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I spent much of Sunday writing an essay on another mass murder in American history. This one I had a personal connection to; it happened when I was in high school, and one of my high school friends was there, and survived it, and only by a spider-silk thread of fate. Even by our now more expanded and modern mass murder standards, it was horrific. In the details, though, it could have been any other. The killer was a clearly unstable person, with a history of violence, and had no business having access to guns at all, much less the guns he did. He was anti-government, and anti-communist, and had no motive other than to simply kill as many people as possible. He did.
As I have many times before, I wrote it, in small parts and snippets, and then I scrapped it again. I kept being surprised at how much I had forgotten, and then sick when I remembered it again, and at an utter loss for how to do this thing justice, this thing that caused so much death, and shock, and misery, when even writing it felt like a sin. It has always felt like a sin, every time I have tried, and so I put it away again. We have had so many mass murders since then. Every time, we say we cannot allow it. Every time, there is another. A new record is set, or a new location. A theater, a college, a school. The most people killed; the most people killed in the shortest time; the most children killed; the youngest children killed. And then we say we must do something, and other people say we are not allowed to. And sometimes we pass a new law, and sometimes we don't, and sometimes we get rid of those same laws afterwards, or nick their edges, or redefine the terms. And then there is another mass murder, and a new record.
It was children this time. Elementary school children, and the youngest among them, at that. Twenty were killed in the span of minutes, and there was no reason, because there never could be a reason for killing twenty children. That is something to be angry about. More and more politicians have come forth to say that no—we cannot let this happen again. This time, we will do something. And that makes me, personally, furious, not because I am angry with that noble—no, required—sentiment but because we say it every single time. We have said it for decades, after every mass murder. We have a list of mass murders. The one those many decades ago, the one that I still cannot even mention without it feeling like a sin, was the same. The same sort of person. The same non-motive. The same heavy, unwieldy mountain of ammunition so that he could kill as many innocents—an eight month old baby, a child on a bicycle, a seventy year old man—as possible before finally dying himself.
We have said never again, and we have vowed to do something because twenty children, twenty elementary school children and a half-dozen among us that cared for them, is too vile a target for a nation to ignore. And it makes me angry beyond words, because if we do now do nothing, if we do now say that it is simply too hard, and tinker at the edges but do nothing, really, to address the cold truth that even the most violent and mentally unstable among us can still, and every damn year and decade, easily gain the weapons and bullets to kill dozens in the span of minutes, then we will have decided. We will have set the price that those twenty children were worth. They were worth this much, our laws will say, but only that. They were worth this much, our leaders and our fellow citizens will have worked out among themselves, but in the end our guns were worth more.
I do not want to know what that price is. We have said that the murders of twenty of our youngest schoolchildren is something we cannot abide, but once the we have negotiated the something to not abide it, we will have once again set what we think the proper regulatory price is, for twenty of our children, and we will have written in bold, dark ink exactly where the line should be between the lives of any other twenty of our children and our demand, as a nation, that nothing interfere with our personal right to keep an arsenal capable of quickly killing another twenty children if, on the morning of any given day, we decided we wanted to.
No matter what the outcome, no matter what legislation is passed, the final negotiated answer to that question will shame us—because there is no possible answer that will not shame us. We have watched the haggling over price that takes place every time, from a mass murder decades ago to this one, each time a school or theater or restaurant becomes the latest silent void, somewhere in America, that will never again be filled, and the price we set condemns us every time.
So now we will have the argument again, and decide what new inconveniences we might stomach, if any, for the sake of another twenty children and their protectors. No matter what the outcome, our decision will not have been worth those lives. At the very best, what we do next will only be as apology for what has already taken place. What we do next will be the new measure of our worth.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2009—Magical Thinking Prevails in Copenhagen:
|With demonstrators being arrested every day and non-traditional media, plus some mainstream media, being kept out of discussions, the climate change talks in Copenhagen are teetering on the precipice of outright failure. While some progress has been made, even the arrival of the chiefs of more than 100 governments Friday, including President Barack Obama, seems unlikely to accomplish in less than 24 hours what hasn't been achieved in two weeks of talks or the months of preparation for them.
Meanwhile, long-time environmental advocate Bill McKibben revealed in a Daily Kos diary Thursday afternoon, and traditional media subsequently have reported, leaked documents from the United Nations call into serious question governments' claims that they are aiming for carbon dioxide cuts that would hold average global temperatures to a rise of 2°C over the next century. Instead, the cuts could allow a temperature rise of 3°C or 4°C, with more than 550 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That's well above the 350 ppm scientists believe is a (relatively) safe level.