At last, we’re waking up. As difficult as it might seem to believe, we’re finally shocked, horrified and heartsick enough by the horror in Newtown to start changing our toxic culture surrounding guns. We must and we will change; we know we can’t afford another year like this one.
I didn’t want to look at first. I saw the news go by on Twitter, along with a few messages from friends wanting to know if I was anywhere near (I wasn’t), and I put my phone away, filled with grief and dread. Not again, I thought, and not so close to home this time. I didn’t want to see us care about Newtown for a few days, and then lose the thread. I couldn’t stand another turning away.
It’s happened too often, and too often we’ve stubbornly stayed the same. It almost didn’t matter who had died, we were so stubborn in our refusal to be anything better. President Obama spoke at the 2011 memorial for those killed in the shooting spree in Arizona that stole the life of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, saying, “If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.” But we didn’t change, and the killing didn’t stop. After the senseless shooting death of a young man in Florida, Obama told news cameras, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” It didn’t stop there, either. Obama went to Fort Hood, too, and to Aurora, Colorado, to console the families of the victims of awful, gut-wrenching violence. It kept happening and happening, and all we could do was rage, grieve, and, to our disgrace, forget. It was so easy to shut ourselves in our comfortable homes, to leave the cold, cruel wind outside.
For a long time, we’ve been asleep. We’ve dreamed of a land of easy, comforting answers and absolutely guaranteed safety. Our oceans and our wars overseas will protect us, and if that doesn’t work, or if it’s our own people we need protecting from, a land of fences and green lawns and eight-lane highways will keep those who can afford it from harm. We believed the lie that would let us forget the world, forget the problems we’d made, forget the consequences of our slumber. It can’t happen here. We’re a stubborn people, and we cling to our delusions.
But this time they put 20 little girls and boys in the cold ground. We buried the teachers and administrators who tried to save them. For once, we can’t just forget.
This is the painful beginning of a long road toward a better country. Lawmakers are showing signs of real action, instead of empty, fearful silence. President Obama is vowing swift action, and Connecticut lawmakers are weighing responses from a ban on high-capacity magazines to a bullet tax. A slight majority in a recent CNN/ORC poll now support major gun restrictions; a small move, perhaps, but previous tragedies haven’t managed to budge public opinion at all.
It’s only a start. This week the lines were out the door at Hoffman’s on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington. “Guns for the Good Guys” reads their motto, guns for you and me everyone. But even that’s a sign. Come get them, now, now, before it’s too late, these lines seem to say. Come and stock up, before everyone else opens their eyes for good.
Go and stock up. That cold wind you’re feeling is a wind of change. There have been so many comfortable lies we fell for during the past decades, and now we’re starting to realize just how badly we’ve all been had. We’re learning our lesson the hardest way possible, but we are learning it. The New Year is on its way, and there’s a moment in that borderland when the new rises from the ashes of the old when things become possible. December is coming to an end. Go and get your guns, if you have to. We will change, even if we have to drag you with us.
It’s time. Newtown has to be the end of it. We owe these children and their teachers nothing less.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.