I can't seem to get the images and memories of Littleton out of my mind. The carnage and the devastation that was caused there must never be overlooked in our daily, drooling wait for the thirty-third rerun of Seinfeld nor may we allow whatever lessons it holds for the rest of us to be ignored or forgotten, ever.
It was truly awe inspiring the speed with which the NRA and their spokesmen grabbed the microphones of the newscasts and the attention of the inattentive and shouted and demanded that everyone ignore the damages that their favorite toys have once again caused and to immediately begin their never ending process of laying the blame on everyone and everything but themselves and their motives. Somehow, within hours of my little newsletter being published and sent to you all, I was greeted by an NRA representative, presumably from the town of Littleton, who pretended to have an open and fair mind but who could only focus on the one issue that he and far too many others are such fanatics about, their sick fascination with their dearly beloved guns. The speed with which he attempted to insert himself into these pages and discussions was phenomenal and the slick words and phrases that he used in order to grab some small part of the debate was, at first, comforting and hopeful. Once he felt pleasantly in charge of the conversation, though, the only part of a four page message sent to him that he could see and reply to was the small part about his mania; guns.
Charlton Heston, the President of the NRA, was suddenly everywhere, too. In firm, stentorian tones he blessed the masses with his Moses-like wisdom about the wonders and joys of weapons and they who own them. Like the B movie actor before him, Ronald Reagan, the same trite and baseless arguments flowed from his lips and soothed the fear of those who will believe anything as long as it sounds sincere. But like the B movie actor before him, he has learned that once you can fake sincerity and sympathy, gaining the trust of the uninformed is easy.
"Guns don't kill people! People kill people!" Please, would someone send me any story that has ever, in the history of mankind, told of a gun getting up on its own two legs and, with a steely determination, fire itself at someone until that person was dead?!? Can we dispense with that completely irrelevant garbage and focus on the problems for a change?
People do indeed kill people with devices of every imaginable sort, that cannot be argued in any way but, for the sake of our children now and forever, let's stop this blathering and hedging and state once and for all, PEOPLE USE GUNS TO KILL OTHER PEOPLE! And yes, there is no doubt that cars and baseball bats and knives and screwdrivers and on and on also kill people but the main and only difference is that all of those other objects have some very innocent and important use in our lives and that guns, in particular hand guns and assault weapons, have only one use that they are designed for and used for and that is to take the life of another human being. Nothing else. Just that one ungodly and repulsive use.
I happily and freely admit that the NRA has a reason for existing. The "sport" of hunting is and probably always will be with us (although I will truly consider it a sport when we arm the critters, as well). There will also be those among us who deplore the killing of any animal for any reason and they will always try to halt any further hunting or fishing for any reason. Both sides have arguments and issues that need to be addressed but, as has become the focus in nearly all of the significant questions that we face, both sides want and demand a black and white, good versus evil, us versus them world. The art of compromise has been so badly beaten on, in the last twenty years in particular, that any actual, calm and intelligent discussion of the issues is refused but bumper sticker stupidity like "Guns don't kill people ... " suddenly passes for high intelligence and deep thought.
The basic reasons for horrors like Littleton are seldom just guns, of that there is no doubt. Children kill children with cars and knives and, sometimes, cause them to kill themselves through the taunts and ridicule that they think is the sign of superiority in class or societal standing since that is all they see on TV and in particular, in politics. The filthy, mean spirited way that politicians treat one another from the moment they run their first attack ad until the moment that they arrive in office and the vile and senseless way that they insult and belittle one another instead of debating the actual issues shows our children that only wimps debate and only losers compromise. Real men don't say "Please" or "I'm sorry" in this new and unfortunate world. Television teaches the children that all problems can be resolved in, at worst, sixty minutes and video games teach them the "joy" and entertainment value of constant, bloody slaughter while movies teach them that real men wear black and kill all of the bad guys with huge, automatic weapons that never need reloading and that wimps who want to settle any issue calmly will always die horribly before the end of the first reel. Professional sports teaches them that abusing drugs and alcohol carries a penalty equivalent to your athletic ability and wealth. If you're a black man and the star of a team then a hand slap and a two game suspension will suffice. If you're a nameless and faceless black man in the ghetto then you get five to ten years in prison for the same conduct. If you're an all-star player, then trying to maim your opponent is just "part of the game and to be expected". If you do the same thing to your neighbor during an argument it's assault and results in a few years behind some very poorly painted bars with other seriously maladjusted people. We send our children such mixed and confusing messages and then we're "shocked" and "saddened" and "disgusted" when they act in the exact way that we, as the supposedly mature adults, have role modeled for them.
