The New Normal

Our Gun Dilemma...

Embarrassing, Frightening and Outrageous


In nine months, we have experienced five mass shootings in the US: 
  • Newtown, Connecticut: December 14, 2012. A lone gunman kills twenty children and six adults inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • Portland, Oregon: December 11, 2012. A masked gunman opens fire in a crowded mall, killing two and seriously injuring a third before turning the gun on himself. Police officers say the killer's assault weapon jammed, preventing further carnage. 
  • Oak Creek, Wisconsin: August 2012. A white supremacist shoots six people and a responding police officer at a Sikh temple before shooting himself.
  • Aurora, Colorado: July 2012. A lone gunman kills and injures 58 at a screening of "The Dark Knight."
  • Oakland, California: April 2012. A former student at a Christian college fatally shoots seven people and injures three.

People say that guns do not kill but the people holding them do. Almost a cliché. But what about how easy it is to buy a gun, the types of guns and clips that are available and the people who have access? 

Gun lobbyists remind us of the second amendment in the US Constitution. They also remind us of the fear we should be feeling if we do not own a gun and are not allowed to carry it. We do not need to delete the second amendment, but it does need to be tweaked. We can make restrictions on amendments. We did this with the first amendment which guarantees free speech. There are times when you cannot say anything that you want. 

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14 has particularly affected me. Maybe it’s because I’m a parent and a retired teacher. I mourn for the victims and their families and I also mourn for part of the childhood that has been stolen from the surviving children. As I teacher, I know how important it is for children to feel safe and anxiety-free in order for learning to take place. As parents, my husband and I always tried to provide a happy, safe, nourishing and loving childhood for our daughters. I think we succeeded. 

I am sure parents of the children at Sandy Hook also have the same goals for their children but last Friday they encountered something beyond their control...something that has either taken their children away from them forever or has shaken their surviving children’s innocence, their childhood, in ways that will always be with them.

Everyone is asking why because we assume knowing the answer could help us find ways to solve this type of violence. I say that regardless of answers we might find, there are things we can do right now. We can restrict assault weapons, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and limit the size of clips. American citizens do not need the ability to fire many rounds rapidly. Why have clips of 30 rounds? We can also limit gun access to mentally unstable people. Also, regulation changes for gun show and online purchases are long overdue. Forty percent of gun purchases in this country, require no background checks.

Schools around the country are now securing their buildings and conducting terrorism lockdown and evacuation drills for staff and students. How outrageous that this is even necessary! How frightening that must be for children! As a child, I remember air raid drills but none of us ever thought it was connected to our reality. With news of so many mass shootings, children today know that their drills really are connected to their reality.   

We need to shift the paradigm. Gun violence is a public health issue. Once we saw cigarette smoking as public health issue, we began to see things differently and make changes. We saw a need to protect people, children especially, from second-hand smoke. We also need to protect all, especially children, from gun deaths.

It is amazing that in my state of Maryland, there is not even a license required to buy or own a rifle or shotgun if you are over 18. We need a license to drive a car and we need to pass two tests, performance and written. We need a license to get married. We need a fishing license to fish in the Chesapeake Bay. But we do not need a license to own a potential murder weapon that can shoot 30 rounds. And we do not need to take a safety class or pass a test. 

Something is way out of balance. We cannot prevent all gun violence but we can certainly change the unbalanced equation.

For further reading:

(1) Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research White paper: The Case for Gun Policy Reforms

“Gun violence in the United States is unusually high for a nation of such wealth. Although there is little difference in the overall crime rates between the United States and other high income countries, the homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times higher than the combinedhomicide rate of 22 other high-income countries.This is because the firearm homicide rate inthe U.S. is twenty times greater than in these other high-income countries. The higher prevalence of gun ownership and much less restrictive gun laws are important reasons why violent crime in the U.S. is so much more lethal than in countries of similar income levels.”

(2) The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America: Hopkins October 2012 Press Release