Will We Change This Time?
On Friday morning the children of Newtown, CT, an upwardly mobile smaller city just close enough that residents can commute to NYC for work, more exurb than suburb, went to school. They lived in a community that promised safety and good schools. It's not the kind of town where we expect tragedy to strike, and yet it has. Twenty children didn't go home that day to begin a weekend with family and friends. Six adults, including teachers, staff, and a parent lay dead, their lives cut short in a hail of bullets shot from a military style assault weapon with a 30-round clip.
Last night the community gathered to share their grief. The President joined them and sought to offer words of comfort, reminding the gathered community, that the nation wept with them, that the hearts of people across the land were heart broken at this loss of life. He celebrated the gifts that the adult victims brought to the school, and reminded us of the potential that lived within the children. But the President didn't just offer words of comfort, he brought words of challenge to our nation. In what was described in one report as the President's "Enough is Enough" speech, the President declared:
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.
In this regard, after having had to make the same journey for the fourth time, he pledged to do all that he could do to change the equation.
Finding a solution won't be easy. There are interests that will resist change.
There are the gun interests that will defy any effort to put limits on our ability as a nation to purchase guns and ammunition. There are those who believe it is their right to carry any kind of weapon at any time any place. They have a lot of money and a lot of power, but we must resist them. I'm not suggesting we do away with the Second Amendment (though I think it's been misinterpreted) or take away every gun, but surely there are meaningful limits. Surely we can put a limit on the number of bullets sold at one time, background checks made, and an assault weapon ban reinstated. There is no reasonable use of an assault style weapon with an extended clip, except to kill people. These are not hunting rifles. I believe it's time for federal background checks. This is a mobile society that crosses state boundaries with ease. I'm going to Lansing tomorrow to ask the Governor not to sign a bill that would allow concealed weapons to be carried in schools and churches and other public spaces. Arming teachers and pastors isn't a solution. We need meaningful legislation that will protect those who enter such spaces.
Then there's the entertainment industry. While watching movie movies or playing violent video games doesn't necessarily lead to acts of violence, it does seem to desensitize us to violence. Hollywood needs to look deep inside and ask itself -- what role have we played in this escalation of extreme violence? Have we contributed to a culture of violence? I think back to ancient times, when the rulers offered gladiatorial battles to entertain the people. That people were entertained by watch human beings torn asunder by wild animals in the arena, seems mind boggling, but we watch it in simulated fashion on our movie screens, TV screens, and in games -- and then we honor them with awards.
There is also the question of access to mental health care. In the case of Adam Lanza, he may have had access, but many do not. We need to be careful that we don't further stigmatize people with mental illness or mental health issues, but surely we can do better. Most insurance plans don't cover mental health care, and it can be expensive, so many forgo help. Can't we do better?
St. Paul wrote words that I have long taken to heart: "So if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything old has become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is hope for a new day. But we must decide to change. One of the Advent themes is repentance. John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming Christ, by calling on the people to change their hearts and minds, to bear the fruit of their repentance. He spoke of the one who would come and separate the wheat from the chaff. Is it not time for the winnowing of the harvest to begin, where we decide whether we'll continue down a path that leads to violence or we'll let the chaff of violence be thrown in to the fire, so that we might embrace the shalom of God for all people.
Enough is enough. It's time to change. We can't let the memory of this children to fade into oblivion. We must keep their memories alive by taking up the challenge of the moment. The President spoke as both leader of the nation and as a parent -- and he called on us as a people to join in a fruitful conversation that will lead to action. It is our time to respond in the affirmative. And we cannot afford to forget this time!