It's late at night on Monday. Actually, it's early in the morning on Tuesday. I've spent the last few days alternately turning the television news on and off, looking at images of a small town in Connecticut, of reporters on the scene, of sobbing parents, and of smiling faces of little kids who are now dead. I've talked with dozens of people and read a hundred Facebook posts. The situation in Newtown reminds me a bit of 9-11. Everyone's talking about it, everyone has an opinion about gun control, and nobody has a clue what would make a 20-year-old man walk into an elementary school and slaughter children.
My own opinion about gun control is fuzzy at best. I grew up in a rural community where deer hunting is a part of life. During hunting season not a day goes by that I don't hear the pop of guns in the woods and, later, maybe see deer hanging in somebody's lot. Many people here have guns. My dad had gun, which he used more than once: to shoot rabid animals, and our dog who got hit by a car and needed to be put down. Dad even shot a snapping turtle once, a big one that had wandered into the driveway near his small daughter (me). Dad's shotgun hung over the dining room door for most of my childhood. My uncles and cousins had guns. Nobody that I knew of had a handgun, and most certainly no one I knew had a semi-automatic. My people were farmers and hunters, those who dealt with animals on a regular basis and sometimes found it necessary, for whatever reason, to shoot one. Now, it seems, the animals are the ones carrying.
There has been much talk since Friday. People ranting about gun control, others protesting to protect our right to have one. I remember seeing Tom Selleck on the Rosie O'Donnell show after Columbine. Rosie was really going after him, because Tom was a member of the NRA, and Tom was handling it pretty well. Finally, after listening to Rosie shout that the guns need to go, Tom made a good point: 30 years ago, when someone wanted to commit suicide, they just went ahead and shot themself. Now, before pulling the final trigger, they feel a need to take a bunch of people with them. This is a cultural issue, Selleck told her, not a gun issue. Like I said: I'm fuzzy on this, but I think he was right.
This is not to say that I believe semi-automatic weapons should be at the ready for anyone to buy. I don't think they should be, and in fact feel confident that our founding fathers with their muskets didn't write the second amendment with semi-automatic weapons in mind. They were worrying about the Brits marching through the back field and felt we Americans needed to be able to defend ourselves. I imagine those fine gentlemen are rolling in their graves today at the prospect of their beloved Right To Keep And Bear Arms resulting in the massacre of babies.
But I believe Mr. Selleck -- and many of the psychologists who appeared over the weekend on TV talk shows -- are correct: mass shootings, like that at Columbine, and Aurora, and now Newtown, will not be solved by taking the guns. Our disenfranchised youth are killing people for other reasons. If they don't have guns, they'll find something else. Trucks full of gasoline. Swords. Homemade bombs. The killing isn't about the weapon they use, it's about what's going on in their heads. Just exactly what is going on in their heads remains the conundrum.
Years ago a friend of mine went squirrel hunting with her daddy. He warned her she might not like it, but she insisted. She was maybe 12 years old. They went into the woods and he taught her how to shoot. Then she aimed, and bam, she got a squirrel. She was elated until they got to the squirrel's body. Suddenly, as she watched it twitch its final twitches, as she watched the small gray thing breathe its last gasping breaths, the fun fell out of the day. She liked the killing fine. What she discovered she didn't like at all was the dying.
I'm not sure the young men who go into movie theaters or elementary schools feel that way. They seem to like the dying too, and maybe that's the problem. When did our culture change so much that people enjoy watching other living things die? More importantly, why did it change, and what can we do to change it back? Throwing all the guns in the world down a hole won't matter a bit until we can answer that question.