America's romance with guns, an emblem of our frontier spirit, has claimed its most innocent victims.
When shots rang out in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach ran toward the sound. They died along with four teachers and twenty 6- and 7-year-olds. The victims all received multiple wounds from a semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle, which could be purchased at Walmart until Walmart pulled the gun from its website in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
Gay voices weighed in. Joe Sudbay tweeted, "Dem Party abandoned gun control because geniuses said Gore lost because of NRA. Not true at all, but turned Dems into chickenshits." Kerry Eleveld tweeted, "Dems flipped 'conventional wisdom' (i.e. rubbish) on gays, immigration, & abortion in 2012 & won BIG. The same CAN be done on guns." Meanwhile, on the Christian right, Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer blamed the carnage on the lack of prayer in public schools. As if their intolerant brand of religion were peaceful.
The Washington Post reports that America has 270 million privately owned guns, by far the highest total and the highest per-capita rate in the world. Among developed countries, only Mexico, with its drug war, has a higher gun-related murder rate. American gun and ammo manufacturing generates $6 billion in annual revenue.
We are damned well going to politicize this. Despite right-wing cries, President Obama has been absent on gun control. He even worked to make exporting weapons easier. But his strong words in recent days, especially at a vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16, suggest that he is ready to take action. He will need plenty of help.
We must do more than hug our children. We are held hostage by fanatics who insist that the answer to school massacres is to arm teachers. We cannot keep throwing up our hands at this madness.
America is known for innovation. We can devise ways to stop this domestic warfare without infringing on the rights of hunters. Consultant John Gear offered a novel proposal in Progressive Review: "Insist that the adult responsible for a gun at any instant (maker, seller, or buyer) have enough liability insurance to cover the harm that could result if that adult misuses it or lets it reach the wrong hands." Demand that your elected representatives ban assault weapons, limit multi-round clips and institute controls to keep guns from the mentally ill. Cities and states must adjust budgets to ensure that those needing mental health care receive it. We cannot accept legislators showing less courage toward the NRA than first graders and their teachers showed toward a killer.
We are awash not just in guns but in the assumption of their indispensability. Author Jonathan Rauch endorsed the Pink Pistols movement in 2000: "We have tried to make a political virtue of our vulnerability, but the gay-bashers aren't listening. Playing the victim card has won us sympathy, but at the cost of respect. So let's make gay-bashing dangerous." I appreciate Rauch's caveat that we "shouldn't play Dirty Harry," but how to make that stick? The recent shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis over loud music belies our self-assurances.
As an activist, I have never considered myself a victim. I do not have to prove it by joining the gun culture. When I was born in D.C. in 1956, a historic bus boycott was underway in Montgomery, Ala. Those brave African Americans were armed only with discipline, resolve and faith, while facing greater danger than we.
Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother with one of her own guns before heading to the school. She reportedly bought the guns for protection. We must challenge the Nancy Lanzas across America to recognize at last that their stockpiles do not make them or their loved ones safer.