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Mourn, and take action on guns

I tweeted earlier today about my horror regarding the shootings in Newtown, CT, and my connections to the community. I grew up nearby and have friends who attended the school where the shooting took place.

An editor at CNN’s opinion section read earlier commentary I’d posted here about the difficulty in opening a debate about gun control in the US. He asked for my reactions to today’s shootings, and I responded with a brief commentary. It is currently running on CNN’s site, and it begins:

I logged onto Facebook this afternoon, terrified of what I would read.
I grew up near Newtown, Connecticut, and went to high school in Danbury, Connecticut. A close friend spent her childhood at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the school where a shooter killed at least 26 people today, police said, most of them children.

Police reports are still coming in, and we are only beginning to grasp the scale of this tragedy. Friends are describing their panic as they try to reach their children in schools that are on lockdown. One of my high school classmates is trying to support her best friend, whose daughter was one of the children killed.

My Facebook timeline is filled with expressions of relief for those who escaped the violence, sorrow for those lost, and prayers for recovery. It’s also filled with friends demanding that America take action on gun control. Their calls are answered by others who protest that this is a time to mourn, not a time for politics.

A tragedy like today’s shooting demands we both mourn and take action.

Please visit CNN.com to read the rest.

Predictably, for a post about the difficulty of having open dialog about gun control in the US, it’s generating thoughtful and reasoned debate. Here’s one of the carefully reasoned tweets engaging with my argument:

Looking forward to more and less helpful responses.

12 thoughts on “Mourn, and take action on guns”

  1. Mom of Twins and Teacher, Too

    Thank you for your CNN opinion piece, which I completely agree with. My father, who was aging and not entirely mentally stable, shot and killed himself with a gun in 2005. Then my cousin, a proud gun owner and the manager of a successful industrial painting business, shot and killed himself just this year after he was laid off from his job of 20 years. I still didn’t make any effort to voice my opinions about gun sales. These were just people hurting themselves, although I am sure that they would still be alive today if not for the easy access to the gun in their darkest hours. Now I’ve been hit hard in two areas close to me–work and family. I am a teacher and mother of twin toddler girls, and even though I am thousands of miles away from this tragedy, it makes me unbelievably sad and angry. I have just donated $100 to the Bradley Campaign and will so everything I can to make MY voice heard–my non-NRA-backed, not-gun-toting little voice. I’m sick and tired of feeling terrorized by the NRA, like I’d better give up my voice “or else.” It’s no different than any other form of terrorism. Anyone who says your views are extreme is probably someone I wouldn’t want anywhere near my children’s school.

  2. I have remained silent about my passion for some form of fun control for years as I know what the extremists respond to it. Whether its mental illness or a zealot with a gun, we have the responsibility to protect our community with tighter regulations. I am committed to becoming involved in supporting this cause yet I am struggling to find an organization to support.

    If you have a moment to recommend some organizations, I would appreciate it. I googled gun control organizations yesterday but turned up NRA articles, etc.

    Thanks for the insightful and accurate article.

  3. Mass shootings are almost universally in places where guns are not allowed.

    Mass shootings end with no more victims as soon as anyone shoots back at the murderer. Doesn’t matter if the good guy is a cop or a civilian, doesn’t matter if the murderer is carrying an arsenal and the good guy has a pocket-sized .380.

    The number of victims in a mass shooting is directly related to how quickly someone can shoot back. Since Columbine the police have recognized this, and instead of the old policy of waiting for SWAT to assemble while the shooing goes on, the first officers responding do what they can with what they have.

    I believe that the initiation of force is immoral in almost all situations–but I carry a gun to help escape if someone else initiates violence. Gun laws will disarm people like me far more effectively than they will disarm people intent on initiating violence. As a result, restrictions will reduce the beneficial, defensive uses of guns far faster than they will reduce violence–and restrictions strong enough to be visible are impossible without violating or modifying the second amendment.

    I don’t have evidence, but I’m pretty sure that availability of guns affects the method of suicide, but not the rate–and that people who really want to be successful will pick among the most effective methods. I don’t support ‘for your own good’ prohibitions in general–drugs and alcohol should be legal, and I won’t accept suicide as a justification to reduce my right to self defence.

