Like December 7, 1941 or September 11, Friday, December 14, 2012 is a day that will now live in infamy. The awful images are seared into our brains: A young man in combat fatigues approaching Sandy Hook Elementary School carrying an assault weapon, breaking in and shooting two adults who tried to stop him, and then executing 20 young children, spraying hundreds of bullets into their bodies, and murdering their teachers as well.
What happens next?
In the wake of the massacre of children in Newtown, some citizens are signing petitions like this one:
Our second amendment rights are long overdue a reevaluation. How many more senseless and entirely PREVENTABLE shootings have to occur before we do something about Gun Control. As a citizen and constituent of this great country, I am asking that you take a firm stand and make a positive change by restricting access to guns and saving lives. I don’t have a gun. I don’t want a gun. I don’t need a gun. But somehow the guns always wind up in the hands of people crazy enough to use them irresponsibly and dangerously. This HAS TO BE STOPPED.
With all due respect, high-sounding petitions like this are meaningless. Why anyone wanting a new reality would sign it baffles me. This is not ‘action,’ just a way to feel good about ‘having done something.’ (I am not against petitions per se, just vacuous ones.)
Another response is even more baffling: Arm the educators. The headliner for this foolishness has been former Secretary of Education William Bennett, who made the suggestion on Meet the Press. Mr. Bennett has become a poster child for right-wing blather, but apparently his titles from his former life are still enough to get him air time on distinguished programs like Meet the Press, and probably lots of high-paying speaking gigs as well.
The AFT’s Randi Weingarten was on the Meet the Press panel with Mr. Bennett. Here’s her response: “Schools have to be safe sanctuaries. And so we need to actually stop this routine view that just having more guns will actually make people safer. So we are opposed to having in a safe sanctuary like an elementary school, having someone who has access to guns.”
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) has promised to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons, and that’s a start, but the bill she described on television would ban them retroactively. Sorry, but that’s not enough.
And her bill also would exempt over 900 weapons. Not good enough, Senator.
(It’s worth reading the transcript of the entire program, and I suggest paying close attention to what New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg had to say.)
Here’s my view: Assault weapons must be banned, pure and simple. No weapon that holds more than 10 bullets should be legal. No automatic or semi-automatic weapons. Period, end of sentence, full stop. These are not for hunting. They are for killing people.
Possession of these weapons must be outlawed. Although Mr. Bennett said it couldn’t be retroactive, I think it has to be. A new law might establish provisions for monetary rewards for turning them in, but they must be taken out of circulation.
We have acted against proven dangers in the past: asbestos wasn’t just banned in new buildings when we learned that it causes cancer; where it had been installed, it had to be removed. However, we have also waffled in the face of proven dangers, with tobacco being the best example I can think of now. So this will be a test of our determination and political will.
The debate has been joined, and even some pro-gun politicians are sounding reasonable. That has me worried, because I fear they are saying what’s expedient in order to survive politically.
America has too many guns, and it shouldn’t take a massacre to wake us up to this fact. We have children murdering children with handguns, something we experienced in New Orleans during the filming of Rebirth: New Orleans. On my last trip there this spring, one of the kids in the film, 14-year-old Christine Marcelin, was murdered by some other kids, apparently fearful that she might have information they didn’t want the authorities to know. So they grabbed her as she was leaving school and killed her in cold blood.
We must make it harder to own a gun, at least as difficult as it is to get a driver’s license. We are the laughingstock of the world, and we are terrifying our own children.
We should demand strong leadership, not just words, from our President.
We should expect organizations that purport to care for children to take the lead: the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association, the Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Jonah Edelman’s Stand for Children, and the National PTA.
If these groups stand on the sidelines, we must call them out for hypocrisy.
It’s time for people who care about this country and our children to become single-issue voters, just like the NRA zealots. Make it clear that you will actively oppose candidates who are not fighting — and voting — for a complete ban on assault weapons, semi-automatic and automatic and for a sensible training and licensing procedure for all guns. Fight for candidates who will take on the NRA zealots and the pro-gun lobby.
Anything less will dishonor the memory of those innocent children and the brave educators who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday.