The nation watched in horror when the news reported stories of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The news was so shocking, so horrific, so evil in nature that it was hard for us to believe at first. But, sure enough, the news reports were right. A young man, wearing black fatigues and a military vest, had taken several guns, including a semi-automatic weapon, into an elementary school and embarked on a reign of terror. When he was done, 26 women and children – 20 students and six school personnel – were dead. He then took his own life.
The shootings in Newtown have startled the world and have many pundits talking about it. But it seems there are more questions than answers. What could have possibly prompted this young man to drive to an elementary school and shoot innocent children and teachers? Was it mental illness? Was it medication? Was it violent video games? Was it access to too many guns? Was it something else?
This gruesome and tragic scene took place just days before Christmas. In the midst of happy, seasonal celebrations, this horrific massacre stood in stark contrast. But evil does not take a vacation. Violence, it seems, does not stop. And, sadly, as President Obama stated when he addressed a mourning nation, “we have been through this too many times.”
In the last year alone, we have witnessed mass shootings around the country. From the Colorado movie theater shootings, to a Tennessee nightclub shooting, to an Ohio school shooting, to a shooting at a small religious college in California and a shooting at a Seattle coffee shop. And, just a few days before the shooting in Newtown, a gunman opened fire at an Oregon mall and killed two people before killing himself. The day after the Newtown shootings, a man opened fire at a hospital in Alabama. He wounded employees and a police officer before being shot.
And, then there are the too frequent reports of a shooting in one of our communities. It seems that almost nightly we see a murder or attempted murder reported in one of our cities. Just a few weeks ago, the news covered a story of a local murder-suicide. The news reported that a local man killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide. Allegedly, he did this in front of their toddler.
So, as we contemplate the unthinkable tragedy at Newtown, we will surely have dialogues on the problem and how to solve it. At the time of this writing, there have already been many.
There is a dialogue about gun control. I completely understand constitutional rights, but I am left wondering why do civilians need the same guns as the military? Why do civilians need to purchase and collect military style assault weapons? And why do civilians need to purchase an arsenal of weapons? Just a few days after the Newtown shooting, a man in Indiana with 47 guns and ammunition worth more than $100,000 was arrested as he made threats of violence.
There is also dialogue about mental health. What role, if any, did mental health play in these shootings? Were there signs that such a tragedy could take place? In one news feature, a mental health expert suggested that these kinds of rampages usually have warning signs – but what are they? Are we looking for them? And, if we did see such warning signs, what treatment is available to prevent further horrific tragedies?
And, there is dialogue about violent video games, violent movies and violent music videos. Just last week, before the shootings, I had a discussion with someone about the increasing episodes of violence that we are all exposed to through television, video games, the Internet and even music videos. We were discussing the graphic violence that is depicted in some television programs and some video games. There are even video games that simulate urban warfare. When I was younger, we played Monopoly; today, young people are playing urban warfare.
But let’s not get so wrapped up in dialogue that we fail to act. Too many innocent lives have been tragically stolen from us. After the Colorado movie shootings, there was plenty of dialogue. And, yet, here we are again – facing another horrific massacre. Our schools, our movie theaters, our malls and our hospitals should not be terror zones – they should be safe places. As President Obama rightly stated at the Newtown Memorial Service, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.”
We are all connected – a tragedy in one place affects us all. We can come together to create a better, safer society for everyone. We can, and must act. And as we work to create a safer society, let’s also create our own safe space in our homes and our community. Let’s treasure those around us – let’s practice peace in our everyday lives, in our words and deeds. Let’s take that extra minute to listen to our children talk about their day, even when we’re busy. Let’s sit in the car idly and let a person cut into the lane, even if we’re in a rush. Let’s offer that co-worker our help, even if they have never offered to help us.
In memory of the innocent lives lost in Newtown and this past year, let’s keep peace in our hearts. This year, those Christmas messages take on an urgent meaning – my wish to you is peace and love.