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When Can We Talk About Guns?

December 15, 2012

The news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut is more tragic by the hour. A man  enters a school and murders 26 people, 20 of them children, then takes his own life. The monstrosity of it all is incomprehensible, and everyone struggles to understand what could possess someone to commit such a heinous act. It’s all so surreal.

And yet it’s all so familiar. Adam Lanza is now being described by his former classmates as a ‘nerd’ who was ‘quiet’ and ‘shy’ and mostly tried to go through high school life unnoticed. These descriptions lead to visions of Columbine and Virginia Tech. And, really, most mass shootings in this country. Some rightfully wonder how such a person could have such easy access to the powerful weapons used to perpetrate this atrocious act. And yet we are told, again, “now is not the time.”

The standard defense by those who would prevent any kind of gun regulations is that the time after a tragedy such as this should be spent mourning those whose lives were shattered by this senseless act of violence by a ‘madman,’ not for ‘politicizing’ the issue with talks of gun control. This position is exemplified by the Fox News editorial entitled, “Elementary School Shooting is a Tragedy, Not a Political Platform.”

Why can’t it be both? No one disputes that the events of December 14th in the quiet town of Newtown, Connecticut, a town whose name has never been more poignantly appropriate, were tragic. Lives were lost. Young lives. Lives full of unrealized promise and hope, with thousands of dreams unfulfilled. All of this accomplished by a man with two extremely powerful, legally purchased, weapons. Why is that last point not important?

When the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the ocean and killing 11 workers, it rightly sparked a debate about the benefits and costs of deep sea drilling, as well as a focus on what our energy dependence really means for our country. No one called for a moratorium on this discussion because of the 11 lives lost. If anything, that point was treated almost as a footnote. The focus was on the environmental impact, the cleanup, and the failings of the companies who owned and operated the well.

And yet the same response is verboten when it comes to gun violence. Representative Gabby Giffords is critically shot and 6 others are killed, and we are told “now is not the time” to talk about gun control. In April of this year, 10 nursing students were shot and 7 killed at Oikos University, and we were told “now is not the time.” In July, 70 moviegoers were shot and 12 killed in Aurora, Colorado, and were told “now is not the time.” In August, 10 people were shot and 6 killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and we were again told “now is not the time.”

If “now is NOT the time,” when the f*&k IS the time? Regardless of your stance on guns and their ownership, you must recognize that we have a problem here. Even ignoring the mass shootings, there will be close to 100,000 gun shot victims in this country this year. Roughly 32,000 of those people will die. And this is not a problem worth talking about?

I, for one, am not an advocate of banning guns. On the contrary, my girlfriend and I have discussed getting a gun for the house. I have a shooting lesson lined up with one of my good friends who is a former Sheriff’s deputy. I also find unconscionable the fact that I can go to Wal-Mart and, with no training or experience, buy a 12-gauge tactical shotgun. In fact, in the state of North Carolina, the most effort I have to go to in order to buy a gun is to pay $5 for a handgun permit at my local courthouse if I want a handgun. And that’s only if I go through license gun dealers, rather than making a purchase on Craigslist. In what world is that reasonable?

Are yesterday’s events tragic? Yes. Do we need to focus time and energy on helping the victims and relatives of those involved? Absolutely. But we also need to have a conversation about guns and how to prevent acts like this from occurring in the future. Not because it’s politically expedient. But because we all know that if we stay the course it’s not a question of if, but when it happens again.

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