What will you do today, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, to make sure the victims of Newtown are not forgotten?
Usually lost in the mad rush of all the holy days in this upcoming Christmas season (Stephen, John the Evangelist, Holy Family, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, etc.) is The Feast of the Holy Innocents today (December 28), commemorating the slaughter of all baby boys under age two by Herod in Bethlehem. Not a historical event by any stretch of the imagination, it is certainly full of midrashic Truth for the biblical imagination. It’s a good event to reflect on in the wake of the recent violent massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
While I’m the first in line to call for better gun control because of such homegrown terror, this is not the only issue that needs to be addressed, in light of everything that fed into Adam Lanza committing these crimes. As you consider Holy Innocents today, please consider prayerful, mindful meditation on all that needs to be addressed in order to help prevent such disasters from occurring again and again in our country: our obsession with guns, our obsession with violence, our unwillingness to adequately support our education system, and our ignorance around the origins and financial management of mental illness in our broken healthcare systems.
I just ran across Senator Joe Manchin’s Washington Post column on these issues, that I’ll quote here at length, as they reflect what I’ve been thinking about myself since December 14:
Committed gun owners like me can and must listen to reasonable ideas about preventing mass violence. But whatever steps we take must be comprehensive — and must bring the entertainment industry and mental health community to the table. We cannot snap our fingers, push one-track legislation that focuses exclusively on guns and pat ourselves on the back. Such an approach certainly won’t fare well in Congress. More important, it won’t fully address the problem.
I truly appreciate President Obama’s intentions to “push without delay” a set of recommendations to address the kind of madness we witnessed in Newtown. However, an administration-led approach, without significant input from the entertainment, gun and mental health communities, will not meet the crucial test of credibility. It excludes too many of the voices that must be heard if we’re going to get this right after so many decades of bitter stalemate.
If the administration fails this credibility test, and if it takes a guns-first approach without addressing the other factors at play, we will be no closer to resolving this problem than we were in the days before the horror in Newtown.
No matter how strongly any one of us holds our positions, we all must be willing to respectfully hear each other out — elected leaders must hear recommendations from the mental health community; gun-control advocates must listen to gun rights supporters; the entertainment community must listen to those who want to see less violence on their screens. And vice versa.
If we let irrational fear and antagonism control the debate, then we will continue to be a nation of violence. We need leaders who can be open-minded. We can’t villainize those who disagree with us, and we can’t dismiss their legitimate concerns outright. We cannot pay lip service to those perspectives; they must be the driving force of change.
At the same time, as a proud gun owner and a member of the NRA, I will continue to urge the organization’s leadership to come to the table because I would like to see a more meaningful discussion — because every group with a role to play in this conversation should contribute. I’m open to a discussion about whether we need more security in our schools, as the NRA proposed in Friday’s news conference, but that can’t be the only measure that comes out of this. An all-or-nothing approach from any of these parties won’t result in the changes we need to keep our children safe.
Because if you think the problem of mass violence in our country is about just guns, you’re wrong. If you think it’s about just an entertainment industry that markets violence to kids, you’re wrong. If you [think] it’s about just insufficient security at our schools, you’re wrong. If you think it’s about just the lack of mental health services for troubled young people and adults, you’re wrong. We need to address all of them. I, for one, simply cannot support any proposal that doesn’t address all aspects of this problem.”
While Joe and I may disagree on whether we need another Commission, or whether we need to wait until every issue can be dealt with all at once, I think we do agree that there are many factors in our society that played their part in creating a person like Adam Lanza, who would choose to commit such atrocities. Let’s be very clear here, Adam chose to do what he did, no one is ultimately to blame but him. Let’s also be clear that dealing with all these issues comprehensively and authentically does not mean that such horrors will never happen again. What it does mean is that we will be a mature society that will deal with these issues like adults, instead of becoming, again, what we so easily become as Americans when things get difficult: a very juvenile society that reacts to all the screams of conflict by ignoring problems and/or allowing nothing to change, because it’s just too problematic to come to some kind of authentic compromise.
So will things actually change for the better? Or will everyone dig their heels in one more time, plug their ears again and shout “la la la I can’t hear you!”, as the memory of these latest Innocents fades over the next few weeks, and we become, one more time, obsessed with the next latest trend or tragedy? What will you do to see that we don’t?