Frankly, I had to take a long look at my own feelings and fears for my children after this horror. Two still attend school and I wondered how safe they may actually be. Thankfully, they attend school in a small town where most teachers are really quite alert to signs of change in their students. Our teachers have the advantage of knowing these children and watching them grow from kindergarten through to their last year of high school. Our teachers are, as well, some of the finest, most dedicated individuals I have ever seen.
Nevertheless, I cannot get certain images out of my mind. Sadly, I have seen the faces of children whose life has faded from them. I have seen children, small fragile and trusting things, dead from gunshot wounds. I have carried their little bodies to a place where they could be put into bags and quickly forgotten. I cannot find within myself any power that will let me just file those impressions away and return to that wonderful, innocent time before the suffering of children became just another news story that every side tries to spin to the advantage of their viewpoint or to try to protect from deliberation their group's real values. There just doesn't seem to be anyone out there who wants to reflect on why these two boys found themselves so lost and confused that they could even conceive of such a terrible act let alone plan it for months or years and then carry it out in such a methodical and depraved way.
America seems to need a good guy/bad guy world. They need it because we no longer want to take the time to try to understand either side of any question and because there is no place one can go to for factual information on most topics. The media is owned and operated by and for Corporate America so any story that may cast a glaring light onto topics that they feel best left unseen is simply ignored or glossed over. The NRA sends out their shock troops to provide the media with wonderful, well thought out but completely misleading thirty second sound bites that help reporters to fill column inches or airtime and require little or no knowledge on the parts of the Ken and Barbie talking heads that have become Corporate America's answer to our need for information. The television and radio media know that Americans won't sit still for any sort of in-depth analysis so they feed us garbage and so easily convince the masses that it's real and nourishing food.
The actions of these two boys did not occur in a vacuum. Their pain and frustration built up over many months and years. When they looked outside themselves for answers or relief from their anguish what did they find? Did they find a world where the adults do whatever is necessary to maintain a safe, loving and caring attitude and atmosphere for them? Did they find a world that offered peace and support for those outside of the conformity that society and the media demands even from non-conformists? Did they find any support or even role models to learn from and whose message was that there are always options other than violence and hatred and revenge? Of course not. All that America offers is some vaporous and mean spirited "Family Values" from politicians who spend their time berating those of differing opinions and bombing and killing everyone else that we disagree with or who act in any way other than in our best economic interests.. Our school boards take away funding that once provided for counseling, a person and place where children could go and find a safe haven and a kind and understanding person to help and advise them, preferring to spend those funds for sports. The media, the creators of video games, ridiculous gangsta wannabes, religious "leaders", politicians and professional sports all teach our children that those who use their minds and hearts are wimps and losers but those who have no idea of how to use their minds and are thus reduced to using violence are to be worshipped and adored.
I also look at the fact that, even in the first and second grades, children are splintering off into groups and cliques and taunting and laughing at the children who belong to a "lesser" clique or those who belong to none. My children speak of the teasing and pushing and shoving that too many children think is okay and that the teachers try so hard to notice and stop but which, instead, is then done more and more quietly but is done, nonetheless. Our teachers behave in a manner that attempts to provide each child with the attention they need while being very watchful of those who may raise cause for concern. They do this very well, indeed, and should be proud of their many accomplishments. The schools and teachers, though, can only do so much.
