The slaughter of the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., leaves me -- as it does so most of us -- baffled and angry about what we have allowed to happen in our beautiful country.
To protect our constitutional right to bear arms, we have utterly abandoned common sense and allowed civilians to possess assault weapons with extended-capacity magazines that should be in the hands only of our military and our police. That we allow this is simply irresponsible. Our failure to stop it means we now have the blood of six- and seven-year-olds on our hands. We must have a national discussion about all this now. Perhaps it would help, as others have suggested, to change the terms of the debate from gun control to gun safety. Either way, this discussion must happen now and it must lead to action -- not, as some wingnuts fear, to take all guns away from everyone, including hunters, but to protect us from weapons that no individual should own.
To protect free speech, we have nuked reason and allowed corporations to be thought of in almost all ways as individual people so that, as a result, they are free, through almost untraceable contributions to politicians, to set the boundaries on political solutions. When combined with traditional lobbyists and with our failure to finance elections with public money instead of private, our political system currently makes it extraordinarily difficult to pass rational, comprehensive gun control, or safety, laws. Sandy Hook must be our spur.
Because it seems easier to repair what is broken than to prevent the breakage in the first place, we have failed to focus on identifying and treating mental illnesses aggressively. So time after time we find emotionally or mentally troubled individuals wreaking havoc in our schools, our shopping malls, our offices and our football practice facilities. Whenever we talk about and create public policy about health care, we must include mental health care, too. And, without being paranoid ourselves about people who are simply eccentric, we must be vigilant to help identify people who need help to be mentally stable.
Just as a failure of imagination about homeland security helped to allow the 9/11 hijackers to murder nearly 3,000 people -- my nephew among them -- so our failure to fix what can be fixed in the way of gun laws and security threats has scarred countless lives with trauma and catastrophe that they will never outlive. Without adequate means of prevention and updated methods of threat assessment, we rely on ad-hoc measures by decent people caught in the midst of evil, such as teachers, custodians and children at Sandy Hook and the brave souls whose actions took down United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania. In neither case should it have come to that.
This fix-it-afterward approach is madness. Our politicians -- licking their lips before carving up the spoils of political victories -- must be held to account. And we must hold ourselves to account for our own failure to insist on solutions, even while we recognize there is no way, finally, to stop all evil acts. (Holding public officials to account would be easier if our voter turnout rates weren't so pathetically low.)
What will you do today to help find a solution? I will start by sending a copy of this blog entry to my representative in Congress, my U.S. senators and my legislators in Jefferson City, asking what they intend to do about this.
And I will leave the questions of theodicy -- which is to say, the question of why there is evil in the world if God is good -- for another day. All theodicies ultimately fail, after all, and we have no exhaustive explanation for the presence of evil, though there are sensible things we can say about that subject. But not today.
(I thought last night's prayer vigil service in Newtown was remarkable in many ways, not just for the elegant and eloquent words of President Obama to a bereaved town (and nation). What I especially appreciated was the interfaith nature of the service and the ways in which each member of the clergy who spoke was true to his or her own religious tradition and did not need to denigrate the traditions of others.)
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WHAT CAN PEOPLE BE THINKING?
Further evidence that, as the old Prophet Jeremiah said, "the human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" can be found in the fact that desperately sick people are posting false information about the Connecticut murders on social media outlets, some even pretending to be the shooter. It means that in the midst of such darkness, you and I must be light.