The Universal Notebook: Slaughter of the innocents

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Who or what is to blame for the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Conn.? Columbine? Tucson? Omaha? Virginia Tech? Brookfield? Meridian? Lancaster? You don’t want to think about such horrors anymore than I do, but we have no choice.

The simple answer is that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was the insane act of one deranged young man. As much as we want to think we can control our world with laws, no single change in America’s scandalously lax gun laws would have prevented what happened in Newtown.

Are the National Rifle Association and its members to blame? Of course not. But the NRA is complicit in every incident of gun violence in the U.S. because it effectively opposes any measures that might make guns harder to acquire.

Complicity in the Newtown killings extends to Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the weapon of choice for mass murderers, to the merchants who sell such instruments of violence, to the elected officials who lack the courage to enact meaningful gun control laws, but also to all the rest of us who enable this insanity by not insisting on sane weapons policies and better care for the mentally ill.

No doubt we would all be better off in a country without guns, but it’s too late for that. The evil genie of firearms is out of the bottle. But the ironic truth of the matter is that people who live in homes with guns are far more likely to become the victims of gun violence than those who live in gun-free homes. Newtown is further evidence of that.

If America now takes a few tentative steps toward reigning in the gun violence, Second Amendment advocates will predictably go ballistic. The Founding Fathers, however, wrote the Second Amendment during an era of single-shot rifles. They did not intend to open the door to mass murder. No one’s Second Amendment right to bear arms would be infringed upon by a sensible ban on semiautomatic assault rifles such as the one used to kill kindergarten children in Newtown. The Bushmaster AR-15, manufactured right here in Maine until last year, has no place in private hands. Nor do 30-round ammo clips.

The NRA and the Maine Gun Owners Association both came out with bonehead proposals to arm teachers in response to Newtown. These folks may mean well with their vigilante mindsets, but there were armed security personnel at Columbine and an armed teacher at Newtown. If some NRA or MGOA zealot had been on the scene at Newtown, I have a feeling they would have been the first ones killed. No one expects a gunman to shoot his way into an elementary school anymore than they expected terrorists to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center.

While tighter gun control laws would not have prevented the Newtown slaughter, we can no longer allow a mere 4 million NRA members to hold more than 300 million Americans hostage to their own fears. Countering the pro-violence rhetoric of the NRA might begin the process of transforming the United States into the more compassionate society it needs to become if we are ever to stem the tide of mass killings.

We are a sick society and the NRA is a symptom of that sickness. Gun ownership is almost as prevalent in Canada and Iceland as it is in the U.S., but they don’t slaughter one another with the regularity of Americans. South Africa, Columbia and Thailand are the only countries in the world with more gun deaths than the United States. Sick.

So what is the proper response to Newtown? Start with a meaningful discussion of how to control gun violence, examine the efficacy of our mental health system, stop glorifying violence in movies, television and video games, and start on a spiritual path toward compassion and forgiveness rather than violence and retribution.

On Oct. 2, 2006, a madman entered an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and methodically shot 10 little girls ages 7 to 13, killing 5. The response to this heinous act was a bit more muted than the anguished response to the Newtown killings, perhaps because the Amish are “different.” We can all identify with suburban families in Connecticut, but no so readily with Amish farm families in rural Pennsylvania.

The response of the Amish community to the killing of their children? “We must not think evil of this man.” “He had a mother and a wife and soul and now he is standing before a just God.”

I’m not there and neither are you. But imagine being so deeply compassionate, forgiving and at peace. Now start imagining how to achieve such enlightenment.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.