I don’t see any point in preaching to you about Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut. Like many people worldwide, I felt a sense of futility and horror as the story developed in real time and got steadily worse with each reading. You know how you feel, why you feel it and what you think should be done about gun laws.
At this point in time, thanks to a powerful combination of national mythology, entrenched fear of violent crime and a fiercely guarded right to self determination, it seems like insurmountable effort beyond the ability of any American president to introduce legislation which will reduce gun ownership.
“If you take away our legally-obtained guns’, so goes the argument, ‘How do we defend ourselves from criminals who don’t care about licenses, waiting periods and legality?” Try to intervene as a government in a constitutional right which so many Americans regard as integral to their pursuit of life and you run the risk of initiating a path which ends in full-on Civil War. It might seem fanciful to a Briton who lives happily without ever seeing a gun in real life, let along owning one, but that’s the way it is.
The notion that America will one day be a gun-free society is so esoteric that it barely deserves discussion – for many Americans, the genuine distrust they feel for government necessitates (in their minds) their right to own weapons and protect their freedom from interference and tyranny. We’re too far gone, it would seem, to change that way of viewing the world.
How do you begin to convince a people that this line of thinking only serves to perpetuate the cycle of horror that they’ve found themselves in? That’s the task that America now sees itself tasked with.
Do you continue down this road, where each year sees multiple, gun-related atrocities committed by a malcontent, mentally ill spree killer whose suicide invariably acts as the climactic act of their destructive path? Or do you try to change the way that your society functions, with no concrete guarantee of changing hearts and minds in your lifetime?
I should contextualise my remarks by telling that I’m not a parent, so the rawest emotions that many of you reading this will have felt over the weekend are not ones which I can honestly profess to feel – I think Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian today sums up what many families will have felt at one point or another in the last few days.
The only reaction that I can have is empathy for those who have lost loved, cherished, yearned-for children in circumstances so utterly distressing and vile that they pierce the hardest, most cynical heart. I can’t purport to solve the situation that Americans now grapple with, nor absolve my country of the myriad issues and inequalities which tax our ability to function as a nation.
When children die in banally horrific situations like this we should look deeply at our world. We can all be better than this – we should want to be.