Adam Lanza forced his way into a Connecticut elementary school Friday and opened fire, killing 20 young children and six other adults before taking his own life. But we all know that. Just like we know that another shooter murdered three in a shopping mall in Oregon days before, that this July a young man clad in riot gear and wielding an assault rifle burst into a premiere screening of The Dark Knight Rises and took out 12 theatergoers, that the previous year an unhinged ex-doctoral student gunned down Congresswoman Gabby D. Giffords and 17 of her aides and constituents outside a Safeway, and on and on and on. Friday’s tragedy and the countless other tragedies preceding it scream for tougher gun control laws in the United States. Oh, sorry, am I politicizing this?
Well, yes. And I’m not so sure there is anything wrong with that.
It is impossible to articulate the horror of what happened in Newtown. Any mass shooting rightfully rocks our nation, and one in which the victims epitomize innocence hits us even harder. As President Obama said when he addressed the nation on Friday, “[The children] had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” We should recognize the enormity of the event, we should grieve for the fallen, and we should express our outrage. But we should also channel our grief and outrage into effecting change that will bring down the body count in the future.
In the 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives individuals the right to carry firearms for lawful purposes such as self-defense in the home. But assault rifles like the AR-15 that Lanza used in Newtown are hardly necessary for keeping the family silver safe from intruders. In fact, semiautomatic weapons with the capacity to mow down two first grade classes in a matter of minutes have no place in our marketplace. We need to talk about keeping them out through stricter gun regulation, and we need to talk about it right now.
When, in response to a mass shooting, we call on the president and Congress to step up and take a harsher stance on guns, we do not exploit victims’ deaths just to further a political agenda. Rather, we push for policy changes that address the causes of the tragedy. If we succeed, we may forestall future disasters. This does not trivialize loss of life but instead makes it meaningful.
The feelings engendered by the Newtown shooting evoke memories of the 1999 Columbine massacre, in which two high school seniors brutally took 13 innocent lives. The scale of that tragedy was enabled by police codes that prevented officers from entering Columbine High School until a SWAT team had assembled. During the 45 minutes while the police waited, the shooters killed 10 of their 13 total victims. Police across the country responded to this fatal flaw in their procedures by developing “active-shooter” training that requires first responders to take down the gunman immediately upon their arrival on the scene. The tragedy in Columbine inspired not only immense sorrow but also tangible reform that police say has saved numerous lives over the past decade. The tragedy in Newtown offers a similar opportunity for positive change.
If we are ever to convince the government to pass laws restricting the purchase of deadly weapons, we should move now, in the wake of a calamity that has put the issue on the country’s radar. After all, a recent poll shows a sudden 7 percent increase in support for gun control after the Sandy Hook shooting. It would be irresponsible of us to cite overwhelming sadness as an excuse for refusing to have the difficult but undeniably necessary national conversation about guns. If we stall, the moment for action will pass. And then, before we know it, our smartphone screens will again light up with New York Times news alerts informing us that history has repeated itself.
So let’s go ahead and politicize. Let’s politicize until there is nothing left to politicize, until our efforts have culminated in the passage of laws that prevent unspeakable things like the senseless slaughter of children from occurring in the first place.
Molly L. Roberts ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Holworthy Hall.