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Mourn, pray, and go after the problem

The flags have been set at half-mast indefinitely.

The Newtown shootings yesterday will leave this state stunned and speechless for a very long time.

If you have ever lost a loved one, someone close, you know that every life matters. Every life has absolute and everlasting significance.

We are talking about 27 lives here; 18 of them children.

This is Connecticut’s 9/11.

Newtown will never be the same. It can’t be.

You don’t “get over” a loss of this kind.

You don’t even “learn,” exactly.

For this is not something that yields simple and obvious lessons.

This is a time for mourning; a time to keep vigils; a time to pray, in whatever way people can and do pray.

What happened here is sadder, much sadder, than Hurricane Sandy.

For this was not the wrath of nature.

This was the wrath of madness, of violence, and of guns.

And that is why, in due course, we also need to talk about all this.

There is no answer. No solution. And no action that will not pale before the suffering.

But we still need to ask questions and take some action anyway.

Why are there so many crazy people in the United States?

Why is there so much rage?

Why are there so many guns?

These shooting rampages happen a lot.

Why?

Is there nothing we can do?

Nothing?

Do we say that about terrorists, or cancer, or even storms?

Are we hardened or hopeless or just tired?

Are there so many guns in circulation that we have given up on even counting them?

We need to talk this stuff through. These gun tragedies happen every few months now.

Except that an earlier one, in Oregon, preceded the Newtown shooting, by just days.

Two rampages, two mass shootings, in less than a week.

And we propose to bring civilization to the Middle East?

We need to talk.

Yet the country seems to have largely accepted that there is no point in a national discussion of these tragedies. Indeed, it might be poor taste as well as futile.

“Oh, brother. The gun banners will be at it again.”

And the eyes roll.

And another kind of silence commences. Not the silence of reverence or grief but of intimidation, indifference, and despair.

Strange. In every other kind of national tragedy, we ask the obvious and hard questions.

It is no coincidence that the media and the silent majority have bought into this right-wing bill of goods.

For a full and frank national discussion would likely result in some modest restraint on gun ownership.

Yes, it is true that it takes a human being to load the gun and pull the trigger.

And it is true that many wackos and assassins use illegal guns anyway.

And even gun buy-back programs for the next 10 years would not get all the illegal guns off the streets.

And it seems to be the case here that assault weapons were not used. Nor was this gang violence. It was a madman on the loose.

But in what other area of our life do we do nothing, make no adjustments, because no single action will solve all aspects of the problem?

Do seatbelts or airbags or anti-lock brakes prevent all car accidents?

No, but we use all those tools to save the lives we can save.

Would an automatic breathalyzer installed in the car of every repeat DUI offender end all fatalities caused by drunks?

No, but we ought to do it anyway.

Because you can’t do it all doesn’t ever mean you ought not to do what you can.

An assault weapons ban would not have saved the lives of the children in Newtown, but it might be one small, rational action that honors them.

We should do what we can.

That means we ought to pass an assault weapons ban.

It means the Second Amendment is important, just like the First, but not absolute, just as the First is not.

And speaking of speech, we might want to talk about the nature of our talk in America.

There is a lot of intolerant, incendiary, and plain old hate speech out there in America today. We need some editing — on the Internet, the talk shows, the cop shows, the radio, even our bumper stickers.

Anger and disrespect feed hate.

They feed license.

We’re a nation of “anything goes” mixed with great anger and a long, deep violent streak.

We need prayer.

We need healing.

Maybe we even need more mental health professionals, if this is possible.

We need, apparently, police officers posted in most all of our schools. Schools need the option of self-defense, just as battered women do. (The president says the country needs more police officers, firefighters, and EMTs. This seems manifestly so.)

And we need to think of ways to make it harder for crazy people in America to get their hands on guns.

Not an easy proposition. But one worthy of the nation’s attention.

We can’t keep watching these heartless killings and do nothing.


Keith C. Burris is editorial page editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.

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