Twenty dead children have to matter

By Marsha Sutton

Yet again.

Was there anyone who did not walk around in a daze last Friday, thinking about the children in their lives and how to protect them forever from random acts of incomprehensible violence?

The anguish of the parents of those 20 innocent 6- and 7-year-old children gunned down in Connecticut is unimaginable.

And yet we imagine … and what we come up with is emptiness, anger, despair, hopelessness, loneliness and fear. And still all that is not enough, not nearly enough, to fully understand the pain.

Trying to maintain equilibrium while finishing errands Friday, glued to the radio for more news, I tore myself away and wandered into the Carmel Valley Library to return a book. Meeting the eyes of other adults, some clinging tightly to their children, there were no smiles or pleasant greetings. Words were not necessary to communicate the shared horror.

We have turned this country into a madhouse with deranged, and armed, inmates loose upon society. I’m certain the founders of this country did not foresee this possibility when they wrote the Second Amendment.

More than 11,000 homicides by firearms were recorded in this country last year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Division of Vital Statistics. And since the Columbine killings in 1999, we have suffered through more than 30 mass murders, many at schools.

The words – “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” – must have sounded good at the time, a time when America’s founders understood how fragile their new democratic government was and how easily liberty and freedom can be stolen by tyranny, given the pages of history.

Protecting the people from autocratic dictators, both externally and from within, by allowing citizens to be armed, was right then. But what a monster we have created.

Why do people need assault weapons? Are people so paranoid and insecure that they feel the need to “protect” themselves with weapons that turn living tissue into mincemeat in seconds?

Some of these children had up to 11 bullets in them. Eleven! How many bullets does it take to kill a defenseless 6-year-old?

There are those who now argue that the crazy people have easy access to guns so the sane people need more guns to protect themselves. A “vicious cycle” doesn’t begin to describe the insanity of this line of reasoning.

Yes, there will always be the unhinged who find ways to get guns even with stricter controls. But we cannot allow ourselves to become paralyzed into inaction just because we can’t control every violent act. At least we could stop some.

Nothing will change unless the gun zealots back off the warped mentality of the “from my cold, dead hands” Charlton Heston sloganeering and wake up to the reality their intransigence has helped to create. Catchy slogans – “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” and “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” – trivialize and demean the seriousness of the problem we must confront as a nation in mourning.

Fortress America

After each massacre, the public hears the admonition from falsely contrite gun lovers that now is not the time talk about gun control but is the time to come together and comfort one another.

The U-T San Diego, in an editorial just after the shooting, stated, “We should hold off before we settle into our usual back and forth about gun control, violence in pop culture, and what these mass murders say about America.”

Hold off? Until when?

Suggesting that we do the victims a disservice by focusing on anything but their grief is a disingenuous attempt to divert and distract the public from one of the most pressing issues we face in this country.

A discussion about finding solutions to the basic problem, apparently, has no place in the public discourse until some sort of artificially established “grief waiting period” has passed. But no amount of time can ever pass for these families to end their grieving.

When exactly would be a good time to talk about gun control and what the proliferation of assault weapons and high-power ammunition means to our country? If not now, when?

Some have said it’s not a gun problem, that instead we need faster interventions and better treatment of those with severe mental disorders. But it’s not one or the other – it’s both, and probably a whole lot more as well.

Enforce stricter gun laws, and identify and treat the mentally disturbed. But in the meantime, we need protection. Because until we can turn this around (if ever), we must acknowledge that we have become Fortress America and find ways to keep our children safe.

That may mean security gates at schools, metal detectors, backpack checks, armed guards. We have bags checked at airports, government buildings, many museums and historical sites. Should we leave our children more vulnerable than airplane passengers?

Some say it turns our country’s public spaces and facilities into prisons, with gates and metal detectors, and “gives in” to the violence. Some say we must live free and that freedom is more important that protecting against the random violence of lunatics.

But “Live free or die” was not meant to apply to vulnerable children with no way to protect themselves from senseless slaughter.

A tipping point at last?

Last Friday night, I saw The Hobbit at a large movie cineplex in Mira Mesa. With Sandy Hook Elementary on everyone’s minds, and the theater shooting in Aurora still fresh, would movie-goers have objected to a bag search? Not in the least.

Of course determined crazies can get in anywhere. They can scale a fence, shoot their way through a locked door or gate, break through windows. But we can at least try to make it harder for them to access and kill peaceful people gathered together in public places.

Locally, how about banning the gun shows at the Del Mar Fair? For a small town that once declared itself a nuclear-free zone, gun shows should be anathema to Del Mar.

Attend the next local gun show. See how easy it is to buy anything you want, immediately, with little if any waiting period. Look at the firepower and ammunition for sale there that make the old style six-shooter revolver look like a pop gun. Then try to tell yourself the founders of this country meant for it to be like this.

Through this unspeakable evil, we may have finally reached the tipping point in the public’s demand for stricter gun control. The grief and fury, beyond containment this time, are tied to the ages of the victims and their innocence and helplessness.

Twenty first-graders and six brave teachers and staff members were murdered at a school that could have been one of ours. Every face we see today of a first-grader reminds us now of the babies lost, the parents bereft, a community suffering with immeasurable sorrow.

With broken hearts, we must come together to hold politicians’ feet to the fire on sensible gun control laws. Make this a litmus test for voter support. And insist on more funding to treat the violent, mentally disturbed youth in our midst.

As painful as it is, we need to keep the tortured images of 20 tiny coffins in our minds, and remember their names and faces, to bolster our resolve to demand common sense approaches to helping us mend as a society, to bring order out of chaos, to create something meaningful from inexplicable brutality.

We must do what we can to stop this madness. This time, we can’t give up or give in or forget. We must try. For the sake of the dead children, to honor their memories and pay tribute to the sanctity of their brief lives, we must try.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at