At 3pm on Friday and with a heavy heart, I scooped up my youngest from his kindergarten class. An hour later, I was in a packed school auditorium, videotaping his older brother and his fellow 3rd graders as they sang and danced in the school’s holiday show. It was a joyous occasion. But thoughts about what had happened earlier that day in a suburban Connecticut elementary school kept flashing through my head. They still are.
I’ve spent the weekend shielding my kids from exposure to news of an event that, as the New York Times puts it, has become a “national symbol of heartbreak and horror.” They are too young to process such a thing. Via his peer group, my 8-year old had heard vaguely about a school shooting, but he doesn’t know any of the details. My wife and I acknowledged that something terrible happened but we see no need to have the full conversation with him just yet.
Of course, that conversation is playing out everywhere in many ways across the United States. As it should. People are talking about a country awash in guns, the culture and politics of guns, and whether a nation will now be shocked enough to finally get serious about gun control. (“Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?” asks Nicholas Kristof) People are also talking (to a lesser extent) about mental illness as a part of the equation. And people are trying to sort through “what the research says on rampage violence” and “what science says about gun control and violent crime.”
For the most part, though, raw emotion is fueling the conversations taking place at dinner tables, playgrounds, on Facebook. That will dissipate. Even something as intensely felt as Friday’s horrific tragedy cannot sustain itself for long.
So what happens when the candles at the candlelight vigils (being held all over the country) burn out? What happens after the shock and sadness fade? What happens next week, next month, six months from now? Can the conversation, however messy and complicated, be maintained? I hope so.
It’s also worth asking: Is there is one particular conversation that might best lead to action that reduces the chances of mass murder from happening in a movie theater or school? Will Saletan has made a compelling case at Slate:
I wish we could pass a magic law that would stop madmen from killing our children. We can’t. There will always be angry lunatics. There will always be knives and shotguns and gasoline. I don’t think banning guns will make the problem go away. We don’t need another all-or-nothing war between pro-gun and anti-gun ideologues. What we need is a frank, precise, constructive conversation about the problem of high-speed weapons. You don’t need rapid-fire weapons to hunt or defend your home. Cops don’t need them to shoot down bad guys. And while it’s true that passing a law against them won’t eliminate them, that’s not an argument against legislation. It’s an argument for going beyond legislation. The community of gun sellers and enthusiasts must act collectively to track and control the technology of mass murder.
I’m not sure what would prompt this community to take such action. Perhaps candlelight vigils for the innocent victims of rapid fire weapons should be held outside gun shows and gun shops that sell the technology of mass murder. Keep the candles burning there next week, next month, six months from now. Maybe, at the very least, that will keep the national conversation on guns from flickering out.