An Elegy for Innocence

“It is not suppose to happen here.” This phrase is uttered after every mass killing in pristine and pure suburban America. The latest casualty in American gun culture was described by the Consoler-in-Chief as a “quiet town full of good and decent people.” Six and 7-year-old bodies riddled with military grade bullets fired by an assault weapon not in Baghdad or Kabul but a rather small town “that could be any town in America.”

A palpable national grieving has flooded the media with explainers and soothsayers. Former Arkansas Governor Rev. Mike Huckabee, a former GOP Presidential candidate, laid blame on the secularization of society and schools. For Huckabee the lack of God in the public square facilitates violence: “It’s far more than taking prayer or bible reading out of the school … we’re asked where was God [in this tragedy] … we’ve escorted [God] right out of our culture and marched him off the public square … and then we express our surprise that a culture without him actually reflects what it has become.”

Other soothsayers posit that more guns are necessary to prevent mass gun killings. “Only one policy has reduced these mass shootings and the number of casualties, and that is concealed carry permits,” conservative gadfly Ann Coulter concluded on Sean Hannity’s radio show. God and guns are linked to the nation’s response to crisis engendered by the collective experience of violence.

Like Sept. 11, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has caused certain Americans to share in the vulnerability to violence that too many Americans and global citizens live with every day. Sept. 11 gave the nation an identity crisis, once buttressed by physical safety and moral superiority. Mass terrorist acts are reserved for Arab villages where violence is supposed to happen, not on American soil.

In like romanticism, Tucson, Aurora, Paducah, Columbine, Blacksburg and Newtown are “full of good and decent people,” where such heinous acts are not supposed to happen. Such sentiment begs the question: Where is such violence supposed to happen in America? Certain Americans, already worried about their children’s interactions with law enforcement and stray bullets, must now be worried about a gunman besieging their militarized schools and shooting up classrooms that will most likely fail their children.

This year alone in Chicago, Ill., more than 400 people have died from gun violence — many victims are children and teens. Yet there is no national grieving, collective lamenting, presidential prayer, or belief that gun violence is not supposed to happen here. For these Americans, collective handwringing is absent and political will naught because gun violence is supposed to happen, there.

Before the tender bodies were identified and funeral arrangements finalized by broken parents, explainers paraded across the 24-hour stage of punditry. Experts argued that video games, single parents, Hollywood movies and gun laws (weak or strong) are the problem. Other explainers have suggested that if the nation could figure out how to detect and screen out mentally ill folks from gun ownership then the Sandy Hook Elementary of America would be safe. The much debated and now expired assault weapon’s ban will take center stage. Handguns—the most owned weapon by private citizens—have been the No. 1 killer of certain Americans since 1969. Whereas assault weapons represent a fraction of weapons purchased by private citizens. Hence, the assault weapon’s ban and other gun laws will have no impact on the gun violence in the othered places of America.

According to the explainers, certain Americans are prone to gun violence because of their parentage and pigmentation. Stronger laws, including longer jail sentences, are the answer to their destructive selves. And the gun lobby has successfully convinced soothsayer, explainer and politician alike that these indecent Americans are the reason that decent Americans need more guns as afforded by the civic scripture — the Constitution of the United States of America. To this end, more than 250 millions guns populate the national landscape.

Generally speaking, gun violence remains a leading cause of death in America. Americans are 10 times more likely to die from gunshot wounds than in other industrialized countries. Moreover, instances where a private citizen in possession of a firearm has prevented a mass killing are non-existent. The proliferation of legally purchased arms serves to give the nation pause. The fact the Newtown school shooter’s weapons were legally obtained by his mother — the first victim — should speak volumes. The belief that gun ownership is sacred and unquestionable flies in the face of reality.

Dr. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, has conducted a number of studies on gun usage and violence. Hemenway’s findings shatter several gun lobby myths: Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense. On the contrary, guns are used far more often to intimidate not for self-defense. Guns are used in escalating arguments that are neither socially desirable nor legal. In the home, guns are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime. And finally Hemenway found: “Few criminals are shot by decent law abiding citizens.”

Yet, a fiction of gun ownership persists — holy and acceptable. That fiction is based on a greater fiction wrapped in our national sense of self — the infallibility of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution as the immutable word of god. Hence, the Second Amendment of the Constitution is never questioned but defended with vigor on both sides of the aisle. The 13th Amendment — blood-soaked as well — testifies to the fact that the Founding Fathers were not omniscient. Rather, they were fallible creatures, courageous on some things and cowardly on others, incapable of imagining our present moment. If the Founding Fathers were wrong on something as big as slavery, they could have been wrong about “the right to bear arms.” Thus, the constitution must be treated as a living document subject to enhancement and correction.

Nevertheless, in the days to come the explainers will analyze. The soothsayers will prophesy. And the politicians will respond in kind with two impoverished options: a more militarized or less militarized society. To continue to believe in the infallibility of the Founding Fathers and the sacredness of the Second Amendment is beyond fiction, it is mauvaise foi. To holdfast to the notion that gun violence is supposed to happen in certain communities and not in others is undemocratic. Until the nation is willing lay down all of its weapons at home and aboard, the eulogies of children on the south side of Chicago and a southern Connecticut town will be elegies for innocence, if not our democracy.






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