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Patricia McGuire Headshot

Silence of the Lame

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sandy hook vigil

Moments of silence erupted across the country on December 14 as the nation paused to observe the first anniversary of the massacre of 20 school children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Silence is the lamest possible response to the horror of gun violence in this nation. We play out the utterly inert spectacle of sorrowful vigils, even as vigilantes build their stockpiles in anticipation of the coming civil war between "good guys" and "bad guys," whomever they may be.

Why do the bad guys keep winning? Maybe the good guys need to break their somnolent silence, and let loose with some righteous screams.

Gunshots also marked this sorrowful anniversary at another school, Arapahoe High School in Colorado. Angels were surely on the side of Arapahoe faculty and students, as all but two escaped the crosshairs of yet another sadly deranged young man. Does the low body count mean that Arapahoe doesn't count? Hardly. Whether a shocking massacre, or solitary assault with a rifle, the prevalence of gun violence in this nation is the best evidence we have of the genuine moral paralysis of government. And, shamefully, some of the lawlessness has now crept into the nation's sheriff's offices where rogue officers sworn to uphold the law have openly declared their refusal to enforce legitimate gun control laws -- even, and especially, in Colorado, which has had more than its share of bloodshed.

Why does the National Rifle Association have more votes in Congress than the American people? The New York Times provides an interesting analysis of how the NRA managed to defeat even the most modest background check legislation the Senate attempted after Sandy Hook. The cowardice of Congress puts all citizens at grave risk, robs children of the sense of security they should feel at school and ensures continuing mass misery when the next and the next tragedy occurs. We can be certain of this: More mass shootings will occur because violence takes over when government fails (read: Cormac McCarthy, The Road).

Legislators who bow cravenly before the NRA lobbyists seem to have forgotten the real purpose of government, which is not found in a perverse reading of the Second Amendment, but in the plain language of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Unity, justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare and liberty are all at risk when government fails to take reasonable actions to protect "we the people" from the violence that occurs repeatedly in a society awash with guns.

Oh, sure, violence also occurs with knives, fists, broomsticks and even pressure cookers. But let's stop parsing weaponry: The gun issue is central to the ideology of violence and fear in American life, and our collective failure to come to grips with the oppressive tyranny of the gun culture is devastating lives and families every day.

The failure of Congress and state legislatures to take effective, sensible actions to address gun violence have placed every citizen at risk, and have imposed enormous and expensive burdens on institutions to enact protective measures that are necessary in place of missing public policies. Consider school and college security. At a time when educational resources are shrinking, we must spend more and more money on security in anticipation of the well-armed perpetrator violating our learning communities. Time that should be devoted to teaching and learning, instead is consumed with active shooter drills and teacher training on school violence. The very idea that school is a place of violence and fear, rather than a place of safety and joyful learning, is simply appalling.

Members of Congress have off-loaded their sworn duty to protect the public onto the leaders of institutions. As a university president, my liability grows even more burdensome with every single school shooting. I spend four times the library budget on campus security. And it never feels like it's enough, especially when I know I cannot count on the government to enact laws that would help me keep my students safe.

Many of the same legislators who have nothing but contempt for gun control, who hide in the deep pockets of the NRA, also claim to be ardently pro-life. Opposing sensible gun control, and allowing children to die in their schools because you don't want to offend your campaign bankrollers, is a total rejection of the moral value of life.

To remember the children of Sandy Hook, let's not have any more moments of silence. Let's raise our voices loud and long until the day comes when we have made actual progress in enacting sensible gun control legislation, to ensure that our children live long enough to know the real blessings of liberty.