After Newtown

After Newtown

I wrote this piece last year after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Gingerbread houses. Lucy Mercer/ A Cook and Her Books
 I spent Friday morning in the cafeteria of my daughter’s school taking pictures of sugared-up kids and their gingerbread creations (really frosting-coated milk cartons loaded with candy). It was a happy time in a happy place. When I arrived at work a few hours later, the news started trickling in about Newtown, Connecticut, and at first, I couldn’t believe it.

Of course, I’ve heard enough of these stories – Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, to not be shocked that a young man brought an assault weapon to a school, but the first stories reported only that the gunman was killed and a teacher hurt. The news only got worse - the families of 20 children and 6 grown-ups will bury their loved ones this week before Christmas and if there was someone, somewhere who felt safe from gun violence, surely they do not feel safe now.

 My heart breaks for these families and this community – Newtown seems an idyllic small town in many ways. My heart breaks, too, for our country as we again try to make sense of a senseless act and look to our elected officials to do something about gun violence in this country.


 If I have a disappointment in President Obama’s first term and the recent election season is that gun control was not an issue. The gun lobby’s hold over our political process is pretty clear that even when a congresswoman is attacked and a federal judge killed with these military-style weapons, the subject is not broached. And this year, add 12 moviegoers in Aurora, three holiday shoppers in Oregon and 26 students and faculty in Newtown to the toll.


 In October at the height of the election season, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times about the silly and stupid rhetoric some candidates were tossing out about women’s rights.
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater.”


 “Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity of life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s body, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon.” - Thomas Friedman, New York Times, "Why I am Pro-Life."

 I believe this to be true. 

 Here in the gun-loving South, people are of fond of saying “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And I agree – mentally unstable, desensitized, soul-less, suicidal young men with access to SWAT-style assault weapons do indeed kill people, efficiently and with maximum pain.  The high-powered rifle that the gunman used on Friday was banned for a decade until 2004, when Congress chose not to renew the assault weapons ban.

 Although the issue of gun control seems to get folks recalling their rights and amendments, I think we can agree that there are dangerous, desensitized young men with access to weapons that can cause mass casualty. This tragic destruction can and has happened in just the past two years at malls, grocery stores, public schools, movie theaters, towns small and large. There was a time when I felt safe at each of these locations; now I find myself noting emergency exit signs. I’m not overreacting – there was a shooting in a play area at our local suburban mall just a few years ago. My community is no different than Newtown or Aurora. It could easily happen here.

 I try my best to keep my political opinions to myself. These pages are for far lighter material – recipes and pictures of food and family. But it’s my bully pulpit, too, and this subject is far too important for me to ignore. These tragic stories will continue until this country does something about it. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but I can certainly tell you what the problems are – insufficient school security, inadequate mental health resources, lax gun control and a stymied political process, for starters. 

 I wept with President Obama as he read the names of Newtown’s dead. Still, my heavy heart finds comfort in the promise behind these words:

 "What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

 “Surely we can do better than this. We have an obligation to try.”

 Mr. President, you have the gift of a second term, four years to make certain that Newtown is the last community to suffer the sudden, senseless and tragic loss of so many lives. 

 And dear readers, I’m starting by signing this petition and maybe if enough folks sign it, our politicians and leaders will look beyond the next election and do what’s right. 

  We have an obligation to try.


First grade gingerbread houses. Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books


December 2013 update: 
Last month, I attended a talk and book signing by Anne Lamott, promoting her new book, Stitches. Lamott began by speaking about how the mass shooting at Sandy Hook affected her and impelled her to write the book. She talked about her Sunday School students and how she tells them that God loves them, they are chosen and they are safe. Later, an audience member stood up and pointed out that there were 26 bells rung out in memory of those who died ~ 20 students and six adults. But there were 28 people who died that day if you include the mother of the shooter and the shooter who turned the gun on himself. Neither Lamott or the questioner could answer why we choose to memorialize the 26 innocents and not the shooter and his mother. I'm not sure where the answer lies, either. I only know that my heart is still heavy one year later. There are still mass shootings ~ among them, the dreadful events at the Washington Navy Yard in September, and a school shooting in Colorado just Friday.
What I do know is the obligation that President Obama spoke about last year doesn't end with memorials; it ends with action.

 Please see my blog, A Cook and Her Books for more stories on family, food and faith.

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