Are you surprised by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.? We didn’t think so. Heartbroken? Yes. But surprised?
We will search the news for a full accounting of the lost lives and shattered families. We will comb through the details. Will we stumble on the reason we keep enduring such sorrow? Where is the National Rifle Association to comfort us in this moment of disconsolation? Where is the evidence that our freedom can be purchased only by having the right to own 100 million guns?
We must have guns openly displayed, concealed guns, tiny pink handguns. The mentally unsafe and the psychologically unsound, the angry and the alienated, all must have access to iron, copper and graphite. Background checks, sales restrictions, taggants — no limits can be placed on freedom.
President Barack Obama said what we’ve come to expect in these moments, expressing a calibrated measure of one part horror, two parts sorrow. We know he was sincere. But he lost us when he said: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Are we? If meaningful action could occur “regardless of politics,” it would’ve taken place many thousands of homicides ago. It is pure political cowardice that has stood in the way of “meaningful action” — the abject capitulation of the nation’s political class to the gun lobby. Even Justice Antonin Scalia has acknowledged that the Second Amendment is not absolute. “We do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation,” he wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller. Yet in Washington and state legislatures across the country, the NRA’s agenda holds sway.
So what do we do? We train our police and first-responders and trauma teams to get better at rescue. They do increasingly excellent work. Response times in Connecticut and in the fatal shootings at a shopping mall in Oregon earlier this week were said to be lightning fast. From the year’s shootings — the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the movie theater in Colorado — the grief counselors have learned more and more.
It’s hard to imagine a sadder, more unsatisfying patch — the available solution to the slaughter of innocents is our ability to get better at cleaning the wounds and burying the dead. Until America’s leaders take on the gun lobby, until a president expends political capital on meaningful action, we will get better at mourning still.
Bloomberg View (Dec. 15)