Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is it OK to talk about gun control yet?

I woke up this morning with that hungover feeling you get when you cry yourself to sleep. My eyes were hot and tired and instead of feeling rested, I felt drained. 

Before I went to bed last night I read this Washington Post story profiling Mark and Jackie Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School six months ago. 

Be warned. Lest you want to wake up feeling like I did this morning, don't read it right before going to sleep. But definitely read it. It's an incredible story -- the Barden's opened their lives and home to reporter Eli Saslow, giving him a window to what has to be the darkest minutes, hours, days and months of their lives.*

While reading, I found myself balling my hand into a fist and grinding my teeth (of course while also crying, crying, crying). 

It started with this: 
"The Bardens had already tried to change America’s gun laws by studying the Second Amendment and meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office. They had spoken at tea party rallies, posed for People magazine and grieved on TV with Katie Couric. They had taken advice from a public relations firm, learning to say 'magazine limits' and not 'magazine bans,' to say 'gun responsibility' and never 'gun control.' When none of that worked, they had walked the halls of Congress with a bag of 200 glossy pictures and beseeched lawmakers to look at their son: his auburn hair curling at the ears, his front teeth sacrificed to a soccer collision, his arms wrapped around Ninja Cat, the stuffed animal that had traveled with him everywhere, including into the hearse and underground."
Magazine limits? Gun responsibility? Seriously?

I feel, that in the Barden's shoes, I might have had a difficult time not punching the PR person in the face. Their 7-year-old child was slaughtered along with 19 of his classmates by a gunman toting a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns and you don't want to offend anyone by suggesting that high-capacity magazines should be illegal or that "gun responsibility" is just meaningless drivel used to placate the gun lobby?

Oops, I think I just did something I've been avoiding for the last six months: Outting myself as someone who is a proponent of gun control.  

The fact that I feel more apprehensive about sharing my opinions on gun control than I did sharing with 90,000+ readers of the York Sunday News eight years ago that I used to cut myself, speaks volumes about the culture of guns in our country. I don't feel comfortable discussing the topic with family members or friends because many of them own guns and seem to have strong opinions about the possibility of any gun-related laws.**  

But when I say gun control, I'm not suggesting that guns be banned completely. That representatives of the federal government raid the homes of each and every American and take all of their firearms. Although when I say the words "gun control" I feel like that's the immediate leap opponents might make. ("It's a slippery slope!")

While I don't own any guns or have any interest in owning guns, I'm not opposed to others owning them. And, hey, I understand being a supporter of amendments -- I'm partial to the first, but I don't think it's wrong to defend the second. Our Founding Fathers were smart guys and all.

But I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that weapon sales be regulated. In fact, I'm guessing most gun owners agree. I haven't heard from anyone -- non-gun owners or gun owners -- who think people should be able to make, buy and sell bombs, for instance. So, it stands to reason that this amendment, like the other 26, is open to interpretation and ... well ... amending. 

That said, I'm furious that the chatter in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook involved people bemoaning that we were going to have to have that gun control discussion again. In the weeks after, they got bolder -- loudly protesting their opposition to any gun control and suggesting that the solution to the problem of gun violence is more guns and worse yet, guns in schools. Then the conversation was completely hijacked by those pithy marketing slogans "guns don't kill people, people kill people" or "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" or "gun control is hitting your target." And, then, in the weeks and months after Sandy Hook -- a gun and ammunition-buying frenzy. 

It feels like the lives of 20 murdered first graders just became pawns for fear mongers. And their parents and the families of the teachers and administrators who were killed, living victims of this horrendous event -- have to to couch their language and bite their tongues -- they all deserve better than that. And we're all better than that. 

I know we're all better then that. 

So how is it that the parents of Sandy Hook victims could visit Senators and representatives and go in front of Congress to plead for gun control ... excuse me, gun responsibility ... and nothing? Nothing. They've had to bare their open wounds over and over again, share pictures of their beautiful little babies, tell stories about their short lives and stories about the desolation of lives without those beautiful little babies over and over again. Be trotted around like tragic show ponies with the smallest piece of hope that they can help prevent this from happening at another school, college campus, shopping center, or movie theater, and nothing. 

And now because Congress was not courageous enough to stand up to special interests, they're visiting state houses, hoping for a different outcome. Fifty more times they'll have to tell the story, show the pictures, express their depths of their sorrow. Fifty times they'll have to listen to that agonizing list of names. 

They deserve better than that. 

They deserve to be heard, really heard. And we all need to participate in the conversation. We all need to tune out the noise of the extremes and work in the gray area to find solutions that make us all safer while adhering to our Constitutional rights. 

In one part of the story, Saslow wrote about the Bardens' nighttime routine with their two surviving children: 
"All four of them crammed into one room in a five-bedroom house, three on a queen bed and one on the futon so they could will one another through the night, Jackie up every few hours, Mark closing his eyes and thinking about Daniel, always hoping he might come to him in a dream, even though he never did." 
As I was trying to fall asleep last night, I kept thinking about the Bardens, huddled together for comfort in the darkness. That image of them in my brain spurred me to write this post -- something I'm publishing with a lot of apprehension and with many reservations. I don't know what I can do for them. They've already gotten cards, blankets, stuffed animals, and other condolences from around the country. They just want their son back, I certainly can't deliver that. 

So I thought maybe I can just start the conversation in my tiny corner of world. We can talk about gun control and it doesn't have to end in name-calling, conspiracies and fear. 

Maybe if we talk about it, the Bardens won't have to keep reliving that horrible day for the benefit of our children.

*From a journalists' perspective, I think we all feel indebted to sources like the Barden's who allow photographers and reporters to document their lives in all its facets. It takes courage to expose yourself like that, and I'm not always sure what motivates people to do it. The times I've taken that leap it's with the small hope that someone will find solace, comfort or understanding in whatever subject I'm writing about. 

**I'm not at all trying to suggest that my gun-owning friends and family members are fanatical or unreasonable. Just that it's a topic I avoid as to not introduce potential friction. 

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