Dear Chris Bowers: Some thoughts on the aftermath of Sandy Hook
Earlier this week I sent an open letter to Chris Bowers of the Daily Kos. It was in response to an e-mail that he had circulated following the tragic events in Newtown, CT. He has not yet responded. Below is a second open letter to him with some additional thoughts.
December 20, 2012
I have not heard back from you on my offer for a few of us to sit down and discuss the violence that plagues our society. I’m sure you are busy at the Daily Kos, not to mention the holiday season, and I trust that you will at some point give me the kind courtesy of a reply. Until then, I hope you don’t mind me writing to you and offering some of my thoughts on the subject.
The political reaction to the murders at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, reminds me somewhat of the reaction to another massacre. It occurred in June 1876, just days before our nation’s centennial. We all know the story of Custer’s Last Stand, the deaths of 268 cavalrymen, and the public shock that something like it could happen. In its aftermath there were calls for the elimination of Native Americans - or at least the regulation of the tribes on government reservations.
Democracies are very susceptible to shock. There’s that story of the Athenians who reacted by ordering that an entire city be destroyed and its inhabitants put to death - only to think the better of it and dispatch messengers to tell their army that they had changed their mind. In the immediate aftermath we want something dramatic done and done right away when, but by its very nature, democracy works slowly.
Right now, there are a lot of commentators demanding that guns be abolished. Of course, this is something that could not be accomplished overnight. Even if a law to abolish all firearm ownership in the United States was passed next month and even if it was upheld by the Supreme Court, it would take years to fully implement. The history of gun ownership in America suggests that our country would have to be prepared to go through the trauma of many dozens or even hundreds of Ruby Ridge stand-offs (where a mother was killed by a federal officer while holding her infant, along with another child who has killed) or Waco sieges (where 82 men, women and children were killed, along with 4 federal officers).
Americans would have to be prepared to read about the regular killing of what were just-the-other-day law abiding citizens. The psychological effect on the officers charged with carrying out enforcement would be severe. And there would be a significant cost in building prison facilities to house the many thousands of formerly law abiding citizens who would run afoul of the new law, whether purposefully, by happenstance, or by misadventure.
Cleansing America of all its firearms would be a traumatic experience for our country. And in the end, would we or could we realistically accomplish it? If the federal government’s record on cannabis, cocaine, heroin, or any one of the dozens of other banned substances is anything to go by, I have my doubts. Look at what happened when they tried to ban alcohol. Overnight millions of formerly law abiding citizens became felons. What we will accomplish is to further extend our country’s reputation as the world’s most pervasive jailer.
Of course, all of these measures would take a very long time to implement and in the meantime, our schools would continue to be unsafe. This leads me to suggest to you that maybe we should look upon what happened at the Sandy Hook School as an act of terror. I mean, whether or not it is done by a group conspiring or an individual loner, the result is still an act of terror.
It seems to me that our first course of action should be to make the likely targets of these acts of terror secure. I don’t mean arming teachers who don’t want to be armed, but maybe we need to think about having school police the same way we have transit police patrolling the nation’s bus terminals and train stations. I think this would be the quickest way to ensure that another Sandy Hook didn’t happen. What are your thoughts?
In closing, I just want to mention the contrast between the reactions by some commentators to Sandy Hook versus September 11, 2001. I was very proud of our country for its tempered response to September 11th. You didn’t hear any mainstream figures calling for the killing of all Muslims. In the last few days, we’ve heard quite a bit along those lines. Has America changed that much in eleven years?
Chris, thank you for taking the time to consider these thoughts. I hope to meet you personally in the near future.
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