The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 23, 2013

Reader: To curb gun violence, we must work to effect change

The Clinton Herald

---- — When Adam Lanza took his mother’s arsenal to Sandy Hook Elementary and slaughtered 20 children and 6 teachers, he didn’t mean to change the country.

In fact, no one knows exactly what he did mean to do — other than kill and die, of course. His connection to Sandy Hook was tenuous at best; he may have gone there briefly as a child, but even if he had, that had been more than a decade earlier and we can safely assume he had never been bullied by the 7-year-olds that he shot, nor had he nursed a fatal grudge against some teacher who once confiscated his comic book before recess.

After Sandy Hook, he went to a Catholic primary school and a brief career as an honors student at Newtown High before his mother pulled him out in favor of home schooling. She herself was comfortably well off due to a large divorce settlement, able to devote herself to raising her son and pursuing her hobbies, one of which unfortunately was gun collecting. So when Adam Lanza smashed the hard drive on his computer, murdered his mother and loaded her beloved firearms and ammo into his car to drive the five miles to Sandy Hook Elementary, it wasn’t revenge, a love triangle or gang activity that motivated him.

No, he appears to have gotten it into his head that when you’re filled with rage and your life is essentially meaningless, this is what you do. He wiped out one entire classroom, worked his way through most of another and then prowled for more until the police showed up, all because he was an embittered loser with the free access to firearms so jealously guarded by the National Rifle Association.

Sandy Hook was different.

It showed all of us that our culture has reached an ominous tipping point. School shootings used to happen because of bullying, gangs or high school drama. Now school shootings happen because it has become embedded in our culture that murdering a few dozen innocent is what you do before you kill yourself. It doesn’t have to be a school that means anything particular to you. Any school will do. In America our schools are no longer educational institutions. They have turned into victim pools.

So Adam Lanza may not have meant to change the country, but he did. Ever since Sandy Hook, Americans have been dividing into two camps. There is that small group who shrug. Yes, they say, it’s a shame those kids had to die — but it’s a small price to pay for liberty.

What matters is that we protect the guns. And the gun makers. And the gun owners, the poor souls who live in such terrible fear of something or other that only an assault rifle and a couple hundred rounds of armor-piercing incendiaries can put them to sleep at night. These Americans — mercifully few, but unmercifully loud — see the occasional Sandy Hook as an acceptable price to pay for their freedom to own as much lethal firepower as they would need to storm Hitler’s Berlin. After all, they won’t be the victims of the next school shooting, and who cares about anyone else?

Then there’s the majority. The people who have been joining groups, talking about options, networking with each other and developing action plans, all aimed at changing our culture’s sick fascination with guns and slaughter. Like the FARGO group that has been meeting at St. Paul Lutheran Church since January. Many of these citizens have little interest in simply banning this or that weapon; some of them belong to the National Rifle Association.

All of them have recognized that Sandy Hook is to America what a black spot on a chest X-ray is to a smoker — a sign that it’s time to change our ways. The idolatry of guns and violence in America has reached the point where no theater, no mall, no Navy yard, and no school is safe. Shootings no longer even have a revenge motive. All it takes is one embittered loser with a Glock to be driving by your kid’s school and you can be the next grieving parent at a mass funeral.

There has been no shortage of pundits who have leaped on this or that election, or this or that vote in Congress, to proclaim the end of the movement. What folly! Because these Americans will not stop until the culture has changed, and changed at its core. These Americans don’t want to live in Adam Lanza’s vision of America any more than they want to live in Wayne LaPierre’s.

They are determined to rebuild a society that believes in respect for each other rather than rage and contempt, that focuses on community security rather than solidarity bunkers each cloaking one armed paranoiac, and that believes in community as the solutions to violence rather than violence as the solution to everything.

This is no quick fix. It took 60 years to turn America from a country that produced young Elvis Presley, Fabian and Pat Boone to a country that produced young Adam Lanza, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It will take years to change things back. The only certainty is that those who refuse to join this effort concede that they have lost their moral compass, while those who get involved prove that they both have and use their own.

Derek Grimmell

Derek Grimmell is a clinical psychologist at Cornerstone Wellness in Clinton.