This wasn’t the column I set out to write. I wanted to do a funny column, talking about my Christmas plans and the things I’m looking forward to next year. I was going to figure out a way to work in references to John Boehner and Idris Elba. I may have even mentioned football and the upcoming playoffs.
Friday changed everything. This isn’t going to be a column with a lot of answers, just a lot of sad and angry questions and observations.
My first reaction to hearing the news of an unspecified school shooting was “Not again.” When I read the breaking alert stating how many children were killed, I burst into tears. Violence unfortunately lives all around us. And in many of our cities, it is often visited upon the children. However, this was a perfect storm of devastation: the kids were in school, a place that should be a safe haven; they were under 7 years old; there were 20 of them. Taken together, it was enough to break the nation’s heart.
But hearts have been broken too much this year. The President somberly noted at the Newtown memorial service that this was the fourth time he’s had to address a crowd like this. And every day 86 people are killed by gun violence. But we typically don’t talk about those shootings. Is it because they are somehow more acceptable? Is it because it happens to “those people”? Because they somehow deserve it because of where they live? Is it a little bit of all of the above?
The knee-jerk reaction of those gun advocates on the right has been annoying. Why must every conversation around gun control and safety lead to the right screaming “OMG THEY’RE COMING FOR OUR GUNS”? Listen up: NO ONE is coming for your guns. Funny enough, people actually do take that pesky Second Amendment seriously. What they disagree about is whether the framers really intended for us to walk around with weapons capable of mass killing. After all, if you can get your semi-automatic gun, then why can’t I have an RPG? It’s an arm, and I have the right to bear it, yes?
Look, I admit it: There is not one, easy solution to this problem. Banning semi-automatic weapons won’t stop all killings; removing all violence from movies and video games, aside from being impossible and ineffective, won’t stop all killings; even better parenting probably won’t stop all killings. And taken together they still may not have stopped the Newtown killings. But I REFUSE to believe that the answer is to shrug our collective shoulders and say, “We can’t do anything to stop it.” That’s weak. That’s bull. And that’s not the America I know — the country that makes things happen out of sheer force of will just because we’re America.
People want to have conversations. I’m tired of talking. I want action. Wait, that’s not completely true. I’d like to have an honest conversation about this country’s love affair with guns. It’s so strong and intense that members of Congress were afraid of opposing things like high-capacity rounds that are ONLY needed to kill many things very quickly. I say “were” because I am optimistic that THIS time will be different. Sure, after each mass killing we as a nation always say the same thing. But the fact that 20 victims were no older than 7, some shot 11 times, HAS to propel us to action. We seem to shrug with indifference when hundreds of little black and brown kids get killed yearly across the country, but the sheer magnitude and awfulness of this event has to mean that things will actually change, right? If it doesn’t, I will not only weep for those precious innocent children, but I will also weep for this nation, because I don’t know what else has to happen before people stand up and say, “Enough.”
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123