In times of tragedy we all search for a way in, to become a part of it, even as we wish that it had never happened. My sister and brother-in-law and their five kids, my nieces and nephews, live in Newtown, Conn. When I used to say that to people, nobody knew where I meant. I had to qualify it—“It’s near Danbury,” or “It’s about an hour outside New York.” I won’t ever have to do that again. “We’re on the map,” my sister said on the phone this morning. “We’re the new Columbine.”
So in the scale of connection, I am perhaps one degree closer to Newtown than most because I’ve been there and people I love live there—and because I got a call from my father yesterday as news was still breaking, giving me the soul-shaking news that my nieces and nephews were fine, that they were at a different school—but that hardly matters. I think we want a way in because it makes our grief seem warranted. My peers and I all did the same thing when a student in our middle school was brutally murdered. “Oh, I just met her last week!” or “My cousin lives on her block,” we all said. Tangential connections, ways to make ourselves feel like we had a right to feel the way we did, to be shocked and sad and terrified and angry, as if the sheer horror of the thing wasn’t enough of a reason. There’s no need this time. We’re all a part of this. Whether your sister lives in Newtown or not, if you live in this country, what happened in Newtown matters to you. How could it not matter to you?
The ramifications of Newtown are big and small. Big in the way we all—on Twitter and Facebook and down the block at the nail place and up the street at the coffee shop—are talking about things like gun control and mental-health care and the president and the teachers and the horrible, horrible sadness. Small in the subtle shifts, the way things can be altered so instantaneously when we realize that we don’t all agree, whether by the relative who has the audacity to rail against gun laws while my sister and her family grieve for their neighbors or the few who felt the bizarre and tone-deaf need to chime in on Facebook that Newtown is evidence of the importance of the death penalty, as if that has anything to do with anything right now.
David Remnick and Adam Gopnik have much more eloquent and important things to say about Newtown than I ever could—I’m just angry and heartbroken, I have no thesis, no real point, I just need to talk—and you can read them here and here. My thoughts are less coherent. My thoughts begin and end with the bogus story so many people in this country tell themselves about their right to have and use a gun, start and finish with the notion that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Yesterday, a lunatic in China stabbed 20 children. That is mind-boggling and horrible. But those children lived. The undeniable truth is that without a gun, it is harder to do what Adam Lanza did. The NRA and its followers know that. That they pretend not to is insulting. They know it—they just don’t care. Arm the teachers, they say. The shooter’s mother was armed. In fact, she was responsible for arming her son. What does the NRA have to say about that? It makes no sense.
If you are a gun owner or a gun lover, to say that you have a right to a gun instead of owning up to the fact that you just like having one, that you think guns are cool, that the murder of 20 children and the adults who tried to protect them simply doesn’t bother you in the scheme of things, well, that’s a story you tell yourself so that you seem palatable to this world. You are not palatable to me. You are grotesque and foolish and you should be ashamed of yourself. What happened in Newtown was preventable. It was preventable. It was preventable. Hear that, because it’s true.
That’s all. I don’t know how to make sense of something so senseless, so that’s all. If you’d like to help the residents of Sandy Hook, please follow this link.