Newtown. Forevermore that word will be shorthand for deep, abiding sorrow.
Words wholly fail to convey the magnitude of pain and loss. Ours is an era of daily horrors, but Newtown shook the world. We feel this loss so deeply because those taken were our most vulnerable and praiseworthy. Twenty little children, whose world should be opening wider every day with new wonders and possibilities, taken. Six educators, selflessly dedicated to opening that world of wonder and possibility, and who bravely gave their lives in hopes of sparing their students, taken.
The helplessness we feel is rooted not merely in the fact this tragedy happened, but also in the knowledge that we can do nothing to ease the sorrows of the families of those lost. We can, and absolutely should, seek to ease other aspects of their lives, but we must not delude ourselves into thinking we can ease their core pain. For those families the loss will be viscerally felt every day for the rest of their lives.
If we are to pre-empt further massacres, the rest of us must labor to keep the horror and pain we felt on Dec. 14 viscerally present every day in our lives as well. We must maintain and channel those horrible feelings into a sustained determination to do the hard work needed to stop such massacres from recurring.
America’s last two decades were blighted by massacres. After Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, and too many in between, we said “never again.” Then time passed, our 24 x 7 media culture’s attentions diverted, and we did nothing to ensure “never again.” This time we must be different. This time we must cleanse the instruments of massacre — assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, etc. — from our society. Unless we finally implement sensible and effective gun control, Newtown will not be the last, but rather just another, incident in a continuing serial of horror.
Only sustained vigilance can counter the tenacious gun lobby. After each previous massacre, the National Rifle Association (NRA) accelerated its campaign to gut gun control at every level. In a surreal Dec. 21 statement, the NRA blamed media violence and called for armed guards at every school, a substance-free diagnosis and prescription. Research has found little correlation between media and gun violence, but strong correlation between ease of gun access and gun violence; likewise, the existence of guards at Columbine and a Virginia Tech police force did not deter those massacres. The NRA’s prescription — armed police, guards and citizens patrolling every classroom, shopping and entertainment aisle — is a horrifying, self-defeating vision.
The right to keep and bear arms, like all constitutional rights, is neither absolute nor unlimited. By treating it as such, our government has been derelict in its primary duty, as identified in the Declaration of Independence, to safeguard and protect our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That dereliction has resulted in grievous loss and must not continue.
Alex Harris is a member of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which supplies this column.