27 Dead in Connecticut
The headline is too familiar, and yet, despite a culture saturated by gun violence in fiction and fact, we feel absolute revulsion at the senselessness of it all.
Twenty-seven dead in Connecticut, 20 of them children. They were
kindergartners, five or first-grade students, six and seven years old. In the world of innocence, these were absolute innocents–and they are dead because this nation and its political leaders lack the nerve to stand up to a well-funded and wrong-headed gun lobby.
Why? Is the cry that goes out, again and again, when we see these headlines. Why, why, why?
Why? Because a troubled boy of 20 had access to a Glock and Sig Sauer pistols—two magazine-fed semi-automatic weapons capable of firing off more than 100 rounds within minutes, as well as a .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle – a military style assault rifle similar to the one used by the serial killers that stalked the D.C. metro 10 years ago. This is the weapon, authorities say, that Lanza used to gun down his victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.
Why? Because, even though gun ownership in this nation is concentrated in the hands of only a third of its population—our political leaders lack the moral courage to fight for a sensible gun policy.
The National Rifle Association’s slippery slope argument is that if the U.S. government curtails the use of any firearm—no matter how lethal—that is the beginning of the end for our constitutionally guaranteed right to gun ownership in the United States. And by their logic, an assault rifle is the equivalent of the shotgun my brother-in-law keeps on hand at his farmhouse in the mountains of Pennsylvania, where bears have regularly crossed into his property. A Glock is the equivalent of the rifle my brother once used to hunt deer.
According to the NRA, weapons designed for military use belong in the hands of ordinary citizens like Nancy Lanza. She apparently thought so, too. The shooter’s mother is dead by her son’s own hand, murdered with a weapon she had bought herself. According to news reports, Nancy Lanza was the legal owner of the guns her son used to commit mass murder.
This a crime so horrific that some of us wonder if it is not, at last, at very long last, the final straw.
And as often happens at times like these, we wonder what we, as theatre artists, can possibly say or do about it.
Arena Stage’s artistic director, Molly Smith, says we need a march on Washington to demand gun control. I say amen. We do need that. We also need a sensible gun policy in this nation—a policy that recognizes that while there are places in this country where you do need a firearm—I don’t want to live in certain parts of Alaska or Montana without a powerful shotgun—there is no reason why any private citizen needs a Glock. No private citizen needs an assault rifle. There is no reason why any civilian needs to be armed to the teeth with a military arsenal.
But the gun lobby will tell you we dare not “politicize” tragedy by talking about gun control. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post said it better than I could:
Warnings against “politicization” of tragedy, he writes, “is code, essentially, for ‘don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.’ Let’s be clear: That is a form of politicization. When political actors construct a political argument that threatens political consequences if other political actors pursue a certain political outcome, that is, almost by definition, a politicization of the issue. It’s just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws.
It is time to fight back against the madness and immorality of the gun lobby, whose vested interest here is not the rights of American citizens, but its own profit margins.
Let us demand a sensible gun policy. For there are many gun owners who are repulsed by the events at Sandy Hook. Let us find some way to bring those gun owners into the fold. The answer is not to ban all guns—the answer is to remove military weapons from the hands of individuals. The answer is to begin a serious conversation about gun control and improved mental health services in this nation.
In these bloody states of America, the time is long past that we take a hard look at all the reasons why these atrocities are more common here than anywhere else on earth. As artists, it is our duty to examine and challenge the culture. As citizens, it is our responsibility to stand up to wrong-headed policies. Let’s us start by taking Molly up on her challenge. Let’s make it happen—let us bring more than a million of us to Washington to demand that we no longer be held hostage by the NRA.
UPDATE: Since posting this on the weekend, I’ve been in touch with another group hoping to organize a march in support of gun control. They can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/groups/398066500269066/?bookmark_t=group.