her back?

The risks inherent in arming the population to prevent gun violence so far outweigh any possible chances to limit carnage that it is time to drop this argument. It wrenched me to hear a statement from the Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, which recently passed a bill facilitating the carrying of concealed firearms in schools, that the law might have been “the difference between life and death for many innocent bystanders.” First of all, many of these “innocent bystanders” were six- and seven-year-olds, and secondly, the notion of having elementary teachers carry firearms to prevent school shootings is horrific. The answer to this tragic question is not to bring more guns into the equation. Despite what libertarians may argue, fewer rapid-fire assault weapons will mean fewer deaths by these weapons. ‘Good guy’ weapons will not cancel out ‘bad guy’ weapons. It is having no weapons that can truly save the lives of children and the sanity of parents and families.

If for all the sportsmen or sportswomen who can fire with more efficiency and pleasure at shooting ranges even one child’s life is lost, it is not worth it. It truly is not worth it. When this child dies, the entire nation mourns.

Please let us ban semi-automatic weaponry. This is not the world I want to grow up in.