First published on Finding UnCommon Ground on January 9, 2013.
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Until now, I’ve resisted writing about Sandy Hook.
What can I possibly write in the wake of the unimaginable pain of the families involved? We may empathize, but we’re far removed from the shroud of grief that covers them. On the other hand, the reason this shooting has elicited such strong reactions across America is because it’s so relatable. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends, we love and care about the children in our lives. We know children at tender ages like six and seven, eager to go to school and learn. We know that if it can happen to Sandy Hook, it can happen to us.
Do I want armed guards in our schools? No, of course I don’t want that. As a school administrator told me, we don’t want to communicate to students that they should be afraid to go to school. If someone is determined to do evil—and the shooting at Sandy Hook was evil—there may be very little we can do to stop that person. An armed guard may help. In 2010, armed resource officer Carolyn Gudger saved the principal’s life and probably others at Sullivan Central High School. However, the incidents we remember are the ones where killers slipped through (or shot through) doors, guards, and security systems. We mourn Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Columbine the way we mourn 9/11. Our precautions failed us. Those intent on killing succeeded.
Excessive gun control is also problematic. Whereas armed guards institutionalize fear when there should be freedom to learn, rewriting the Second Amendment impedes the freedom of responsible citizens to bear arms. The Second Amendment empowers us, a self-governed people, to defend ourselves against physical threats, including an oppressive government, should the need ever arise. The spirit of the Second Amendment doesn’t intend to arm criminals or people bent on violence; it intends to protect against them.
Responsible gun owners respect life. They take care to prevent guns from being used to hurt others. They buy guns legally and keep them locked away. They hunt game or shoot targets, not people. They follow the rules. Criminals and people bent on violence don’t follow the rules. They get weapons on the streets. They steal guns, sometimes from their parents. Proposed measures like more stringent background and mental health checks, restricting the sale of certain types of weapons, and setting up a gun database all sound like great ideas. In reality, these measures may be ineffective to keep guns away from the people most likely to use them for violence.
Gun violence is a symptom of a larger, systemic problem. Phrases like “gun culture” have resurfaced since Sandy Hook and “rape culture” with the horrific reports of recent attacks. It’s more accurate to say we’ve created a “death culture” or a “violence culture,” one where human life is cheap and expendable. A few sobering statistics about American children:
- Twenty-one percent of American children live in poverty.
- In 2011, an estimated 681,000 American children were victims of abuse or neglect and 1,570 children died due to maltreatment.
- There were 61,472 reported incidents of child sexual abuse in 2011. It’s estimated one in five American girls and one in 10 American boys will be victims of child sexual abuse.
- Child pornography on the internet may generate as much as $50 billion per year. Nearly half of confirmed child sexual abuse URLs are hosted in North America.
- Nearly 800,000 American children are missing each year, or an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day.
- Human trafficking is our second fastest growing criminal industry, behind drug trafficking, and almost half of the cases involve children.
- The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of violence on television, including more than 16,000 murders before age 18. That’s not counting the violence they will see in movies, act out on video games, and hear in songs.
- In 2011, 1,187 American children 18 years of age or younger were murdered.
- More than one million American children are aborted legally each year.
We wonder how could a troubled young man ever dream of the evil he carried out against Sandy Hook? Look long and hard at the society we’ve created and tell me, how could he not?