In 1941, December 7 became a “date that will live in infamy.” Over time, that date has gradually lost the taint of infamy – to be replaced quiet remembrance of those who died that day, and warm pride in the fact our country survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, rallied to the task before it, and triumphed. Today, December 7 marks a turning point in our nation’s march to greatness.
In 2012, December 14 became infamous. A lonely, mentally unbalanced loser, armed with a military-style assault rifle and two semi-automatic pistols, shot his way into an elementary school and killed 26 people – six educators and 20 first-graders – nearly all shot multiple times.
Here, as in other pieces I have written on the subject, I will not mention the killer’s name. Call him “Herod” if you like, but do not name him. One motive for the wave of mass killings which is sweeping over this country is, without doubt, the desire of these losers to claim a moment in the spotlight.
I would deny them that – even posthumously.
Focus instead on the courage of the educators – all women – who gave their lives to protect their students. Focus on Dawn Hochsprung, the principal who tried to stop the gunman with her bare hands as he shot his way into her school. Focus on Vicky Soto, the lovely young teacher who hid her students, then barred her classroom door with her defenseless body.
They, their colleagues, and the children were the victims of our infamy. True, a madman killed them. But he killed them using a military-style weapon with large-capacity magazines. This was a crime committed with – and enabled by – weapons which, in most other democracies, no civilian could possess or carry.
Needless to say, the Sandy Hook massacre has led to a great deal of nonsense in the mass media and on social media.
First, of course, it has led to cries for a complete ban on the private ownership of guns – even the repeal of the Second Amendment – from a small minority of Americans who simply don’t understand their own country.
No law banning private ownership of all firearms would ever pass in this country. But there are those who dream of such a ban, and they provide, shall we say, ammunition to the opposite extreme.
Second, there were angry snarls from those who reject any limit, of any kind, on the private possession of weapons. Another tiny minority, this, manipulated by the paranoid propaganda of “associations” controlled – lock, stock and barrel, so to speak – by the corporations which make and sell weapons.
Finally, as soon as the two extremes weighed in, came cries from those who are horrified by raised voices. These self-appointed peacemakers urged both sides to tone down the rhetoric – to think of the children and those who loved them. As though prayers and teddy-bears were a solution to anything.
Fortunately, in the days following the Sandy Hook horror, neither the extremists nor the peacemakers succeeded in co-opting the public debate. Instead, reasonable voices, from a wide variety of perspectives, demanded our attention.
Since the morning of December 14, American politics has changed in a fundamental way. Elected officials and opinion leaders who, for years, ignored massacre after massacre have finally found the courage to speak. Defenders of Americans’ right to self-defense are finally speaking about finding solutions which might actually work.
The media have began reporting on other countries, such as Australia, which have found ways to combine a culture of rugged individualism with measures which prevent massacres with military-style weapons.
Since December 14, our President has spoken with special eloquence, and many others have joined him.
Our great, national silence has ended, though we have paid an unspeakable price for keeping that silence so long.
At last, the conversation has begun.
For decades, Americans have failed to strike a sensible balance between the rights of ordinary citizens to defend themselves – and the rights of ordinary citizens to go through life without the very rational prospect of being gunned down by a madman.
Fearing an angry minority, we kept silent.
Now is the time to strike a better balance. That will require – from all of us – that we discuss these issues rationally. We must no longer fear to speak out, nor should we fear to listen to those with whom we do not agree.
Mostly, we must not allow the extremists – on either side – to co-opt the discussion. Nor must we permit the peacemakers to insist that we quiet down and wait for some sort of deus ex machina.
We live in a democratic republic. Over more than two centuries, we have solved our problems through vigorous debate, through compromise, and – occasionally – through the discovery of an ingenious new solution.
As Americans, we must apply the tools of democracy to the problems created by the existence of powerful weapons, too many unstable personalities, and a cultural environment which celebrates violence.
We can do that.