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Richard C. Harwood Headshot

Looking at Newtown: Gun Laws Alone Will Not Fix Society

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After tragedies like Columbine, Tucson, then Aurora, and now Newtown, our attention turns to what to do about guns. The ugly facts about gun-related deaths barrage us; gun-control advocates raise new cries for action; gun lobbyists strike fear into people about their Constitutional rights. But a debate over guns alone can never fully address the broken parts of our society.

Today, people are looking for believable ways to make a better society, not simply more rules to govern their lives. Too many Americans are afraid that our isolation from each other is the new norm and they must "go it alone." There is the sense that we are failing our children - leaving them to raise themselves in front of video games and computer screens, and no longer fulfilling our own responsibility to instill values of honesty and caring. Too many of us know the right thing to do when facing daily choices but still turn the other way out habit or fatigue.

Many Americans, including many gun owners, seem ready to regulate at least some aspects of guns in society. If that's the case, then let's act. But let us not fool ourselves into believing that such action will address the gaps that exist in our society, in our lives. That will require a change in our public discourse and posture.

On issue after issue the nation finds itself in the Tower of Babel, where combatants shout at each other, place blame, and hurl recriminations, as if the fight will help people feel something positive is being done. All it does, however, is make people feel trapped in the Tower, bereft of possibilities. But there is a way out. What we are missing is a long overdue discussion about community itself - about how we can form a sense of community in a world that can seem so hostile to it.

Technical fixes - such as gun control - will never address the human conditions people are struggling with nowadays. Nor will we find help from bromides such as "guns don't kill, people do," that make a mockery of people's concerns and drop people deeper into the abyss of lost hope. To move forward, our public discussion must go beyond the topics we've all become so fluent, even comfortable, talking about: gun control, Constitutional rights, sentencing, God in schools, and the like.

At the heart of the nation's challenge is how to create a good society. People long to make a better effort to be in one another's lives. They want to join in give-and-take to identify solutions that will work. They want to focus on concerns larger than themselves. And they want to take action, together, in their local communities to demonstrate that change is possible. None of this will be easy, but this is the path people see to a better society.

So, we must ask, when will we choose to hear people's yearnings? When will we turn away from the stalled debates, lackluster leadership and sinister politics to turn toward one another? How many killings must there be before we sit up and recognize that something deeper is calling for our attention?

The Newtown shootings remind us once more that we are all fragile. They prove, too, that evil exists and we will never eliminate it from our lives. But amid these realities, surely we can stand by one another and seek to build a better society.

Gun control may be an essential step in building such a society. But, alone, it will never be enough. Our task is to step forward and become part of something larger than ourselves so we can address the broken parts of our society. Then hope is possible.