What could be more heartbreaking than 21 people being shot at an elementary school? Nineteen of them students. Elementary school students. Now we indulge in the ritual expressions of sorrow, bafflement, frustration and anger, but if history is any teacher, before long the attention will have moved elsewhere.
One hundred people sit in the U.S Senate. One hundred people who have it uniquely in their power to try to slow the rate of these senseless killings. One hundred people who cannot agree with each other even for this. Even to save our children.
Each will have his or her reason why it is not their fault. Some of them have voted for gun control, favored by a huge majority of the American people they serve. Some of them have voted to allow even more guns on the streets. Some of them are proposing “hardening” our schools, turning them into impenetrable fortresses guarded by armed police. But God forbid we should just say “enough” to the degree to which our citizenry is armed. And dangerous.
The Constitution provides the excuse to accept the slaughter of our children rather than infringe on our rights. Rights? What the Second Amendment to the Constitution says is that it is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The part of that amendment not as often quoted is that the right to bear arms is for the purpose of “a well-regulated militia.”
Gun owners in America are not part of a well-regulated militia. They are a collective of citizens who own guns for many reasons – for hunting, self-protection, criminal intent or target shooting. What is the rationale for allowing individuals in our country to own military-grade weapons? What do we expect will be the outcome?
There are people in every country with mental health problems. No other country makes it so easy for its citizens to buy guns. No other country suffers the repetitive disasters of criminal activity on our streets, the endless string of people being shot at church, at the grocery store, at school.
The language of “a good guy with a gun” versus “a bad guy with a gun” is infantile. Even the police in other countries are not routinely armed, and seem to manage to protect their citizenry, regardless. And when gun ownership is mostly unrestricted and the “good guys with guns” show up at a situation generated by a “bad guy with a gun,” how does law enforcement know who is who?
Yet in America, because 100 people cannot agree on even the tiniest efforts at gun control, even when we are arming the mentally ill, even when guns are flooding our neighborhoods, we carry teddy bears to the scene of the latest shooting, wallow in tearful interviews with mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, profess that “this cannot stand!” and it must “never happen again!” There are eulogies and choirs. The president visits. Republicans rage about Democrats “politicizing” the killings. Democrats rage about Republicans’ failure to support gun control measures. It is always somebody else’s fault.
One hundred people, each with their own idea of how to fix this, each refusing to support anyone else’s idea, never willing to agree to anything that is not their own idea, or the idea of their party. Meanwhile 19 little children are dead.
Those children were of the age when the world is still full of wonder. Kids at that age are curious, energetic, goofy, loving, loyal. They are still willing to slip their hand in yours. To lie on the street and check out what’s going on in the storm drain. To carefully gather up a spider or a salamander or a frog. To share their lunch or commiserate over a skinned knee.
Now they are dead and gone, never to realize their potential, never to share the joys and challenges of growing up, falling in love, growing old, learning quantum physics or bowling, getting their driver’s license. The survivors are traumatized, marked for life.
Our 100 senators? They can’t wait to argue the matter in front of a microphone. Sure, yeah, kids, dead, horrific, but get serious about finding a way to mitigate the problem? That might disrupt their precious careers in the U.S. Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative body.
The one country in the word with the greatest number of guns on the streets is ours. The country with the greatest number of mass killings, school shootings? Ours. This is not a coincidence. It is within the power of the 100 men and women in the U.S. Senate to make this better. They will not, because it is less important to them than the microphone. They are getting away with that. How much longer?
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.