Seldom, if ever, have we seen anything so cruel, so devastatingly incomprehensible, as the horror that descended upon Newtown, Conn. We remain raw with grief, and as each day brings another funeral, another photograph of a lost child smiling with that pure light of the very young, we are torn open all over again.
But the fact is that, before very long, most of us will return to our usual routines and pick up our lives pretty much where they left off before Dec. 14. We will think occasionally, but only occasionally, about the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Not so for the families of the victims. They have had a hole pierced through their hearts that will never close.
The tragedy has touched our town in a more direct way than most. One of the slain children, a 6-year-old girl with a wide smile, a head full of brilliant red hair and a love of animals, was Catherine Violet Hubbard, the niece of Chapel Hill Police Department attorney Matt Sullivan.
We send our thoughts and prayers for healing and peace to Matt and his sister Jennifer, Catherine’s mom, and to the rest of their family.
The slaughter of innocents in their first-grade classrooms has done something that nothing else – not the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, not the Sikh temple mass murder, not even the carnage in Aurora, Colo. – could do: it has shocked the nation into tragically overdue reflection about its addiction to guns.
Even so, we hear the tired chorus of do-nothing rationalizations and Dirty Harry fantasies from the hardcore gun crowd, including the preposterous argument that schoolteachers should pack heat. We’ve also heard the usual refrains about violence in the media, security measures in schools and so on.
This is not about movies or video games. It’s not about metal detectors, prayer in schools or even mental health, as critical as that issue is.
It’s about a deliberate policy that gives virtually anyone who, for whatever twisted reason, wants to hurt people the legal right and easy access to the means to hurt as many people as possible, and to hurt them as badly as possible.
The same day Sandy Hook was attacked, a man attacked an elementary school in China. In Newtown, 26 of the 27 victims died. In China, 23 kids and one adult were wounded – but every one of them is alive today.
The difference? In the U.S. the attacker used high-powered semiautomatic firearms. In China, without access to such weapons, the assailant was able to wield only a knife.
Nobody in the mainstream wants to ban hunting. But there is no sporting use for assault rifles, large magazines, armor-piercing shells or other military weaponry that outweighs our obligation to keep that sort of appalling killing power off our streets and out of our schools.
Newtown appears to have shocked at least a few pro-gun advocates into rethinking their positions, but it remains to be seen whether the talk will actually lead to meaningful limits on the means of mass murder. If a classroom awash in the blood of first-graders doesn’t move us to action, then we are beyond hope, and shame is too mild a word.