Last night, President Obama concluded a Newtown vigil by reading the names of the twenty - feel that, twenty - first-graders who were gunned down in their classroom on Friday. He read nothing but their first names. And it was the most poetic, traumatic, beautiful, horrific, darling, depressing, poignant and powerful thirty seconds of speech I have ever heard.
Twenty children who were perhaps enjoying a morning snack or working on properly gripping a pencil. Twenty children who were looking forward to the winter's first snowfall, or their afternoon Cub Scouts' meeting, or the Giants' game on Sunday. Twenty children who were too young, too little, to have made any choice that could be traced back to as The Choice that led them to be placed in harm's way. They had simply woken up, eaten breakfast, kissed their parents, and gone to school.
And now they're dead because a young man borrowed at least a semi-automatic rifle, two handguns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition from his mother's "doomsday stockpile," drove to his former elementary school, and fired multiple bullets into the layers of skin that had just lost, or maybe were still in the process of losing, baby fat.
I started this blog in March of this year. In the nine months of my writing here, this marks the fourth time - feel that, the fourth time - that I have written about a tragedy caused by gun violence. Trayvon; Aurora; and a temple in Wisconsin. An even starker, more grim reality is that I could have dedicated those nine months to nothing but American deaths by guns, and I wouldn't have even scratched the surface of my material.
One of the reasons that I like writing this blog is that it is an outlet for me. I can try to be funny, I can reflect, I can opine, I can be silly. Usually, the outlet feels sufficient; after I click "publish," I feel drained somehow, in a good way.
Today, though, confronting this post and the subject it tries to tackle only makes me feel agitated and frustrated; a tear-choked, sputtering anger. My arms are clenched, my fingers pounding the keys. How can this be something that even exists for me to write about? How can we have been so asleep at the wheel that we've enabled our country to enable this slaughter and those that preceded it? If we're so smart, if we're such global leaders, if our democracy is so great, then how could we and how could it have so failed the very people who are most dependent upon the decisions we make, the cost-benefits we weigh, the control we wield?
I believe that life is about knowing when to compromise, that negotiation is an under-appreciated art, and that politics is most productive when middle-grounds are achieved. But I view as entirely unacceptable any more half-measures, much less non-measures, on the issue of gun control. We are past the point of enough being enough. Enough was enough at Columbine.
It is unacceptable to argue that people kill, not guns. That is absurd. A man cannot walk into a room and kill its occupants by his mere presence alone. His body cannot secrete bullets. He cannot actually shoot daggers with his eyes. He must have an accessory, be it his hands or a knife or a gun. And the man who wants to kill efficiently uses a gun. A man, empty-handed, is not a killing machine. A man palming a pistol is.
It is unacceptable to hide behind the Second Amendment. Nothing in the Constitution is an absolute guarantee, including the right to bear arms. As I've also written before, even the most conservative wing of the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the right is limited, and indeed constrains Constitutional gun ownership to instances of self-defense and to weapons that are not "dangerous" or "unusual." We don't need to amend the Constitution to do want we need to; we need to apply the Constitution to do what we need to.
Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School wielding, among other weapons, a .223 Bushmaster rifle - the semiautomatic weapon that allowed him to put as many as 11 bullets in one of his child victims. The Bushmaster was the same weapon used by the DC snipers to pick off 15 victims in 2001 and 2002. What legitimate place does such a machine have in our supposedly civil society? That's not a rhetorical question. There is an answer: absolutely none.
But it's on our streets and in Nancy Lanza's son-accessible arsenal for two primary reasons: First, an assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. Second, even that ban included loopholes that profit-driven gun manufacturers quickly exploited. Nancy/Adam's .223 Bushmaster might always have been a room away, regardless of Congress' inaction since 2004.
That's because guns are good business. The NRA is a shining example of where money in politics can take you. Tread on supposedly sacrosanct gun laws, and you'll be treading water in some political no-man's-land soon thereafter. Bushmaster itself is manufactured by a private company that in turn is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, a hedge fund that bills itself as one of the world's "leading private investment firms." They have $20 billion under their management.
It is unacceptable for money to cloud the making of policy and decisions on this issue any longer. Show me the balance sheet that ranks "gun" as an asset and "6-year-old" as a liability. Let a Congressman lose his NRA "A" rating. Let Cerberus see its portfolio reduced to $19.5 billion. Let my daughter go to kindergarten next year without an armed security guard greeting her off the bus.
It is unacceptable to say we cannot or should not take action on gun control because the crazies will always find a way and because the video games are violent and because the mental health system is faulty. Ted Kennedy had a saying that went something along the lines of "don't let the perfect get in the way of the good." Perhaps we will never find a fool-proof, complete solution to mass-killings on our streets and in our malls and at our schools. But we can do better than what we're doing. Something is better than nothing. And the most committed, vengeful, imbalanced person cannot create carnage with a game console. He cannot create a portrait of terror for a child's final snapshot of life with a game disc.
We will go a long way to becoming the country we say we are if we remove the guns that have no place among us. It is unacceptable to say otherwise. It is unacceptable to act otherwise. It is unacceptable to accept otherwise.
We've all had enough.
This is a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle. It's also a picture of the last thing that Charlotte and Daniel, Olivia and Josephine, Ana and Dylan, Madeleine and Catherine, Chase and Jesse, James and Grace, Emilie and Jack, Noah and Caroline, Jessica and Avielle, and Benjamin and Allison saw before their sweet lives were cut terribly short.