'Tis the week before Christmas, but instead of good cheer, there's much despondency in the land. The slaughter of the innocents -- 20 children, ages six and seven -- and of six adults who staffed their school in Newtown, Connecticut, has plunged the nation in sorrow.
This despondency I could hear in my mother's voice when I called her shortly afterwards. "Those poor little children," she said, "they didn't have a chance." Of all the ages and varieties of children, my mother especially likes "the little ones."
"Well, Mom," I said, "there's so much public upset over this one" -- "this one" being yet another massacre by yet another mentally unbalanced person equipped with too much firepower -- "that I think something might just be done about it. Some control over guns."
"Well, I certainly hope so!" Mom declared. "This insanity has got to stop, it has to."
"That's exactly the right word for it, Mom: insanity. There's no need for ordinary citizens to have access to assault weapons, automatic weapons, cop-killer bullets -- no need at all." "Agreed," my mother said.
Mind you, this is my Republican mother conceding the need for government control and regulation of something. Republicans don't much take to government control and regulation of anything. In the exercise of personal freedom and individual rights, Republicans want government off their backs and out of their lives.
But there are limits that a rational Republican will recognize -- and one such limit is the freedom or right to kill little children in what should be a safe place, their school.
Of course it's not just "the little ones" who should be safe; citizens of any age should be able to step into the public space without being mowed down by the weapons of war. Sadly, if it takes the slaughter of innocent children to break the grip of the less-than-rational National Rifle Association and its extremist Republican supporters in Congress, then these horrific deaths will have served some nation-saving purpose.
Thus the stage is set for real action in controlling -- finally -- the scourge of guns in this country. Ever since news of the slaughter broke last Friday, President Obama, speaking as a father as much as the nation's leader, has been saying, "enough." The national conversation going on now, sober and heartfelt, like the one I had with my mother, is landing on the same note: "Enough."
In his remarks Sunday to the grieving families, Mr. Obama pledged the powers of his office to take action. And, subtly taking aim at the National Rifle Association's insistence that gun control is an attack on individual freedom, Mr. Obama brilliantly reframed the core question: "Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
The real test of course is legislative action. Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced she will introduce a bill to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. Loopholes allowing 40 percent of all gun-owners to avoid background checks must be closed. Still, while some pro-gun Democrats have had a change of heart (Reid, Manchin, Warner), Republican members so far have pointedly not embraced gun control, emphasizing mental illness instead as the problem, not guns. Of course, it's not either/or, but both/and: The problem is both guns and mental illness. Wisely, while announcing gun control a second-term priority, the president is mapping out a broad campaign, to address mental illness as well as education and the depiction of violence in our culture -- issues that offer Democrats and Republicans common ground to work.
In a press conference Wednesday, the president asked the NRA to do "some self-reflection" and sought common cause with gun owners, saying he bets "the vast majority of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war."
Meanwhile, masses of Americans are rushing to gun stores to stock up on assault weapons, before a ban is reinstated. (I don't have to ask my mother what she thinks of an armed citizenry taking care of its own protection; she'd say it's more insanity.)
And no doubt the NRA will soon come out fighting. As news of the Newtown slaughter broke, the NRA fell uncommonly silent, then in a news release said it "is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again." Yet as The New York Times writes, "Over the years the NRA has perfected its strategy for responding to mass shootings: Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative push for a response."
Will we get gun control? Will declarations of "enough" be enough? Or will our heartbreak be slow-rolled into nothingness? Much depends on Democrats moving rational Republicans, or Republicans looking inward and moving themselves to acknowledge the need for government control and regulation of guns. And if the going gets tough, and it will, we would do well to remember the present bitter moment: our despondency at the insanity of innocent children slaughtered. And then press on.
Rest in peace, Little Ones, while we redeem ourselves for your lives cut far, far too short.
Carla Seaquist is author of a book of commentary titled "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Also a playwright, she is author of "Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks" and "Kate and Kafka," recently published in a volume, "Two Plays of Life and Death." She is at work on a play titled "Prodigal."