For the sake of a so-called war on terror, we submit meekly to inconvenience and indignity, searched and frisked like criminal suspects, at every airport in the land.
But the tragedy in Connecticut reminds us, as if we hadn’t already learned at so many other places —Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson among them — that terrorism is not inherently external; that it lurks among us, driven by mindless, remorseless, merciless motives that we can scarcely comprehend. On that front — the home front — we haven’t even begun to fight.
Of course we must do more for and about mental illness. Meaningful treatment is scarce even for those sufferers who seek it, and those who don’t need desperately to be persuaded that they should. But the fact that some minds are sick is hardly a rational excuse for continuing to allow them easy access to weapons that have no compelling purpose in our society.
Semi-automatic weapons and 30-round magazines are unnecessary for hunting or self-defense. Private ownership should be banned. Let those who insist on them for sport shooting leave them under lock and key at responsible gun clubs.
After a mass murder in 1996, Australia banned assault weapons and paid to buy them back. The prime minister said he didn’t want to import “the American disease.” There hasn’t been another slaughter there since.
After a gunman killed 16 children at a school in Scotland, the British government banned the private ownership of assault weapons and almost all handguns. There hasn’t been another such tragedy.
But in the United States, the Newtown massacre was the seventh mass killing — four or more victims in a public place — this year alone. According to Mother Jones magazine, there have been 62 over the past 30 years. The politicians have done nothing about them but to make assault weapons and other guns easier to acquire and to carry in public. The magazine counted 99 recent state and federal laws that have gone in the wrong direction. It’s as if to say the cure for cancer is more cancer.
Will this most recent tragedy have a different legacy? Will the unparalleled horror of 20 slain six- and seven-year-olds finally evoke our shame and awaken the national conscience? Will the heroic sacrifices of the principal, the psychologist, and four teachers inspire, at long last, even a small amount of courage among the politicians who until now have cowered before the bullying of the National Rifle Association?
I believe President Obama’s tears were genuine, and I don’t doubt his commitment “to take meaningful action.” But until now, he had been missing in action and actually signed the legislation opening the national parks to guns. Even so, the NRA spent heavily to defeat him. It came out short also in seven of the eight senatorial races in which it interfered. It may be powerful, but it’s not God.
The president has nothing to lose now in standing up for what’s right. But how many other politicians who aren’t term-limited will find the courage to love our children more than their jobs?