It was Sandy Hook that did it.
I grew up in West Virginia. Almost every home I visited as a kid had a gun case in it, proudly displaying its wares. I didn’t like guns, but I respected people’s right to own them. It was part of long American tradition.
Raised in a politically conservative household, I believed- and still believe in- the need for small government, that the government shouldn’t tell people how to live their lives or take rights from them. I believed that being conservative and upholding conservative ideals was Christian.
That started to change for me once I entered high school, and befriended many LGBT students. It had altered irrevocably by college. I realized the conservative stances on many things were extra-Biblical and incoherent… how can we be pro-life if we are also pro-war? Didn’t Jesus say that those who live by the sword would die by the sword? Wasn’t He for peace? I began to question.
But I still believed gun ownership was every American’s right. If we allowed the government to take away our guns, then where does it end? They could take away everything.
Then Sandy Hook happened. 11 days before Christmas, a man with mental health issues stepped onto the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus in Connecticut and began gunning down six-and-seven-year-old children with a semi-automatic rifle. 20 children died (along with 6 school personnel, many of whom heroically tried to protect them).
The horror was immense. There had been so many mass shootings in the last several years in the United States but none had involved small, helpless children. Everyone all over the political spectrum was shaken. I called my brother that day and he told me he couldn’t do anything that day, he just needed to stay home with his daughters. They were about the same age as the victims.
I still tear up thinking about it. About the kids who went to school that day, perhaps excited for today’s science lesson, perhaps hoping to borrow a cool toy from a friend, perhaps ready to trade the disliked bologna sandwich in their lunch for a friend’s PB&J. Those kids would be turning 9 and 10 this year.
As the grief and shock wore off, political debate took center stage. Everyone had an opinion on gun control, on mental health, on school security. I remember, in the wave of disbelief I had, hearing pro-gun proponents make arguments like, “Imagine if a teacher in that school had had a gun.” Imagine, I kept thinking, if the lunatic didn’t.
I really thought it was a no-brainer. No one could stand for or justify that level of violence on innocent, helpless children. Especially no one who claimed to be Christian. On college campuses, maybe. In shopping malls, maybe. But not at an elementary school. I thought it would be the end of the gun control debate in our country. Or at least the beginning of rational reforms. Something.
But nothing changed. As the shooting faded in our memory, to be replaced by other news and other shootings… I realized that our country had come to a moral crossroads and chosen the wrong path. We, as a country, decided that we valued unrestricted access to personal artillery more than we valued the lives of children. We didn’t even want to improve the background check system. Nothing.
I bring up Sandy Hook to make a point, not to minimize the horror of the latest tragedy- 58 dead in Las Vegas, innocent men and women attending the last night of a country music festival, prepared for what was to be a fun and exciting night out. The perpetrator fired wildly into the crowd from a window in Mandalay Bay. He had a small artillery in his room. Legally obtained. Everyone acquainted with the perpetrator, this domestic terrorist, said he was behaving normally, didn’t seem murderous in the slightest. They pretty much always say that, I’ve noticed.
It’s true that humans are sinful, fallen creatures. As we’ve seen over the last few years, with the Boston Marathon bombing, with the Barcelona massacre where the perpetrator drove a van into a crowd- or most recently, in Edmonton, where a U-Haul truck was driven into a crowd, one doesn’t need guns to commit acts of violence and horror. But God, they DO help.
I realize that the situation in the United States with gun control is more complex than it was in England (where handguns have been illegal since the Dunblane elementary school massacre in 1996), or in Japan, (where firearms have always been illegal to own-with very few exceptions). It’s in our constitution after all: the right to bear arms. But the how and the why of that are worth considering. In 1776, a man with a musket could likely defend his home from the encroaching government, if they came in the night to steal his home and his woman and his livelihood. But in 2017, even a heavily armed citizen’s militia cannot resist the government, if they were to turn on their citizens. The government has the bombs. The tanks. The drones. The military.
Even if the government does indeed come someday to seize our guns from our cold, dead hands, (and they would be very dead indeed), I can’t imagine a dystopian world worse than this one, where we must accept mass shootings as a part of life, tragedies that are completely unpreventable. Where we can say, “sending positive vibes” to the families of dead innocents and just move on.
A semi-automatic is never going to resist the overwhelming tide of violence the government could bring, should it turn on us for some reason. Guns are never going to be the article that saves us from oppression and fear. Guns will never save us from violence. Guns will never bring us peace and security. Guns will never bring us freedom.
But they can mow down fellow citizens just fine.