Today, Toronto’s teachers wear black armbands to honour those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. The repercussions of that day’s events are still being felt around the world as the bereaved begin burying their children.
I haven’t watched any TV or listened to much radio but I can’t get the events out of my mind. I keep seeing that crocodile of children being led to safety; eyes squeezed shut, some crying, hands on the shoulders of the child in front. I imagine those frenzied moments when teachers hid children in cupboards and waited, hearts pounding. Despair eats away at me and I can’t shake it. I look at my children and feel guilt for bringing them into such a world. All parents live with the knowledge that somewhere along the way, we WILL fail our children – they WILL get hurt and we can only hope we’ve equipped them to deal with it. But how do you deal with something like this?
A catalyst for change
The Newtown shooting immediately took me back to March 1996, when 43 year old Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland and opened fire on a class of 5 and 6 year olds, killing all but one, including their teacher. The incident is etched into the memory of everyone who heard and struggled to comprehend the news that day; remembering it still brings a lump to my throat. It remains one of the worst criminal acts involving firearms in UK history.
In the months that followed there arose, out of the grief and loss, a determination to enact change – to do what was needed to guard against anything like this ever happening again. The Snowdrop campaign was launched, named for the small white flowers that were just beginning to bloom on that chill morning when the lives of sixteen children and their teacher ended in the most unimaginable way. It called for tighter gun control. Hamilton had been armed with two pistols and two revolvers, all legally held. By 1997, the law was changed so it was illegal to buy or possess a handgun in the UK. Changes were made to school security and those working with under 18s were subject to background checks.
Strength from tragedy
The human spirit can endure unspeakable horror if there is hope, and I hope with all my heart that the catastrophic events in a Connecticut town last week finally bring about tighter gun control in the US, like it did in the UK. I hope those twenty children and their teachers didn’t die for nothing. Something positive needs to come from this for the families who’ve lost so much and for a beleaguered nation. It’s been building for a long time – with sixteen mass shootings in the past five and a half years in the US it’s an issue that’s not going to go away.
The answer lies, not in arming ourselves against those who would do harm – there’ll always be someone with greater firepower and less respect for life – but in creating a society where it’s more difficult for them to do so. A gun in the wrong hands poses a far greater danger than any protection it afforded a single owner. When will America recognize this and purge the glut of firearms from its streets and homes, stop listening to those who make a living producing and supplying them, and change its perception of protection? Why can’t people see that it’s too easy for anyone, mentally ill or otherwise, to access a gun and rob everyone around them of their right to safety and security?
The right to bear arms shouldn’t be part of a society’s constitution. Its very existence is testament to that society’s failings.
I keep hearing it’s part of American culture, like slavery was, as though that’s a reason for accepting things as they are. After the steady stream of shootings over these past months, I hope it’s a part they’re ready to abandon, because the prospect of having to endure any more incidents like these is just too painful to contemplate. A country that gives us school staff who protect their children with their lives, must honour their memory by making the changes their deaths have shown a need for.
Sometimes events unfold that force us to make a choice. America, this is your chance to turn bitterness to hope. Don’t let it slip through your fingers.