  4. @Mom of Twins and Teacher: First, I am deeply sorry to hear of your loss. I would not wish those experiences on anyone. It is important to note, however, that a person intent on doing harm to themselves in an effort to stop the pain they are struggling with WILL find a way. The fact that they had access to a firearm does not make committing suicide any more or less likely.

  5. Ethan,
    We are always told that more guns would have helped prevent events like yesterday’s shootings. Here is a thought experiment regarding gun control.
    Consider two communities with 500 families in homes and apartments – a normal mix of young families with kids, loud teenagers, ‘quirky’ people, loners, hot-heads, etc. Each community has their own school, stores, theater, etc. and have adequate police coverage that can respond within a few minutes.
    Now one community has no firearms in any household and in the second, every household has multiple weapons including assault rifles and handguns, multiple round magazines, etc. As in any our society, there are different levels of responsibility practiced by various people, so there is no guarantee that all of these weapons are stored or handled safely.
    In which community would you feel safer? Are your children safer going to friends houses or even school in the ‘armed’ community? Will your child and a playmate find a gun under a pillow – just happened here in Minneapolis and a 2 year old died – and guns have shown up in school backpacks of young children quite often. In which community will a conflict between neighbors be more likely to end in tragedy? How about road rage, parking space disputes, loud music (i.e. Florida gas station incident.)?
    If you really think about it, would people, especially parents, actually feel their families are safer in the 100% ‘firearmed’ community??

  6. What struck me in your comments was “mad people and bad laws”.
    There are many pieces to the problem of mass murders, and we have had our fair share in 2012.
    Gun control is one piece – and that control can come from regulations or it can come from huge price increases. If a semi-automatic weapon sold for $25,000 that would slow things down. So would regulations. And there is an important distinction between regulating and banning.
    Mental health is another piece of the problem. I don’t know where to go with this but we need to examine our system and see whether or not it fits today’s world.
    Yes, we need to take some action now and get some immediate regulations (and pricing) to make it very difficult for anyone to acquire automatic and semi automatic weapons. After that point, then we can have some think-tank strategizing among people with no vested interest in the outcome.
    There has always been and always will be violence and mass destruction, but we now seem to be at epidemic proportions in the US. Heaven help us. Please.

  7. Impressive, you blogged my tweet to you. I stand behind my tweet, but do apologize for referring to you as a fucktard. Incidents such as this are happening all to frequently, this we can all agree on. The problem isn’t gun control, or lack there of, but an issue with the state of mental health diagnosis and treatment in this country, coupled with the media sensationalizing these incidents.

    In nearly every case, the media coverage is shoved in our faces nonstop for days, mostly focusing on the sicko that carried the horrific act out. What’s sad, is the other sickos out there see this as their way to become famous or get their twisted revenge on the world out.

    Gun control will not prevent incidents like this from happening, for a number of reasons. First off, a total ban on guns is not only unrealistic, but is unconstitutional and would prevent law abiding citizens from owning and using guns for legitimate purposes, such as hunting. Additionally, law enforcement and the military would also have access to guns, even in a ‘total ban’ gun control measure. Keep in mind, there are corrupt individuals in these arms of society, which would/could then make similar horrendous acts of violence with the knowledge that their victims would be completely helpless and unarmed, or they could see the opportunity to steal these weapons, and sell them on the black market for criminals to arm themselves with, netting similar results. The only thing a total ban gun control measure would achieve is disarming law abiding citizens.

    Gun control that bans specific weapons is an interesting idea, and one I would unlikely argue against. However the same arguments that apply to a total ban would apply to specific weapons bans. Additionally, all specific bans would do is change the weapon of choice for criminals wishing to act out their violent intentions.

    Keep in mind, the guns used in the CT case and many other recent events would not have be banned as “assault weapons” or considered to have high capacity magazines. The guns (as far as we know to this point) were legally obtained by the shooter’s mother, as she was apparently a collector. I have no idea on if or how she secured her weapons, but at least some of the fault that her son was able to get his hands on her weapons is on her.

    What actions can we take? Require registration of all weapons? Perhaps that’s a good idea, but I’d suspect many would oppose such a move due to privacy concerns. I can see both sides of the fence here. As a law abiding citizen who may or may not own guns, I would like to think my privacy is secure even if I were to purchase a gun for self protection. I have no issue with requiring background checks, enforcing waiting periods, and closing loopholes, but an outright ban on guns is not the answer, nor should it be.

