Horrible, horrible

I have a dear friend who recently retired after thirty plus years teaching costume and make-up design at BYU.  She essentially created the BYU make-up program, many many graduates from which work professionally in Hollywood and elsewhere.  She especially loves ‘gories and grossies,’ teaching make-up artists how to fake horrible wounds and injuries.  Emergency preparedness experts use kids from the theatre program to conduct drills, playing victims.  I’ve done it; it’s great fun.  You get the make-up for some horrible looking wound, and you gather in some location and EMTs and cops and firefighters and ER docs all gather around, and practice triage and stabilization and first aid and all the other stuff that goes with an emergency.  I got a bad head wound, and got to ride in an ambulance to a hospital. The EMTs who treated me did a great job, I thought.

I’ve been watching all day–MCNBC, NBC, CNN.  Newtown, a nice little town in Connecticut, a hour from New York City.  Some guy walks into a K-4 grade school, shot and killed 6 adults and 20 children. Or maybe 18 kids. The information keeps dribbling in.  The victims included the shooter’s Mom.  The kids were all kindergartners.  Or not.  The confusion’s understandable, of course–in this kind of chaotic event, it’s going to take awhile to figure out exactly what happened.  Apparently the initial news reports naming the killer were wrong, for example.

It’s horrible.  It’s beyond horrible.  K-4. Little kids, five year olds.  You drop your child off at school, and you assume she’ll be okay.  You assume she’ll learn, she’ll have teachers who care for her, she’ll make friends.  When that goes wrong–your kid is struggling, your kid is tormented by bullies, your kid’s falling behind– you go to the school and you talk to the teacher or the principal.  But this kind of tragedy?  It’s not even on your radar.

(And two weeks before Christmas.  Those kids have presents with their names on ’em under the tree.  Those kids may still believe in Santa, some of ’em.  Those kids were probably preparing for the school’s Holiday celebration. I can hardly even think about it.)

Far and away the best interviewee I saw this morning was an ER doctor who specializes in pediatric trauma cases, a Dr. Anderson, I think his name was.  He was smart and kind and articulate, and he talked in some detail about what a hospital does when it’s faced with this kind of nightmare.  He talked about the drills they do.  He said that practice was essential, and it was all the more invaluable when actors played victims, and especially when the actors wore makeup suggesting trauma.  I realized, the drills my friend has participated in for years is serious stuff, all those college kids giggling as they outdo themselves giving each other horrendous fake injuries, all the fun of subsequently going to classes outside the Fine Arts building with horrible wounds still visible, all that matters.  Her participation in those drills could save lives.

But listening to this doctor, another thought occurred to me: we’re getting too good at this.  The President spoke this afternoon, and he was compassionate and eloquent as always.  I appreciated his remarks.  But he’s had a lot of practice; has done this too often.  We’ve got a shorthand for it: Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech.  The one a few days ago, in Oregon.  And now Newtown.  Gabby Giffords’ husband spoke up.  So did Mike Huckabee. Here’s Huckabee:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

That’s the kind of comment I find infuriating, but it is a point of view many of my fellow citizens agree with, and I don’t want to merely dismiss it. But with all due respect, there actually is a difference between refusing to allow schools to privilege one religion over others, and ‘removing God from our schools.’  Seems to me God was in Newtown today, hastening the steps of EMTs and cops, standing with teachers guarding kids huddled in closets.

Here’s a point of view with which I’m more in sympathy. Captain Mike Kelly, married to Giffords, the impossibly courageous Arizona Congresswoman nearly killed by gun violence:

“As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right. This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws – and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait.”

And I totally get how annoying this point of view must be to gun owners and gun defenders.  Every time some nutbag goes insane, all these gun-hating liberals want to blame guns.  Want to blame the instrument of violence, not its wielder. I have family members who are NRA members–I’m sure it’s unpleasant to have to stand up for something you believe in and value every time a national tragedy rocks our nation.  And yes, there is the Second Amendment.

