Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“Killings in Newtown”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Killings in Newtown”
December 18, 2012

The death of a child is the saddest event anyone can endure. A violent, senseless death of a child is even more difficult. When multiplied by twenty it is beyond comprehension. The town, the state and the nation mourns the killings in Newtown, and asks why?

The search for answers will go on for months, perhaps years, but I suspect there is no satisfactory explanation for a crime of such wantonness and brutality. In the past dozen or so years we have witnessed other crazed individuals randomly killing innocents: Columbine High School in 1999; Virginia Tech in 2007; and at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July of this year. There have been others, in at least nine states over the past twenty years. In this instance, there were several examples of extraordinary courage by the principal and some of the teachers. While we mourn all those who died, we should celebrate the heroics of those who gave their lives that others might live.

Again, the question rises through the mists of grief – why? At a memorial service for the victims and their families Monday night, President Obama said: “I have come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.” He then added: “These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change.” He was not specific in what changes he would wrought, other than to imply gun control laws must be tightened. In a remarkably sensible op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Robert Leider of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law offered some perspective and advice. He noted that the common denominator in most of these mass killings has been the presence of significant mental health problems. Federal firearm gun control laws explicitly “prohibit the purchase of a firearm by anyone who has been adjudicated mentally defective or who has been admitted to a mental health institution.” But states need to update their records, so that that knowledge is available to anyone in the United States. Professor Leider suggests laws be expanded, so that authorities can remove firearms from anyone who subsequently became mentally disabled. But, more importantly, he concluded that the stalemate between the gun and anti-gun lobby can be broken only “if both sides exit their trenches.” That’s always good advice when negotiating.

But what happens in the case like Nancy Lanza who is burdened with a child with Asperger’s syndrome? Naturally, she loves her child, wants to protect him and wants to give him everything he needs. Common sense would suggest that parents with such children would protect their children from guns, by not exposing them to such potentially deadly weapons. Unfortunately, when love is involved common sense does not always prevail. There are no simple answers, but the search will go on. It has to.

Other than an old Kentucky, muzzle-loading squirrel gun (which probably could not be fired) there are no guns in my household. Apart from once going skeet shooting when I was a teenager, I have only fired a rifle when I was in the Army in 1962-63. I don’t use guns and don’t want them in my house, but I have no objection to hunters and others who legally own guns. I understand perfectly that it is not the gun that does the killing; it is the individual who pulls the trigger. However, why does any citizen need an assault rifle? Why does anyone need a magazine that holds more than ten shells? Those are questions on which we should all be able to agree. Making it more difficult to acquire weapons makes the most sense.

The problem reaches far beyond gun control and the study of mental health; it goes deep into the very nub of our culture. Violence is all around us, in movies, video games, TV, the internet and, perhaps most deadly, in rap singers who are celebrated and applauded by the press, despite their pounding out messages of hate and violence. What, for example, possessed Mr. Obama to invite the South Korean rap singer, Psy, to the White House? His song, “Gangham Style” is anti-American and includes the words, “let’s kill them all slowly and painfully.” Words have meanings and children in their vulnerable years – preteens and teens – listen to what is being said and they note that the songsters are hailed by those in positions of responsibility.

It has always been fascinating to me to look back on the movies and literature of the 1930s and 1940s, at a time when times were very tough, both because of the Depression and then the War. People craved escapism, not reality shows. The good guys wore white hats, while the bad guys wore black. Differentiating good from evil was easier. In the real world, the news was bleak enough. Perhaps (in our supposedly more sophisticated state) we are no longer expected to enjoy simple pleasures. Suffering for the moment from a slightly degenerated disc and an exposed sciatica nerve, I prefer to read humorists like Wodehouse, or mysteries by Rex Stout, Agatha Christie or Old Lyme’s David Handler, rather than some new fiction on the New York Times best seller list. I don’t need to read about another dysfunctional family living in Fairfield County. Reality is all around us. Being able to escape for an hour or so is a distraction and a pleasure.

I don’t pretend to have any answers, but I strongly feel that a culture that embraces multi-culturalism, while ignoring moral certitude is one that does not allow our youth to grow up understanding right from wrong. Connecticut’s Governor Malloy was right in referring to what happened in Newtown as evil. It was. But evil is balanced with good. Evil should be punished and good rewarded. Understanding the difference is what parents and teachers must provide the young they love and instruct. There is no question that a lot of the decisions we must make every day fall into a gray area, but our ability to deal with those options is enhanced when we are unafraid to admit that evil exists – as that scene of horror in Newtown last Friday so vividly told us – and the presence of honor, as the noble acts of the teachers so importantly portrayed.

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