I waited more than four days for my newspaper, the voice of North Texas, to speak to me about Newtown. It had already given me the obligatory “how do we make sense of this tragedy” editorial, which is I guess necessary but ultimately unhelpful. I know I’m confused and angry and frightened and anxious. I need more than that. I need direction, a place to go from here.
During those four-plus days, I’d read dozens of stories and columns elsewhere, in national and international publications, trying to get a sense of what must occur next. In no time, it seems, I have become (and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you have too) something of a lay expert on gun laws in other countries, in shooting deaths around the world, in our country’s history of gun rights, in the origins and current status of our failing mental health system.
I was primed, then, to read something bold that could charge my friends and neighbors with, if not hope or joy in the wake of the Newtown killings, at least a bit of clarity.
Last night, the Dallas Morning News posted its editorial. Its prescription: “The nation needs a conversation about guns.”
It went on, telling me I should not “politicize the sadness” but should “search for ways that communities can secure themselves.” It went on:
The first step that’s needed is a rational, civil debate about where lawmakers should draw the lines on guns. … A spirit of compromise is needed so the nation can focus on how Newtown’s tragedy could have been prevented and how other communities can avoid their own.
I mean … whatever. I guess it could have been worse. It could have been the Chicago Tribune. It could have said what we need to do now is hug the ones we love a little tighter.
Sorry, that doesn’t do it for me. A rational, civil debate is not at all what I think this community needs.
This is not about waiting until our anger has subsided so we can all find some common ground. You know, I know, that will not happen. The hard-liners on each side of the gun debate are too dug in, too entrenched.
No, what needs to be done now is to nurse that anger. Feed it. Give the pain oxygen, let it breathe inside you.
It should not die. We should be forced to live with the hurt, as a reminder that it is our duty now to do all we can so this doesn’t happen again.
In a hundred years, people will look back on those who valued their guns ahead of children the same way we now view Americans who championed slavery or fought against women’s suffrage.
To do that, we need not a civil debate but a screaming match, a full-throated orgy of rage. We need those who do not want their 2nd Amendment rights threatened to stand up and roar.
We need those who believe guns are central to our way of life to proudly speak up about their beliefs in open forum. We need those in North Texas who, like Rick Perry, want to arm teachers to announce this on high. We need an assemblage of those who know God would protect us if we’d let him back in public schools to sing this song until their voices are no more.
We need this, because we must know if you’re on the wrong side of history.
In a hundred years, long after we are dust, people will look back on those who valued their guns ahead of children the same way we now view Americans who championed slavery or fought against women’s suffrage. Those who thought that such things were too entrenched in our culture and too entangled in our economy were proven wrong, just as those who see gun reduction as impossible will be proven wrong. They, as before, will simply be viewed as a sad relic of their time, comforted by the blanket of ignorance they share with the like-minded.
Like those wrong-headed people, today’s hard-line gun lovers are, it must be said again, on the wrong side of history. But systemic change does not occur by simply letting time march on.
In those battles, those who were proven on the right side of history were not civil. They were obstinate. They did not grant the legitimacy of their opponents’ arguments. They simply said you must change, because those who think like you do, bless their hearts, are dying off.
This is the conversation we must have: one-sided, righteous, angry, and loud. It may begin with small steps — Dick’s Sporting Goods making a welcome, symbolic gesture by taking “modern hunting rifles” (read: guns mass murderers love) off its shelves — but with vocal support, such small steps add up.
This is what I’ve decided, and I believe. You don’t have to agree. But the last thing you should do is engage in a “civil debate” about it. We know where that leads us: right back here.