Wednesday, December 11, 2013

One Cold December Day


One cold December day one year ago twenty kids aged 6 - 7 were shot dead by a twenty year-old severely disturbed young man whose mother thought she could bond with her son through guns and shooting. He shot and killed her on that fateful day, then went to Sandy Hook elementary school, shot his way in with the Bushmaster semiautomatic his mother taught him to shoot, and then, moving inexorably down the hall and into classrooms, shot the kids and their teachers multiple times using the semiautomatic and its extended magazine. Then he shot himself in the head with his mother’s Glock 20 pistol.

One year since that cold Saturday morning, December 14th, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when an unimaginable tragedy was visited upon parents and loved ones preparing to celebrate a blessed holiday. One year ago, and every year after, the shock, the pain, the grief, the loss will be felt again, and again, and again, forever. 

One year ago an outpouring of shared grief and sympathy was followed by outrage and  angry calls for more effective gun control measures. Ninety-percent of Americans favored tougher gun control measures, but a Senate bill, co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat, that would have strengthened the background check system was met with strident opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA), and other gun rights organizations. It was blocked by Senate Republicans -- all but 4 voted against the bill -- joined by 4 Democrats. They voted “nay” because they were afraid -- not afraid that the bill didn’t do enough to protect more kids from gun violence, but afraid that voting for the bill would hurt their chances of being reelected.

Fear is the lingua franca of the NRA and the gun lobby at large. They have demonstrated their power at the ballot box, most recently when they successfully orchestrated a recall of two Colorado legislators who voted to strengthen Colorado’s gun laws. Their threat is explicit and credible; go against us and we’ll throw you out of office.

More disturbing perhaps than the gun lobby’s campaign of intimidation towards lawmakers is their campaign to change the very core of America’s culture of openness and generosity of spirit. The NRA and its ilk have convinced their adherents that we live constantly under threat -- threat of rape, robbery, and murder; threat of natural disasters that turn into bloody anarchy; and the threat that a tyrannical government is bent on wresting their treasured guns from their “cold, dead hands.”

The NRA has made manifest this dystopian view of America in the laws it sponsors. Teaming with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), it crafted the infamous “stand your ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after he followed, confronted, and shot 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Not to be confused with Castle Doctrine, this law allows individuals to use deadly force if they feel threatened anywhere they have a legal right to be without any attempt to retreat. It’s the embodiment of the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, and it has resulted in a significant increase in homicides across the 26 states that have enacted such laws. Some of the other cases in which the stand your ground defense has been used successfully beggar the imagination.

As of this writing, 11,413 gun deaths have been reported since Sandy Hook. The toll is undoubtedly much higher, close to 33,000, largely because suicides by gun are rarely reported. As a nation, we have done nothing to stop the mayhem. But we Washingtonians can do something to at least demonstrate our commitment to stem the tide here in our own backyard -- pass Initiative 594, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility’s background check proposal (info@wagunresponsibility.org)

The gun lobby will fight this with lots of money geared towards feeding the paranoia of gun rights activists, fearful of losing their guns, and legislators afraid of losing their elected office. The rest of us, afraid of losing our children, must fight back by ensuring I-594 gets on the ballot and then voting it into law.

One year ago, and every year after, the shock, the pain, the grief, the loss will be felt again, and again, and again, forever. Let us do this small thing, take this small step to say, We are with you.


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