The Children of Newtown Died for Our Sins

It’s been two days since 20 children and six teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. were slaughtered by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, armed with automatic weapons and a broken mind.

I still can’t get my own head around it. Who can? It confronts me, as a father, with my very worst fears and fills me with empathy and endless sadness for parents who never, ever should have had to face this.

And it keeps happening. From Columbine to Tucson, Arizona to Aurora, Colorado, to a shopping mall in Portland, Oregon, mentally disturbed men, unhinged by life, act out their resentments and sense of injustice by killing innocent people against whom they could have no legitimate grievance.

Who knows what happens inside them? Do they suddenly snap? Or do they drift deeper and deeper into madness, their very isolation a source and an enabler of their ultimate journey to Absolute Evil?

Some of them give warning signs and some don’t. Some people close to them pick up on those signals and some don’t. Some choose not to.

That’s why I’m skeptical about a lot of the commentary focusing on “de-stigmatizing” mental illness as a solution to this.  Can we really count on people who know these men to identify the warning signs and report them in time? And does law enforcement in a free society even have the tools to act before something dreadful happens?

No. To me, there are two areas we need to focus on: gun control, first and foremost. And the pervasive violence in video games and certain movies.

Candlelight vigil in Newtown, Connecticut. following the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Ultraviolent movies and video games repeatedly implant deadly, destructive images in disturbed minds and in some way we don’t yet understand smooth the path to the killing floor. And the widespread availability of assault weapons and magazines with multiple rounds can turn fantasies of mass murder into bloody, horrific reality.

This cannot be underscored enough: These things don’t happen in other countries to anywhere near the degree they happen here. And the reason is obvious—the cowardice of political leaders and the cynical mendacity of the National Rifle Association which uses the legitimate rights of gun owners to allow the spread of military  weapons throughout the civilian population.

“Meet the Press” invited 31 pro-gun-rights U.S. Senators to appear on its show Sunday. All refused. But we can’t let Democrats or the president off the hook, either. Out of political expediency, they have not fought for sensible gun control or even a restoration of the assault weapons ban. Even Rupert Murdoch supports that now.

Congress must reinstate the ban on assault weapons and also ban magazines with multiple rounds. It must require more stringent background checks before people can buy weapons. And it must crack down hard on abuses at gun shows.

And it’s time to think about restricting the violent content of video games and movies in some legal way—perhaps pressuring studios and video game companies to institute a special rating system for violent content and withdrawing certain government benefits and tax breaks if they don’t adhere to it.

Our rights under the Constitution are precious, but they’re not unlimited. Good luck exercising the right of free assembly to protest at a political convention. And don’t try to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. So, why should someone be able to bring automatic weapons into a crowded theater? As with every other right we have, there must be reasonable restrictions on the right to bear arms.

As the great Bob Dylan wrote, how many deaths will it take ‘till we know that too many people have died?

The answer, my friends, is in our hearts and in our laws, not blowin’ in the wind.

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