Where Were you When You Heard?

Where were you when you heard? Most people clearly remember where they were and what they were doing at the moment they heard of John Kennedy’s assassination, when they heard of the Challenger, when they heard of 9/11. I remember where I was. And I remember where I was when I heard of Columbine, and Virginia Tech. I remember where I was last Friday.

It started as a lovely day. The weather was mild, and I’d gotten a walk in the woods. Then I’d gone car shopping with my daughter.

On the way, we heard some mention of a shooting on the radio, but not any details.

“Shut it off, Mom.” my daughter said tersely.

But when I got home, I opened my computer, and gasped. My daughter glanced over my shoulder and read the headline.

It felt like a kick in the stomach.

My first reaction was blind, unreasoning rage. I wanted to make lists. Lists of senior members of the NRA. Lists of gun manufacturing CEOs. Lists of congressmen and women who opposed reinstating the assault weapon ban. I wanted to mail them pictures of dead children. One picture a day for 20 days. I had darker fantasies.

Of course, I didn’t say any of this out-loud. I was at least ashamed of myself. It wasn’t a Christian reaction, and probably wasn’t a practical one either.

My second reaction was to read. I feel in control when I read. I read articles that described the killer, and speculated on his motives. I read articles about gun control, Aspergers syndrome, and the NRA. I read one anguished article by a father whose child had been killed in a college mass murder several years ago. This problem, he wrote, should be approached as a public health issue. But, he continued, he’d given up, concluding that the country simply values easy access to guns more than lives.

I read until my eyes fell out, and then read more. I ignored my husband’s entreaties to get away from it and let it go.

I read one article that asked why we don’t ban cars. After all, cars kill people.

‘Wait’. I thought. ‘No one wants to ban guns.’ By and large gun control proposals are modest. Ban assault weapons. Make sure that everyone has to get a permit. Make it more difficult to get bullets. Improve access to mental health services.

But then, I thought, perhaps they have a point. We don’t ban cars. Cars probably kill many more people than guns. But when I researched it further, I discovered that this was wrong. Cars kill about 30 thousand every year, about the same as firearms. The real difference between cars and guns is that every year fewer people die in crashes. We’ve adopted seat belts. Air bags are standard. Children must be strapped into car seats. We track dangerous intersections, and improve traffic patterns. The state issues licenses, and takes them away. Public attitudes toward drinking and driving have changed for the better. Overall, we’ve treated car deaths as a public health issue, rather than a culture war, and it’s worked. There are many people who are alive today, saved by small continuous safety improvements.

One of the articles pointed out that gun owners are upset when people who don’t know the first thing about guns make pronouncements about them. They have a point. I don’t know what is needed for hunting or self-defense, or what is meant by an assault rifle. And I would throw away all the guns in a nano-second. I’m the person those gun-owners’ fear.

But, apparently I’m not typical, and I’m not going to succeed. And I’m less likely to succeed if responsible gun owners, parents, and caring citizens can sit down and figure out some sensible steps to take. Steps that preserve their rights but protect innocent victims. Steps that keep guns out of the hands of lunatics. Liberals like me should probably talk about adopting more coercive measures in dealing with the mentally ill. That’s also a piece of the public health puzzle.

Many articles pointed out that it’s probably impossible to prevent mass murders, just like it’s impossible to prevent all traffic deaths. There is a benefit to risk ratio. This may be true.

But twenty dead children aren’t an acceptable risk. We can’t just shrug our shoulders, and turn off the radio. I hope I don’t ever grow so callous as to stop remembering the moment I heard the awful news. Because the parents of those 20 children will relive that moment until they are on their deathbed. And there must be ways to prevent that.

1 comment to Where Were you When You Heard?

  • I would like to ask those gun lobby folks for a photo of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln with a GENUINE AK-47. the founding fathers had good and sufficient reason for including that in the Constitution; after all, the brits were always after them! but the brits are our friends now… to what degree do we have the right to bear arms? do we really need an assault rifle? can we once again shut our eyes to carnage..and yes, sadly, Wyoming gets an A from the NRA… a pox on their houses

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