I am 46. Despite most evidence to the contrary, a prolonged adolescence in a rock band, and an overall weakness to let go of my youth (I prefer to think of it as being young at heart), I have to finally admit I am a grown-up. We, the grown-ups must accept responsibility for the state of world that our children will be inheriting.
We often hear such a philosophy, rightfully so, in the context of climate change and economic issues. But when I hear about school shootings like this tragedy in Connecticut, I feel complicit in a failure that we all share in protecting these children — a failure of public policy on gun control and national efforts to deal with mental health issues had led to this and other tragedies. To simply blame it on the “lone gunman,” the N.R.A., or in the twisted logic of those who feel teachers and administrators should be armed, is to shirk our responsibility. To dismiss abhorrent events like these as the anomalous product of “evil” minds is a simplistic cop-out. Evil is easy to understand, as G.W. Bush and his speechwriters knew well. But reality is far more complicated. Good vs. evil is for fairytales and comic books.
Grown-ups should know that. For if we are not willing to deal with the difficult and costly issues of caring for our mentally and physically ill, and if we are not tough enough to confront extremist voices and powerful lobbies like the N.R.A., then we do not deserve the democracy and freedoms that were delineated by our nation’s founders and which subsequent others have sacrificed their lives to defend, from the Revolutionary War forward. The framers of the Constitution did not envision individual citizens arming themselves to the hilt with efficient mass-killing machines. As millions of others have pointed out, the Second Amendment explicitly states “A well-regulated militia” and the height of arms technology at the time was a musket. We all know that. Wayne LaPierre knows that. Cowering professional politicians with no backbone to stand up to the gun lobby know that. The reddest redneck, camo-clad Ted Nugent worshipper knows that. Even the feeblest-minded Fox News hosts and guests know that.
We may not be expected to stop every insane bomb-making McVeigh-like terrorist, nor will we stop every future mass shooting. But no one can deny that we need to start to take logical steps to regulating guns to make it more difficult for the most damaged among us to gain access to machines that slaughter the most innocent among us. Just look at the experience of Australia, if you need more proof to support what should be basic logic. And we should be expected to work to help the most alienated and mentally ill among us. Regulation does not equal a surrender of such liberties. Ownership of semi-automatic weapons should not be less regulated than owning a car.
Each day that goes by without substantive corrective measures should bring each and all of us collective shame. As long as we are unwilling to take advantage our self-evident truths of individual liberty, enshrined in our nation’s most sacred documents, to speak out loudly and demand action, days like Friday should make us all feel ashamed to be Americans — ashamed to have done so little with the responsibility that comes with such advantages.
This shared culpability is what I believe President Obama was feeling when he stood at the podium on Friday wiping away tears. Not only sadness as a father, but responsibility as a leader and, even more basically, as a grown-up. We have already failed these 20 first-grade children, as we have dozens, if not hundreds of others. What are we going to do to stop the next obscenity?