For too many families the rooms are silent where their children slept, played and laughed. For too many families this holiday season will not be filled with joy and laughter but rather with tears and shaking fists toward the heavens as the question of "Why" will go unanswered.
As a mother, grandmother and teacher, the most recent tragedy in Connecticut has touched my very soul, and I ache for the loss of the children and the innocence of those who were spared. And, I hear another plea for tighter gun control laws.
As incomprehensible as the massacre in Newtown, Conn., was, there were also two separate shootings that took place in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday, and another in Las Vegas that sent innocent bystanders scrambling for safety.
Even knowing of the violence that rained down upon the innocent victims this past week, I have heard proponents of the second amendment tell me that gun owners need to "get ready for the liberals to try and take away our guns."
Really?! We need to put things into perspective.
According to the FBI Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010, 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. by firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by other means combined. And yet, when compared to the 6,600-plus U.S. service members who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, it should make even the most conservative NRA member and law abiding gun owner stand up and take notice.
I don't want to take guns away from responsible gun owners, but I do want to protect our children and other law-abiding citizens. Questions need to be asked! For instance, why does anyone need a weapon in their home that was made for the primary use by military or law enforcement personnel? Why would someone need to keep weapons that can fire multiple rounds within seconds, otherwise more commonly referred to as assault weapons? (For those of you who will take issue with this term, I am well aware that even a finger nail file can be used to assault someone.) And most importantly, why would any responsible adult keep firearms in a home where mentally impaired individuals could get their hands on them? I believe it is because we too often just look the other way.
I wanted to know what the NRA had to say, this is what I found. According to the Daily News in New York, "NRA's Facebook page disappears after Connecticut school shooting raises anger. The National Rifle Association touted having 1.7 million "likes" on the social media site the day before Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, the pro-gun group apparently deactivated its page and stopped tweeting." I agree that guns don't shoot people; people shoot people with guns, so let's stop people who shouldn't have a gun from getting their hands on one. Something needs to be done to help individuals recognize behavior changes in others, pick up on verbal and/or non-verbal clues indicating that something is not quite right.
In every case recently, whether Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, or Sandy Hook, the shooter had been diagnosed with some form of psychological problem that went ignored by individuals closest to them. Maybe it is time to stop looking the other way, saying nothing and hoping that the problem will go away by itself. Has it become easier to turn away than to take on the difficult task of solving the problem?
I have seen parents who continue to ignore the obvious because they "love" their child. I see them make excuses, "the other children pick on them, they are bullied, the teacher doesn't understand them."
I hear parents tell me that they are moving their child to a different school because the kids are mean or the teachers are too strict. I watch parents ignore their child's disability because they don't want to face it. I know of parents who have a child with obvious problems. Only the problems are obvious to everyone but the parent who just continues to act as if there is nothing wrong with "their" child. As parents it is our responsibility to see things for what they are, not for what we would like for them to be.
We can no longer ignore warning signs, they must be recognized and dealt with - the shooter had emotional problems, and yet there were assault weapons available for him to use to take the lives of 27 innocent people, 20 of them children.
This is the time of the year when children should be in plays depicting the birth of Jesus, singing Christmas Carols and looking forward to opening presents from Santa. Instead, in Newtown, Conn., there will be too many silent nights when carols will not be sung, laughter will not be heard, and the sweet little voices of 20 innocent children will have been silenced forever because someone looked the other way allowing a sick individual to pick up a gun and massacre 27 people.
I pray that God will bless America and give solace and peace to those who are suffering during this very difficult time.
Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident and author. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org