  8. My question about the “Gun control debate” is this, if you take the proposed gun control laws and replace the word gun with speech, would there even be a debate. One could argue that speech can be used to incite violence and should also be controlled. As absurd as my comparison is, my point is that both things are protected by the Constitution. To make a law restricting either one is to ignore the Constitution and if you willfully ignore the Constitution in one case, what stops someone from ignoring the Constitution in the other? If you want gun control laws, you need to amend the Conststution!

  9. Thanks to everyone for your comments. Appreciate that everyone is engaging with this issue thoughtfully, whether you agree with my remarks or strongly disagree with them.

    I talked very little about my specific views on gun control in the CNN piece, focusing instead on the hopes for a conversation. So, some details:

    – I’m not advocating eliminating all guns in the US, or even all handguns. I don’t even oppose concealed carry.

    – I’d like to see gun control focus on the most dangerous weapons available to civilians. I’d like to see a restoration of the 1994 assault weapons ban. And I support Frank Lautenberg’s proposed ban on large magazines. It’s hard for me to think of circumstances where a civilian needs more than a 10 shot magazine, and these magazines have been involved in a large number of mass shootings.

    – I don’t expect a legislative change to completely end gun violence, or even to lead to rapid change. There are 300 million guns in the US, and most proposed legislation doesn’t address weapons already in use. That legislation is not a complete solution doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. Making the most dangerous weapons harder to obtain would be a step in the right direction, and it’s a step that’s been successful in other countries, like Australia.

    – I agree that incidents of mass violence suggest we focus on multiple causes, including the celebration of past violent acts in the media, and a need to focus on better treatment for mental illness. I promise to support activist efforts to improve mental healthcare in the US, as well as advocating for the legislation discussed above.

    – I don’t find the constitutional argument satisfying, both because I think it would have been difficult for the Founders to have conceived of the destructive power available anonymously to civilians, and because we’ve altered the Constitution when it was clear that original language wasn’t meeting the needs of our modern world. Banning slavery and expanding franchise to women are only two examples of our willingness to modify founding documents when merited.

    – For the record – and because this often seems to come up in gun control debates – I don’t dislike or fear guns. I’ve shot long guns and handguns, in part to understand more about the gun control issue. I enjoy shooting trap and am learning to hunt whitetail deer and turkey. I can imagine owning a shotgun, though not a handgun. And again, I’m not arguing to take guns from hunters, or even handguns from people who’ve received training and testing to obtain a concealed carry permit. I just want to see if we can have a conversation where one side concedes that we may need some limits on firearm ownership and sales in the US, and the other side – my side – concedes that we may want and value some types of gun ownership in the US.

    Thanks, everyone, for engaging here.

  10. For those who say that having armed people stops the deaths in mass murder events:

    It was either at the Ft Hood or Giffords’ shootings, a person with a gun was going to shoot the perp but was smart enough to realize he didn’t really know what he was seeing. He waited a moment, trying to understand,and saw that the one he would have shot was someone running to help.

    Another instance recently was a shooter who unfortunately got a couple of cops before he was brought down … except then it turned out the cops had been shooting so randomly, they were the ones who had killed their own colleagues. And those aren’t even plain old citizens. Cops are actually trained to (try to) keep their heads in those situations.

    So, no. The fog of war applies to those smaller firefights on our streets.

  11. Have we really lost our minds? How can controlling this violence really be, by getting more guns and arming teachers? Really? I was lucky enough to grow up in a

    time where we did not woory about gun vilolence. My son and daughter were not. My son was injured at Columbine in 1999 and my daughter was feared dead, one of the last to come out of the school.Is this acceptable? Look how far we have come from then. Woww. The situation is much worst! I feel we have let the students from Columbine down. What have we done to improve the problem<, nothing. Do we really need these automatic weapons? With the large clips, Really? What are they for? Killing many people at once. The NRA will not even listen to anything reasonable. It"s crazy! I promised many people that I would write to my congressman but he is very conservative and would not care what I would have to say. I am very proud of Piers
    for putting himself out there and standing up for what matters. All of these issues to pass in Congress do not reaally matter if we cannnot keep ouyr children safe, our future generations. Take it from a family that knows the effects of gun voilence, no parent ever wants to get that call. On second thought maybe if someone in congress did have a child shot in their school they would totally get it God Forbid. S incerily Susan Hall

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