Thursday, 20 December 2012

Guest Post: Being a Father Changed the Way I look at Gun Violence in America

This post was written by Christopher W. Boerl, a former classmate of mine, and all round smart man. My only contribution was a little spell checking and formatting. I'm very pleased to host this deeply personal account of how the recent Sandy Hook shooting impacted on him and look forward to more commentary from Chris as the national mood in the USA continues to shift and evolve. I will write my own response to this soon, as I have a few thoughts as an "outsider" which I'd like to share:

As an American, I am accustomed to hearing news stories of shootings on the news. Sadly, most of the time, I scarcely notice these stories, that is how common they are. But last Friday was different. The day began in uncharacteristically busy fashion with a couple conference calls and some urgent e-mails that needed replies. Around noon time, I had yet to conduct my daily troll of the blogosphere when a colleague of mine told me about a shooting in Connecticut. He was short on details, and my initial reaction that this was just another run-of-the-mill school shooting. When I reflect on it now, I’m disgusted that I would even think that any school shooting could be “run-of-the-mill,” but since 1997 there have been 145 school shootings in America, roughly one a month! And America, one school shooting a month is normal. By contrast, during my four years living in Britain, I never once heard of a UK school shooting.

By lunchtime, several of my colleagues were now talking about the tragedy in Newtown and as better understand the magnitude of the shooting; I did something I’ve never done before when a big news story was breaking. I put my headphones and refused to go online. I succeeded in going the rest of the day without visiting the Huffington Post, the New York Times, or for that matter any of the other websites I gather my news from. But then the day ended and I got in my car. My radio was pre-set to NPR and like every other media outlet, they were providing extensive coverage of shooting. Before leaving the parking lot, I called my wife, Bonnie, to tell her that I loved her and to check how my two-week old son was doing. Bonnie told me to turn off the radio or at the very least, to tune to a different station. I told her I would, but when we hung up, I didn’t. As I embarked on my near hour-long commute home, tears began welling in the corners of my eyes. They stayed there the whole drive home.

Had Newtown occurred a few weeks earlier, I’m not sure I would have had such a strong emotional response. But when you become a parent, when you hold that fragile little life in your hands, something changes in you. It certainly did for me.

In a nation of 310 million people, I cannot tell with any certainty just how many of them are parents. I assume the figures hovers around two-thirds, but that’s just speculation. Yet the point I want to stress here is that last Friday, I’m willing to be that just about every one of those parents felt the same fear I did. Newtown could have been any town, it could have been my town, and Sandy Hook could have just as easily been the school I will one day send my own son to. I shudder to think that it still could be.

In the coming weeks and months, America will begin to seriously debate the merits of gun control once more. To be certain, this conversation is long overdue. When for instance, the Virginia Tech massacre took place in April of 2007, leaving some 32 dead and another 17 wounded, instead of having any meaningful dialogue about gun control, we as a nation instead debated the merits of arming students, faculty and staff. When Jared Loughner gunned down six, including nine year old Christina Taylor Green and wounded another 13, with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords among them, we instead focused on the polarizing effects of patrician rancour. When a movie theatre was shot up earlier this summer in Aurora, Colorado, we remained silent.

Sadly, it took the deaths of 20 first-grade students and another 6 heroic educators, for America to finally wise up to the gun pandemic we daily face. Whether or not anything meaningful legislation will ultimately come of this tragedy remains to be seen, but already President Obama has come out in support of measures aimed at curbing large-capacity magazines and assault rifles. For their part, Republicans have remained largely silent on the issue, no doubt they are waiting to better gauge public opinion, or at least wait until the wounds are less fresh before they assault such reasonable measures as anti-American. On Friday, the NRA will address the press for the first time since the shooting. They claim they are as committed as ever to preventing school shootings, but considering these are the same folks who want to keep cop-killer bullets and automatic assault weapons on the street, I have to question how strong this commitment has ever been.

As America embarks on this coming debate, I will continue to update you with the latest political developments and insights. As always, your thoughts, opinions and comments are most truly appreciated.


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