My neighbor ambled across the street Dec. 14 for a chat. The sun shone brightly in our peaceful suburban neighborhood, houses adorned with Christmas decorations. The expression on his face, though, was pure gloom.
"Did you hear about Connecticut?" he asked.
"That could have been my grandson or yours," he said wistfully.
My neighbor is no cake-eating, white-wine-sipping, limousine liberal -- no son of privilege who knows nothing of life outside some gated enclave.
He grew up in New Orleans, where the Big Easy is anything but. He knows first-hand that Mayberry, if it ever existed, no longer does. Gun violence was an all-too-frequent occurrence in his hometown.
But like me, he is appalled that, as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we endure yet another mass murder -- this time, six adults and 20 first-graders.
Six and seven year olds.
Yes, we all can agree that Adam Lanza was mentally ill. Crazy. Wickedly insane.
You know what else is insane? The public response from Okla. Sen. Ralph Shortey and Okla. Rep. Mark McCullough.
Their answer to the Connecticut carnage? More guns on school grounds.
They both want to empower teachers and principals certified by the state Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) to carry firearms at school and school events.
"We cannot continue to be shackled by politically correct, reflexive, anti-gun sentiment in the face of the obvious -- our schools are soft targets," said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. "It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended -- to allow madmen to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it. I've been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it's an idea whose time has come."
"I trust my children to my local teachers and principal every day," he added. "I want to give these trusted, responsible educators the ability to defend themselves and our children in the same way any normal parent would, in the face of the unthinkable."
I don't care if you're a life member of the National Rifle Association or a card-carrying pacifist, anyone with a lick of common sense knows that more guns aren't going to solve a national epidemic of mass violence -- or make our children and their teachers any safer.
If anything, it's a recipe for more violence in what already is the most violent industrialized nation on earth.
I collect baseball cards, not guns. But I don't begrudge folks who are into Smith & Wessons or Remingtons. And frankly, I don't know anyone who wants to eliminate your rights to own firearms.
From where I sit, this is not a debate about repealing the Second Amendment. What it should be is a clear-eyed, sober discussion about the ubiquity in America of the kinds of killing machines that Lanza got hold of.
You see, the problem in Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and elsewhere is that the mentally ill can -- in a nanosecond -- unleash a hail of bullets that slay and maim busloads of innocents.
And the folly of further militarizing the schoolyard is that Lanza's weapon of choice -- a .223 caliber Bushmaster -- gave him far more firepower than the .22 or .38 caliber pistols typically carried in purses or beneath-the-coat holsters.
Gun-toting teachers and principals may well end up with CLEET certification, but they would be no match for someone who -- without needing to reload -- can pull the trigger incessantly in scene that would be eerily reminiscent of Frank Nitti or Bonnie and Clyde.
One of the surest ways to preserve life -- McCullough and Shortey are staunchly "pro-life," aren't they? -- would be to limit the size of the ammunition clip.
This isn't the era of muskets and powder, after all. This is a time when even our highly trained police are often outgunned. And even when they're not, our law enforcement professionals often lose gun battles (see Topeka, Kan., the Sunday after Newtown).
So here's a question worth exploring: Why can't we have a serious conversation about the weaponry on our streets? Why the automatic, jack-booted-feds-want-to-take-away-my-guns rhetoric? Why can't we have an intellectual dialogue about the necessity, or lack thereof, of owning the equivalent of assault rifles when your primary purpose is hunting, bolstering your self-defense, or collecting?
It's a failure of leadership.
Sadly, what we all too often hear from our elected officials, particularly in Oklahoma, is typical of the Tea Party-esque tripe aimed at scaring folks into thinking Chairman Obama and the godless, socialist Democrats are out to confiscate your guns.
Even the state Republican chairman, Matt Pinnell, joined the nitwit chorus, arguing "gun control wouldn't have stopped what happened last Friday in Newtown. However, what if Adam was involved in a local church or part of a mentoring program like Big Brothers Big Sisters? Maybe. Unfortunately we'll never know."
Big Brothers Big Sisters is no doubt a wonderful program. Churches can be very important too. And it's heartening to see the state GOP leader acknowledge that -- as Hillary Clinton famously wrote -- "it takes a village" to raise a child. But it's far more distressing that he invokes straw-man gun control fear mongering without acknowledging the problem of bulk ammunition clips.
Of course, it's conventional wisdom in Oklahoma that pandering to the gun lobby and gun owners is very good politics, even if it's lousy public policy.
And speaking of public policy: This is as good a time as any to jumpstart a serious public dialogue about mental health services in our state. Oklahoma lawmakers have starved the system for years, dumping many a troubled character into our neighborhoods. There is an unconscionably long waiting list to get access to state treatment because we're too poor to fund them, but not too poor to cut income taxes.
We ignore these ticking time bombs at our peril.
Look, I freely acknowledge that I'm part of a profession that guards its First Amendment freedoms as zealously as any Second Amendment devotee.
But both freedoms are not unlimited. You cannot yell "fire!" in a crowded theatre or knowingly libel or slander someone. We also don't allow minors, felons, or the mentally ill to legally purchase firearms in this state.
There is plenty of room for reasonable discussion of possible solutions that could reduce the likelihood we'll see another madman snuff out the lives of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and destroy their families.
Our chances of engaging in such constructive dialogue, however, are diminished when the McCulloughs of our elected world offer opening statements that include attacks on the perceived motives of those on the other side.
McCullough would be wise to consult his dictionary and review the meaning of the word "irony." For his "reflexive" comment makes him guilty of the very thing he accuses gun control advocates of: knee-jerk commentary that doesn't enlighten, but rather inflames.
I, for one, have lost all patience with those who won't even consider restricting access to the firepower Lanza got hold of.
And believe me: I'll be holding my grandchildren even tighter.
Share this article: