“Today is not the day.” These were the words of the White House Press Secretary on Friday about whether there will be conversations on our nation’s gun control policy in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It is almost certain what Press Secretary Jay Carney meant is now is a time for grief, compassion, and unity, not for the kind of division and discord that controversial policy conversations can produce. Now is not the time for politics. He was right, but he was also wrong.
Now is the time for sorrow. Now is the time to hold each other close – our children and all our loved ones. As a nation, we are in mourning, and it is a mourning that does not recognize political ideology or partisanship. Jay Carney is right, now is not the time for political debate. But that does not mean that the political division is not there. Already, with the tears still fresh on our cheeks, facebook news-feeds are filling with statements calling for more guns, or less guns; op-eds are being written advocating for more gun restrictions or warning against government encroachment on individual rights; family conversations are turning from sorrow to tense disagreement. We have strong opinions about guns in our country, and tragedies such as this bring them out, even in the midst of our pain.
That is why now, when the tears are still fresh and the ache in our chest has still not eased, is exactly the time to begin the conversation about the crisis we face as a country. Mass shootings are on the rise; we have already lived through Friday’s horror seven times just this year. If we wait until the mourning has passed, we will simply retreat in to our pro- or anti- gun propaganda. Waiting itself is a political act.
Contrary to what James Carney said, now is precisely the time to begin a conversation on gun violence because only the presence of our shared grief can prevent the conversation from turning in to the vitriolic debates he rightly believes would dishonor the Sandy Hook victims. How would our conversations on gun control be different if we had them standing before a wailing mother? Would we use social and cultural divides over gun ownership to demonize each other? Would we refuse to acknowledge that there is a substantive difference between the millions of Americans who are responsible gun owners (many of whom favor sensible gun restrictions) and the unstable and mentally ill who should never have access to guns? And would we deny that there is a serious problem when the latter can obtain guns legally? In face of the father kneeling over his child’s body, would we refute that we need to provide better care and treatment for the mentally ill in our country or that preventing them from obtaining weapons is not an automatic infringement on the 2nd Amendment rights of others?
Grief reminds us of our humanity. It prevents us from turning people in to talking points and directs us to the broken places in our world in need of healing. Entrenched powers – whether they are powerful lobbies or political bodies – have always feared the power of public grief because it disarms traditional tactics that rely on fear and vitriol. Today gun owners are mourning as much as gun opponents for the lives lost in Newtown, Connecticut. If we stand united in our grief, the powerful interests that make ungodly amounts of money by pitting us against each other lose their leverage.
There is no single solution to the crisis of gun violence and mass murder. It’s going to take real, honest evaluation and conversation about the type of weapons that should be sold and the kind of restrictions and laws that should govern those weapons (and how we weigh them against individual rights). And it will take an evaluation of the services and stigmas we have for those with mental illness in our country so that they are receiving the care they need long before they turn to guns. Our current political dialogue does not allow room for those conversations. When any mention of guns triggers a retreat behind pre-established battle lines, there is no space for dialogue. That space is only created in the arms of mourners’ embrace.
In the days ahead, may we hold each other close. May we pray for one another and for the victims and families. And may we have the courage to begin the conversations our country so desperately needs to have.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachelnoelj