Daniel Barden, Josephine Gay, Chase Kowalski, and Grace McDonnell were 7.
Six adults died with them: Mary Sherlach, Anne Marie Murphy, Dawn Hochsprung, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino, Victoria Soto.
It helps to say their names, to rescue them from the statistical anonymity that always settles over these awful events. It helps those of us distanced from the loss to imagine, even grieve, the emptiness in the homes and hearts of those who loved them. They will never forget. We mourn, move on, and too soon forget. And then it will happen again one day, and we will scratch our heads and ask ourselves, “Was the last time Newtown? Or Columbine? Was it Aurora? Or that college in Virginia?” And once again we will mourn, move on, and too soon forget.
There is an old Hassidic saying that, “In remembrance is the secret of redemption.” But America forgets quickly, and gives no lasting indication it seeks redemption from its fetish with guns, its romance with the free market of violence. With the sport of it all. The show must go on. It’s our right. At any price. What were their names again? Oh, yes, Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Dylan, Allison, Dawn. Poor things, such a tragedy. Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.
And so we make our peace with violence. And make ourselves over in its image. A state senator in Missouri, a life-time member of the National Rifle Association, is pushing a bill to require that all first graders be enrolled in the NRA’s gun safety course. First-graders. Six and seven years old. Pledge Allegiance to the flag. Lock and Load. Our new Head Start.
A state senator in Tennessee’s Republican legislature says he will introduce a bill that would allow the state to pay for secretly armed teachers in classrooms. Saintly Miss Simpson, packing heat. Hey, Mr. Russell, it’s show and tell, can we see your Glock 9? After the Newtown killings, a sixth-grader at an elementary school near Salt Lake City brought a gun to school, saying he wanted to protect himself and his friends. Instead, allegedly, he used it to threaten some classmates. As The Good Book says, get with it, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Ready. Aim. Fire.
And for the child who has everything this season, how about body armor? A Utah company named Amendment II offers a new line of it for kids. Mother Jones Magazine reports sales have tripled in one week. A Massachusetts company is promoting The Bullet Blocker, a “rugged computer backpack designed for work or play.” Made of the same materials used in bullet-proof police vests, currently on sale for the holidays for $199.99. And on Facebook, an outfit called Black Dragon Tactical that sells vests and other combat gear sent this message: “Arm the teachers, in the meantime, bulletproof the kids.”
This market never closes. America’s turned violence into a profit center. And if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, no need to wait for Santa; his sleigh couldn’t even hold the heavy weapons. Step this way. Black Friday is every day. And we have something for everyone, from cradle to grave. From cradle to grave.
Surely this can’t go on. This spilling of innocent blood, this bleeding of democracy’s soul. We’re losing faith in ourselves, acting as subjects, not citizens, no longer believing that it is in our power to do the right thing. We Americans are not smarter than other people, and certainly no more virtuous. Our exceptionalism is our capacity for self-correction. To reach the bridge of the ship, point to the iceberg dead ahead, and demand of the captain a change of course before it’s too late. “They,” the gun industry, its profiteers, zealots and apologists, its political stooges, fabulists, and constitutional originalists, who would have us think the “well-regulated militia” of a sparsely-populated frontier nation in the 18th century really means tolerating a perpetual wild west here in the 21st century. “They” say, “don’t tread on us, get off our well-armed backs, there’s nothing you can do.”
Of course there is. Register all guns. License all gun owners. Require stringent background checks. Get tough on assault weapons of any kind. Crack down on high-capacity ammunition as the President has now proposed. And then, enforce the laws. Yes, I know, determined killers will always find a way. But we can minimize the opportunities, and scale back the scope of destruction. Why do we accept the need for driver’s licenses? Or submit to the sometimes humiliating body scans at airports? Because it’s the law, and deep down we know we’re safer for the inconvenience of the law.
Good laws are hard to come by. Civilization, just as hard. The rough and tumble of politics makes them so. But democracy aims for a moral order as just as humanly possible, which means laws that protect the weak and not just the strong. Lest we forget.
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