We cannot let them go


Those of us who were at Jonesboro, we can’t let them go.

We can’t let them go, those children in Connecticut, the 20 slaughtered as they cowered in their elementary school classrooms; nor the five teachers and a principal who died alongside them. We can’t let the Connecticut victims go because we can’t let go those four students and the teacher who died at Craighead County’s Westside Middle School. Because of what happened at Westside, we who were there, at the moment the shots were fired and in the minutes and hours and days and years afterward, we can’t let go of the other children — the ones who died in Colorado and Minnesota and Pennsylvania and South Carolina and Kentucky and Virginia and…

Those of us who were at Jonesboro, we heard the shots and the screams and then the gasps of agony, at the scene and at the funerals. We saw the sidewalks, the pavement that resisted efforts to wash away the bloodstains; and saw the tears at the funeral, and the vacant expression on the faces of relatives, survivors, townspeople.

Even now, their names, those who died at Jonesboro, roll from the tongue — a short, sweet, very sad lyric of loss: Brittheny…Stephanie…Natalie…Paige Ann…Shannon…

As do the names from Connecticut: Allison…Daniel…Dawn…Dylan…Caroline…

As do the names from all the other cities and towns, the names of the dead, the wounded, lives ended or forever altered, struck down in venues second only to the hearth as synonymous with safety. It seems so much folklore.

Yet there are the repeated assertions, in the moments after the final shots were fired in Connecticut, that what happened was “unbelievable.”

Ridiculous. It was entirely believable. In fact it was altogether predictable. And who, now, would predict that it won’t happen again?

Just as absurd, the demand that the nation “renew” its “dialogue” on gun control. What never was cannot be renewed. We have never had a dialogue on guns. We have had two monologues, each side preaching to its own. Attempts to bring some semblance of sanity to the question almost invariably have dissolved in waves of anger, defensiveness, misunderstanding and undisguised paranoia.

Comes to mind the efforts of the mother of one of the Westside victims to encourage gun owners to secure their firearms. Just keep them from the hands of children, she pleaded, such as the children who had shot to death her child. Having delivered that message at a State Capitol rally, she immediately was confronted by a man who taunted her to “come get my guns.” He was visibly unconvinced when she exclaimed, “I don’t want your guns!”

“Anti-gun” campaigners, many of them, either do not know or cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that the assault weapons ban enacted during the Clinton administration — it expired and has not been revived — had a minimal impact on violent crime. Nor do many of them understand even the terminology they employ in condemning the firearms they deplore, let alone their mechanics.

“Gun nuts,” many of them, either cannot accept that a minimal impact on violent crime is better than no impact or believe the “freedom” to legally purchase an assault weapon is worth the risk of their possession by the mentally ill. Nor can they accept that a 30-round magazine in civilian hands is a bewildering concept not only to the unarmed but, likely, a majority of serious hunters.

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” declares the Second Amendment. Argue as you will the meaning of “well regulated militia,” there is no argument that the right of the people to keep and bear arms has never been infringed — provided you can accept that machine guns and sawed-off shotguns are justifiable exceptions. There is no argument, none, that scores of children, and millions of other innocents, have forever lost their right to security, to freedom.

Religious conservatives explain that the nightmares have become real because God has been banished from our schools. They have not explained how He also has been driven, apparently, from shopping malls, sports arenas, hospitals, health spas, post offices, factories, office buildings and other workplaces, theaters — and not a few churches.

Amid the Connecticut carnage there was one moment of supreme if unintended irony. It came on the Sunday following the killings, at the conclusion of a memorial service at which President Obama spoke. Following Mr. Obama to the podium, the presiding clergyman advised the assembled of standard operating procedure at almost every event any president attends — to “please take your seats until I can receive confirmation that the president has safely exited the school campus.”

What is the standard operating procedure that can confirm our children will be safe once they enter the school campus?

If you were at Jonesboro, you understand. Because we cannot let them go.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.