The media screeches predictably — even when people behave in ways that aren’t predictable. News outlets and commentators seek to sort through the chaos and frame things in order to explain the unexplainable. Whether its Rupert Murdoch chiding politicians for lacking the courage to ban automatic weapons, or Mike Huckabee positing that the systematic removal of God has perpetuated crimes like the killing of 26 people in Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday, opinions abound and emotions run the gamut.
Every time we see a heinous, inexplicable evil such as this, there are as many reactions as there are questions: We should act; we shouldn’t act. We should grieve; we should forgive. While some say we should only mourn; others, like CNN’s Roland Martin say, “Now is the time to talk guns, mental illness.”
To borrow from the bard, every person in time plays different parts. Politicians should offer genuine condolences, as President Obama clearly did, when he choked back tears reading his address to the country. But they should also act: This is their job, to represent the people and their concerns in Congress. It doesn’t mean they should, within 24 hours propose radical legislation — like Senator Dianne Feinstein’s pending assault weapons ban — but they should reason and research, weigh and determine whether policy changes can and should be made.
Others should grieve and remember, honor and celebrate. No child should have to squeeze his eyes shut, blindly hold the hand of his classmate, and amble outside toward safety, unsure of why he must do so and if he will even reach it? No 27-year-old teacher should have to shield her students from a crazed gunman, lying to him about their whereabouts, to save their lives while losing hers.
But still as those stories emerge, in all their nauseating reality, two things remain certain: Evil permeates society and attempts to crush even the most indefensible among us. But also goodness exists, heroism, selflessness, even in the midst of the cruelty and in spite — and because — of it.
As John Piper, a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist, a church I used to attend, tweeted Saturday: “In times of suffering, silence is golden, and speaking is golden. It’s all a matter of truth and timing and tone.” In other words, “There is a time for everything, and a season for activity under the heavens….a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4)”
So to the Rupert Murdochs and Mike Huckabees: Your truth, timing, and tone are questionable — indefensible and ridiculous even. But still, what to make of 26 dead, particularly those who were too young to understand what was happening, much less protect themselves?
As the mother of a kindergartner, “what if” in all its variances and possibilities have swirled in my mind, just as they have in the mind of every parent of an elementary-age child nationwide by now. I cannot fathom how the parents are feeling. While I am busy wrapping Christmas gifts for my children, moms and dads in Connecticut are ordering caskets half the size of their bodies: How is this fair? How can we prevent this?
Despite the urge to wave the de facto “we need more gun control” banner typical of post-massacre reactions, pause and consider: Though guns were the vehicle for this atrocity, the gunman attempted — and was unable — to receive a license. He stole guns that belonged to his mother and for which he had no license, to commit a crime that is illegal on a premises which bans weapons. (In essence, the crime occurred smack dab in media res gun control.) Reports are also emerging that he showed signs of mental illness. It’s doubtful that tighter gun laws would prevent someone deranged enough to plan such an act or, if semi-automatic weapons were banned, would have deterred him altogether because his weapon of choice is illegal. The majority, if not all, of these types of shootings in the last several years have occurred where guns are banned: If the gunman knew an armed security personnel awaited his arrival, perhaps he would have chosen a different path, or at least a different target?
Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist with a M.D. in psychiatry, said he would first examine this shooting via the “psychology of the killer.” How exactly do we go about diagnosing and treating a person who is not only mentally ill while essentially pre-empting a crime he hasn’t yet committed? The answers are as difficult and elusive as the questions, but well worth an examination.
In the months ahead we as a nation can wade through these difficult questions, but let’s also cherish the indefensible among us (young and old) and praise the acts of heroism. Read the names of the little ones, look at the faces of the school staff — honor them with grief, an outpouring of love for their families, and rational acts towards lasting change that will prepare for and possibly prevent tragedies like this.