"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A daughter’s unanswered question

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

“…and a little child shall lead them”
Isaiah 11: 6

The Friday of the Newtown, CT massacre, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was having dinner with his family. Warner has been a consistent supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and has an “A” rating from the NRA. He wasn’t prepared for the question from one of his three daughters.

“Dad, what are you going to do about this?”

That’s a moment none of us – even a U.S. Senator – is prepared to deal with. The moment one of our children cuts through all the garbage – all the B.S. – and goes straight to our gut.

Here, several days after the killing, the images of faces and the descriptions of the horrible wounds that wiped away all the childish smiles are haunting. They are – at least so it seems at the moment – unforgettable. I pray that will continue to be so. That no one forgets.

I long ago learned to never ask “why” when dealing with unexpected death. Because “why” directs attention to the past. The only acceptable questions at that moment are “What now” – “What is our next step” – “How do we continue?”

“What are you going to do about this?”

Most of us are mindful of the dozens of our brothers and sisters who’re killed by guns every week in this country. We’ve become inured to the news even as more Americans are being cut down. We hear the news without hearing and file it away in some mental drawer which we only reopen to insert more of the same when it happens again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

But my sense is things are different this time. The question from Sen. Warner’s daughter is in nearly all our minds – though still without good answers. Americans of good sense and reasonable thought are still stunned. We’re off mental balance these days later and many of us are admitting to ourselves that we don’t have the usual ready answer to a child’s question.

Even the NRA – the twisted bastion that has contorted the 2nd Amendment into a catch-all of imagined “liberties” unintended by the authors – even the NRA has kept it’s belligerent mouth shut. No angry press releases. No TV appearances. Corporate refusal of all ill-conceived requests for interviews. Removal of the NRA Facebook page and the usual incendiary rhetoric it contains. Nearly a week out and nothing. But LaPierre can’t shut up. He’ll talk shortly. And when he does, what he says will not erase the decades of hate and lies he has spewed at every opportunity. He can’t.

His 30 years of verbal garbage have helped create some of the crazies. To our Oregon backwoods shame, we have a demented voice – tragically in legislative office. He has loudly – and most ignorantly – intoned we should arm teachers. Good idea, idiot. Then our kids can cower under their desks while a historic re-enactment of the shootout at the O.K. Corral takes place over their heads. With live ammunition. He’s been joined by that intellectually ever-vacant Texan, Louis Gohmert, taking to the floor of the House of Representatives with the same crap for national TV consumption. And the other demented.

Still, for the rest of us, I get a different feel following Newtown. There seems to be a quiet determination building to tackle this shameful history of murder-of-the-innocents. More than just the usual “ban the guns” rhetoric. We’re hearing intelligent talk of legally getting rid of semi-automatics and other tools of heavy armament belonging only in the hands of the military and law enforcement. Same for the extended magazines for bullets.

More than that, prominent voices – voices of people who can make it happen – are adding thoughtful proposals for better mental health services to try to spot disaster before it happens. Those voices are louder and coming from new and different places than before Newtown.

There’s even talk of challenges to the mass entertainment and video industries by saner heads who want to stop the desensitizing of young minds to violence in the name of “fun.” We’ve heard that before. But not in the chambers and hallways where we’re hearing it today.

So far, most of this is still talk. Still just words. The TV satellite trucks are still overwhelming Newtown and the talking heads are still providing verbal “overkill.” We aren’t being spared any detail as they pry day-after-day into grief that should be private. Residents want the media out. Even some of the media want to end the siege of excess. That’s different, too.

But they’ll leave in a few days. Just as they left Aurora, Clackamas, Denver, Chicago, the Sikh Temple and the sites of all the other violent deaths. When they go – when Newtown residents return to a routine wrapped in grief, guilt and a terrible sense of loneliness – we’ll see if the words we hear today are followed through with actions tomorrow. And tomorrow.

“What are you going to do about this?”

The Senator had no ready answer for his daughter. We’ll soon see if any of us do.

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