A lot of the blame for this breaking off into groups can be laid at the feet of parents. It has become far too important where the child is accepted for day care and then pre-school and on and on until the child sees that either they are better than others because they were accepted at only the best schools or that they are failures because they weren't. I know and understand that this desire for only the best for the child's future is an honorable goal in the eyes of every parent. We all want only the best for the children whom we love and we all want them to succeed in life (whatever that entails in our dreams). The problem, however, is when we allow them to believe that they are superior to others through the fact that they had better financial and social opportunities or a higher innate IQ or more athletic prowess or possess whatever natural advantage that God or Mother Nature and evolutionary and genetic chance provided them with. This is the fuse that far too often is lit and kept smoldering until eventually the child feels as if only the act of causing or accepting death will ease the pain and embarrassment and frustration.
We must, as a society, learn to accept and acknowledge and encourage whatever makes each child special and valuable. It must become an everyday fact of life that whatever makes a child unique, especially those traits that are different from the "norm" and those that force a child to question and expect answers, must be supported and nourished by us all. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison had no degrees to hang on their walls, no membership in the best fraternities or the most prestigious associations but they changed the world forever with their existence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi and so many of their followers stood apart from the masses who wanted to change the world through violent struggle and, instead, taught and practiced the view that change is more permanent and far more easily maintained when that struggle is of the heart and mind and not of the sword and shield.
We must declare that it is our differences, not our conformity, that makes the world a far more enjoyable and progressive and wonderful place to live. We must proclaim our support for those children who seem to be searching for themselves since that exploration of their world is the only possible path to their own happiness and tranquillity. To blend in with the masses is to accept the loss of your own identity and the attainment merely of the character of someone else or, even more discouraging, the character that some inane commercial trumpets as "unique" and "different". Every child must be constantly encouraged to strive for what they see as worth yearning for and working for in their future, not what others tell them to crave. Children who are allowed to explore their world will nearly always find what they seek. Those who are discouraged from that journey nearly always discover only what they were led to and that seldom brings happiness or peace. Finally, we must not allow ourselves to judge the progress or goals that our children seek. It is their journey, not ours. If we have made the best effort we are capable of in the limited time we were given to raise and nurture them, then their trek towards maturity will be one of which they can be proud. If we haven't taken the time to properly teach them of the world, then the world will happily teach them what we didn't.
Gentle readers, a better and more agreeable and less violent world can only be attained by people who are open to compromise and to an honest and fair debate of all of the issues and possible solutions. No conceivable element of a resolution can be arbitrarily taken from or kept out of the deliberation. I can never see a world where no one but cops and robbers have guns nor do I ever want to see a day where everyone is so awfully frightened that they feel that they must live and work and play fully armed and feel such fear that they think they must spend their lives behind locked and guarded gates. I want and expect and demand that all sides cease in their sick and unattainable lust for complete victory for their ideologies and the complete capitulation of those with whom they disagree.
I most assuredly do not claim to have even a small percentage of the answers to all of the dreadful dilemmas that the people of this planet face. What I do have an answer for is how we can attain those answers. There is a desperate need for an open forum that must be acknowledged and allowed to come forth so that everyone will feel comfortable expressing their views and desires and where the shrill and childish shouting down of opposing viewpoints is simply never again endured. It will certainly take a colossal and united effort by the very few that still value our democracy, let alone our children, to begin such a huge undertaking but I must believe that we are capable of taking back this nation from the fanatics. Any other belief would have long ago forced me to admit that there is no hope for the future and that the warped and hateful and greedy world that we are leaving our children is forever lost into the hands of the wretched and contemptible souls that own it and abuse it now. I would rather die this very moment than feel that I didn't at least try to better that legacy.
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