We are divided on this, between those Americans who consider the Second Amendment the keystone of the entire Constitution and those–me–who consider it an anachronistic embarrassment.  Sure people have a constitutional right to own guns.  They have a constitutional right to own all sorts of tools, hammers and screwdrivers and blowtorches and staple guns, all of which could be used by unbalanced people bent on violence.  But guns seem to me a different category.  They have only one purpose, to punch a hole in the body of a living thing.  To fill a body with a lead projectile.  They need to be, solely and entirely, in the hands of a well-regulated militia. And yes, I’m familiar with District of Columbia v. Heller.  I’ve read the decision.  11,000 gun homicides a year suggest Heller will be regarded as the Plessy v. Ferguson of Second Amendment decisions.  The Dred Scott of gun decisions.

I know it’s infuriating, when people like me who aren’t any part of the gun owning community to use a tragedy like Newtown to call for stricter gun decisions.  But as my friend Brad Kramer put it: “saying ‘let’s not politicize this tragedy by talking about gun laws or gun control’ is a cheap and especially offensive way of politicizing this tragedy.”

There are laws requiring background checks for gun purchasers. But not for guns bought at gun shows, 40% of gun sales nationally–we can close that loophole nationally.  The guy at Newtown used a 9mm Glock, apparently–a semi-automatic pistol.  Why are semi-automatics for sale to the public?  Assault rifles could be banned. I’m also attracted to a solution my brother has talked about–don’t regulate guns, regulate ammo.

I’m not an expert there.  And I don’t want to take away anyone’s hunting rifle.  But this seems like a tipping point tragedy to me.  It’s time for Congress to act.  It’s time to do more than mourn.

10 thoughts on “Horrible, horrible

  1. Adam Meyers

    I guess my feeling is we’re looking in the wrong place. Yes we have lots of shootings, but there have been shootings lately in countries with very strict gun laws, and China had a mass murder tragedy enacted with nothing but a butcher’s knife. The problem to me isn’t regulated the most common tool of the murders, but figuring out why they are happening in the first place. Why we’ve had more senseless killings in the past 2 decades than ever. I’m not opposed to limiting guns if it would actually help, but I can’t help but feel the emphasis on guns is missing the mark of the violence question. I can’t help but feel if we banned guns, killers would just start taking knifes and homemade explosives to schools instead.

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  2. Cameron Hopkin

    Where Adam, the commenter above, is mistaken is in the Chinese tragedy he referenced. The perpetrator used a knife, yes… and not a single one of the 22 children attacked died. This IS about guns. They kills rapidly, from a distance, and with very little exertion on the part of the aggressor. We’ve got to deal with guns. They may not be the root of the problem, but they make the problem a hell of a lot more serious.

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  3. Michelle

    Uncle Eric, semi-automatic weapons aren’t for sale to the public. But you can buy kits to change single and double action weapons to semi-automatic weapons. But that’s neither here no there. This is so horrific. So horrific.

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  4. Linda

    Perhaps we should look at how we are treating people with “personality disorders” as I heard this shooter was described, and be more diligent about identifying the more violent behaviors who don’t seem to have a good grip on reality when they commit these crimes. Although I never agreed with the state hospital system, perhaps we need to examine why it seems more and more people are acting out in this manner. Are drugs the cause? Is society in general perpetuating this reaction and how do we figure out the root cause? The breakdown of the family and the support system we once had that has eroded is probably the answer.

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  5. N Wilson

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there are more guns per capita in Canada than here, yet they had – according to one source – 52 handgun deaths last year; we had 10,728. It is possible to regulate sensibly, to create a safer environment, without seriously limiting people’s right to bear arms. Why have we polarized the argument this way? Why do we insist that any regulation is tantamount to removing all guns? It is not; this has been shown, by our northern neighbors, for decades. I’ve always thought of part of American ingenuity being the ability to take good ideas from everywhere – we’re a nation of immigrants, who don’t let silly prejudices keep us from doing the sensible thing. That’s the ideal, anyway. I try not to loose hope.

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  6. Anonymous

    “Why do we insist that any regulation is tantamount to removing all guns?” (N Wilson above) Exactly. It seems (am I right?) that in many places it’s harder to get a driver’s license than to get a gun, yet no one complains that their driving rights are being taken away. Why shouldn’t people have to go through some kind of shooter’s ed training, pass an exam, obtain a gun license, and risk losing that license if they prove to be irresponsible? It may not completely solve the problem, but if it saves any lives at all (which could never be proven except from a statistical standpoint) it would be worth it. If “guns don’t kill people, PEOPLE do,” then one cannot responsibly say that all PEOPLE should be allowed to acquire guns, no questions asked.

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