June 2, 2022 by Matt LeBretton
Mortality and senseless death are never easy topics.
They’re even harder to broach when the person you’re talking to is a 10-year-old wearing a Little League uniform, strapped in the backseat and wondering why little kids his age are being shot to death in schools.
Every parent felt it last week: that involuntary but now completely rational and shared shiver of fear, that breaking of the heart for another parent you don’t know, far away in a place you’ll probably never visit, but suddenly feel a kinship with.
All the cliches have been exhausted. It’s to the point where the roteness of it all has become part of the horror.
A Boston Globe analysis suggested that advocates for changing a system that permits troubled 18-year-olds to purchase weapons with perhaps the sole intent of murdering children – should attempt, essentially, a form of legislative rope-a-dope, apparently on the logic that the gun lobby, lobbyists and their minions in Washington D.C., have some sort of internal mechanism that registers shame. The suggestion is ignorant, evidently, of everything that same lobby and its supporters have done over the last decade or so.
But the most devastating appraisal of the situation, to my eyes, came in the form of a tweet from a British columnist, Dan Hodges, who wrote, “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
As of press time, that message had been retweeted more than 173,000 times and “liked” more than 232,000 times since its initial posting. Which occurred in 2015. But, he is right. The social media chatter about Uvalde and gun control across social media is less intense and more short-lived than our collective outrage after Sandy Hook. We are becoming dull to the pain. Dull to the horror. Dull to taking action.
We have to constantly remind ourselves: If not now, when? If not us, who?
For some of us of a certain age, school violence first really appeared on our screen with the eerie, disturbing video for “Jeremy,” the Pearl Jam song about a troubled boy who snaps and commits violence in the classroom. When that video came out, it was a national controversy, in part due to the novelty. We know now this is not about videos, video games or tv shows. It is about taking small steps, baby steps even, towards common sense gun control reform. Who do you know who objects to extending background check waiting requirements to seven days?
These days, fatal violence occurs in classrooms far more regularly than when people were aghast at a video on MTV. According to one statistic I saw, more than 37,000 American children have been killed by guns since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, compared to about 7,000 servicewomen and servicemen.
We’ve fought two major wars in that span, yet our children are in greater danger carrying their lunchboxes than the volunteer soldiers who keep our country safe. That’s a society that’s out of whack, its priorities misaligned with its purported values, with a ruling class that is far too dismissive of the people they are elected to protect. Enough is enough.
This isn’t about red states or blue states - but this is about the red blood of our nation’s children splattered across classrooms, hallways, front porches and city streets.
When I logged on this past Monday afternoon – at a time when Americans should be ensuring that there’s enough propane or that the potato salad is in the shade after celebrating and honoring those that gave all – it was to the news that there had been 11 mass shootings already during Memorial Day weekend. There were 40 more people shot in Chicago by mid-afternoon.
In Massachusetts, it’s nice – if not overly comforting, because what’s a state line to a lunatic who will shoot his own grandmother in the face? – to be able to say that things are better. We’ve got an assault weapons ban, magazine capacity restrictions, background checks, red-flag laws – in sum, a sensible approach to gun control that has evolved in recent decades with bipartisan support on Beacon Hill. And you still don’t hear people in Massachusetts, those in their right minds, complain that it’s too difficult to obtain a firearm here.
Because the people who use guns the right way – for licensed hunting or an afternoon at the range with friends – recognize that not everyone handles guns responsibly, or is mentally and psychologically fit to handle a weapon that too easily causes death.
And our political leaders, for all their foibles, have remained open-minded to improving these laws; after the massacre in Texas, Senate President Karen Spilka noted that Massachusetts already has strong laws, but said the Senate would be open to reviewing them.
Other states would do well – by good public policy, by their children’s safety, and by history – to follow Massachusetts’s lead and swiftly adopt a suite of gun control laws that make sense. If the feds continue to refuse to move forward let’s do it state by state, the NRA be damned.
But even this bastion of evident sanity is threatened by the ill political winds blowing across our country. As soon as this week, the Supreme Court could decide on a Second Amendment case over a New York law, potentially triggering a massive increase in accessibility to guns. Of course, the Court is designed to withstand the passions of the moment, and headlines should not dictate law. But if ever a moment has lasted too long, or headlines ever cried out for some humanitarian state intervention, isn’t this it? Shouldn’t the bodies of little kids shame us into doing our damnedest to ensure there aren’t more?
Rides home from Little League games should be filled with chatter about where to get postgame pizza or why it’s still too early to throw a curveball or whether it’s better to take two and hit to right or swing away.
They shouldn’t be very discomforting, tearful conversations that amount to, on their face though not intended, a generational accusation of those of us that should know better by those of us with much less experience on this planet. That unavoidable, unintended accusation is clear. Parents and grandparents are failing kids and grandkids by not protecting them; it’s really that simple.
It’s a horrible feeling to know that every 10-year-old scratching their head about our inaction is right - that we’ve not done enough to confront the toxicity of mental illness and too-readily available deadly weapons. Our collective national inaction is shameful.
Dredging the Harbor is a column for the Hingham Anchor by Hinghamite, Matt LeBretton.
Matt's musings will include tongue-in-cheek and irreverent observations around town.
Matt lives in Hingham with his wife Michelle, his children Samantha, Abigail and Jake and his best friend Stella the Wonder Dog. Professionally, Matt is a lobbyist and a lawyer artfully managing to be employed doing the two things most people rank as the least respected professions in the country. In his free time he “coaches” his kids sports teams.