Will we finally have a national conversation about guns because of the the Newtown school shooting?

My prayers are with the families and friends of the victims of the school shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, near Danbury. The current count: 26 are dead, 18 of them children. Among the dead are the 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, who was connected to the school. Most of the attack was against the children in one class, and the principal’s office. Few details beyond this are available, but clearly this was related to the shooter and his mother; the children’s deaths a side effect.

Needless to say, much of the early reaction, judging from my friends’ tweets and Facebook posts, after sympathy for the victims, is anger at our political system for the lack of tougher gun control in this country. It’s a meme in the progressive world: that if it weren’t for the political right’s being owned by the NRA, we’d have European-style tight controls on private ownership of guns and gun violence would be radically lower.

There’s no denying that if guns are not around, gun violence is down. But if we are to have a meaningful discussion leading to meaningful progress, we need to acknowledge that the U.S. is a bit different. We are not a homogenous country, with as strong a sense of community as many others. And we historically have insisted on a level of personal freedom unheard of in most other countries. And there’s the Constitution — well the Second Amendment technically speaking. While some consider it outdated on this issue, and there are many interpretations of the wording, it is there and must be considered: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Teen violence and school violence including school homicides are way way down from 1980s/early 90s levels — by over two-thirds. But it does seem there are more of these crazy-person-with-multiple-guns incidents. Why that is, is a deep social question we need to talk about.

Though violence overall is down, these kinds of incidents do tremendous harm. The rupture experienced by the community and the shock and fear suffered nationwide are very real, even if they are fueled by the media.

We need to have a conversation in this country that is free from political gamesmanship and free from ideological rigidity. Clearly, the Second Amendment was speaking mostly in terms of citizens being part of a militia, possibly with the guns stored in common places; not of private citizens having gun collections. And equally clearly, this country has a long and deep tradition of gun sports and, even more importantly, an attitude towards personal freedom that says we only infringe on liberty when absolutely necessary.

Spiritual leaders can offer a distinct perspective, free from the political framing. To start, we can say, simply: This is not OK. We cannot dismiss incidents like this as a cost of freedom. The human suffering is not acceptable. “We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in recent year,” as President Obama said today in his tearful statement. We must ask the hard social questions concerning how something like this could happen: Why does it seem there are more sociopathic people today? How do some of them reach a point of expressing it through violence before they are stopped? Are there ways guns could be regulated that would drastically reduce that likelihood while minimally infringing on others?

Perhaps this Democratic president and Republican House can together find actions that are appropriate and balanced. What do you think? Where is that balance? Are these kinds of incidents just part of the cost of being so free? Or is there something wrong that can be addressed? Let us finally have a national conversation about guns.

[A few details were corrected at 8 p.m. based on updated information from police.]

About Phil Fox Rose

Phil Fox Rose is a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He is coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of New York, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Raised atheist by ex-Mormons, Phil has journeyed through Quakerism, deep ecology, Buddhism and Catholicism. Now he's a congregant, worship leader, cook and chair of the leadership team at St. Lydia's, an awesome dinner church in Brooklyn, NY, and spends as much time in nature as possible. Phil has been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil by RSS feed, email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • David Lupo

    If not now, when? Words on-line today of not putting guns in the hands of crazy people. First, gun show directors don’t really care about your mental state, so long as you can procure a weapon. Second, do people look crazy when they buy their guns? No. Only afterward do we find out that it was a bad mistake. Third, the Second Amendment argument is a bit old, like two hundred years old. We have an army, a navy, a marine corps, an air force, not to forget a police force. We no longer need minutemen.

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  • Gordon

    “A well regulated militia” having guns is somewhat different from an unregulated populace having guns. As it happens I’m a little uncomfortable with the militias getting guns too. But it’d be a step in the right direction.

  • Steve

    The Supreme Court has already settled the issue of gun ownership. American citizens have the right to own firearms, but not an absolute right.

    The first step in any sane conversation about gun control after a shooting like this is the ask two questions:

    1) Was the perpetrator obeying gun laws until the shooting. That is to say, did he legally posses and carry the guns? If he wasn’t, and he was already breaking gun laws… how would more gun laws help?

    2) What gun laws would be necessary to prevent future events like this. For instance, I hear people talking about banning “assault rifles” and extended magazines. This latest shooting used neither… so why is it relevant to talk about that?

    A conversation about guns couldn’t hurt, but the real conversation needs to be about the way our society handles the mentally ill. Another conversation could be about school safety.

  • Peter Byl

    I live in Australia and the gun laws here are much tighter esp after the massacer in Tasmania. The only time I see a gun is on a police officer and yes gun deaths here are much lower by far compared to the United States.
    It appears that those in the U.S. who are in favour of “bearing arms” are so inclined because they feel safer in doing so.
    My question is : Of all the gun related homicides in the U.S. in 2012 , what percentage were perpetrators and what percentage were innocent victems.

  • Brian S

    We have been having a national conversation for at least two decades. Usually, when people want to have “a national conversation” about something they want their side to talk and for everyone else to shut up. Those who support the Second Amendment have been winning the argument so the opponents want a NEW conversation. One they think they will win. NRA, et al., have so convinced most of the public and lawmakers that it was not even an issue in the last few presidential elections. Please feel free to express your opinion and do not assume that if a “national conversation” takes place (again) that your side will win.

  • Bryan

    As though the discussion about guns hasn’t been ongoing for many years. What the gun-grabbers always mean by this is “can our side finally stop losing the debate now that there is a new tragedy to exploit?”

  • Bill

    No, we will not “finally have a national conversation about guns because of the Newtown school shooting.” The whole country seems to be infected with binary thinking. One side is good and the other side is evil, so the two sides will continue shouting at one another and demonizing one another.

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