Light and Death: Reflecting on the 7th night of Hanukkah in light of Newtown Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre

Posted: December 14, 2012 in My moral code, On Beauty, On Compassion, Politics
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I’m sorry about this, but you need to bear with me if I am having difficulty seeing the light this Hanukkah. So far this season, Ravi Shankar died, the 51-year-old wife of one of my oldest Oregon acquaintances died, a 51-year old college schoolmate of mine died, and now a massacre of primary school children. So, put up with my little rant, if for no other reason than out of respect for all the beautiful souls that we’ve been loosing recently.

Every one of these recent deaths makes me sad. But, of the 4 I mentioned, 3 were just a function of the risks associated with living in a human body. Ravi died at the ripe old age of 92. Christy died of heart failure. Rusty died of cancer. None of those were really preventable. Interestingly, though, it’s the 4th of these that saddens me the most.

I suppose that, since I don’t know any of the people involved, I’m disproportionately anguished by the tragic murders in Connecticut. But, today, I’m truly distraught by the senseless killing of 20 children and 6 adults (as it stands now) at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. I’m an empathetic and compassionate guy. That’s why my heart weeps for all these people who I don’t know. But I’m also struggling with compassion because I’m at a point where I now feel like compassion has limits. You see, I have no compassion for the murderer at all.

I’m distraught that this guy killed himself,but it’s not out of compassion, it’s out of anger. I wish he did not kill himself because I’d like to see him tried and executed. To be honest, I’d like to see him handed over to the parents of the children he murdered; but vigilante justice is still too slippery a slope for me to condone even with someone like this, who I so despise.  Still, killing yourself is the most cowardly path after you take the lives of others. I did not always feel this way, but I’m no longer against the death penalty and I no longer have compassion for such a deranged embodiment of evil.  Perhaps one day I’ll return to my old self. But today, I say: enough is enough.

So here’s what I predict will happen next. The super-powerful NRA is going to use this to their ADVANTAGE. It won’t be long before the gun lobby uses the fact that Connecticut has among the most stringent firearms laws in the nation as a “proof point” that firearms regulation doesn’t solve the problem. Then they are going to support the argument by saying that the murderer was using legally licensed guns. Somehow, to the gun lobby, this will just be more proof that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.

But there is another way to view this. That is to say that, perhaps, even the strictest, most highly regulated, state laws are still NOT REGULATED ENOUGH. That will piss off my Libertarian friends no end. And, if you interpret the 2nd amendment their way, they have the right to be pissed at me. In that interpretation, we do indeed have the right to bear arms. An alternate view (one which I hold – but that does not matter for the sake of discussion) is that every word in the US Constitution is there for a reason; and that little clause about “A well-regulated militia” in not superfluous.

The extreme on one end is to say we have the right to own any weapon; the extreme on the other is to say that we only have that right in the instance when we need to build a well-regulated military who’s soldiers must bring their own weapons! I’m personally closer to the latter belief in terms of original intent. But I don’t think that’s a viable place to start if we want a “middle way” solution. So, somewhere between the extremes is the right to own weapons for you and your families defense, for hunting, and for target shooting as sport. I’m quite fine with that. The only remaining dispute is where you put the dividing line.

My gun-toting friends (of which I have many) will not agree with me. But, in my opinion, the place to draw the line is at the dividing line between manual and semi-automatic. You don’t need a semi-automatic or automatic weapon for hunting and I’m quite sure that a 9mm, a .44, or a .357 with a manual load chamber is quite enough firepower defend the family. So, if we were to prohibit everything but manually loaded firearms from private owners then the only people who are really hurt will be the collectors, hobbyists, and psycho-killers. Now, I happen to love knives and I know that it’s a bummer that I can’t bring my switchblades into California. So, I know why this would bother these people. But, it seems like a pretty small price to pay to keep assault weapons out of murders hands.

One thing I will stand by the Libertarians on is the right for people to, basically, do what they want as long as it does not hurt others. The problem with gun ownership, though, is that even an owner who takes fully competent personal responsibility can’t always control what happens. Newtown is a perfect example. Mom and 26 others were killed with mom’s properly licensed guns. I would not be surprised if mom was a very responsible gun owner. Well, mom had her face blown off by her nutcase son, who went on to kill 20 children. If mom did not have the right to own her guns, maybe things would have been better.

Now, people try to make themselves feel better by looking to their spiritual paths in times like these. We could say that all these kids had bad karma and their next lives will be full of joy. We could say, as I’ve heard already today, that these 20 children are now with Jesus. People, I’m glad this makes you feel better. If these beliefs are the tools for your healing, I want you to use them to the fullest extent. I sometimes wish I shared these beliefs. But here’s my way of thinking.

We live in an amazingly beautiful world where every human soul is born with the potential for greatness and, at least, the opportunity to thrive. I look out the window on a beautiful morning and I feel blessed to be alive. I go to my Synagogue’s Hanukkah party and see children singing and dancing and I feel my own joy in seeing their joyful spirits. I don’t ask myself where they’ll be if there’s a Messiah and he comes tomorrow. I don’t ask myself if it’s God making them joyful. All I do is to look around and see potential.

Then I consider Newtown. I see 20 children, any one of whom could have been the researcher who cures cancer, any one of whom could have been the President who brings American’s together, any one of whom who could have been the Supreme Court justice who removes the last remnant of racism in American jurisprudence,  EVERY ONE of whom deserved to experience joy and to reach their personal potential, EVERY ONE of whom has now lost that chance. And, you know what? I FUCKING WEEP, because someone took it all away with a device that is illegal in most every other civilized society.

So, tonight, as I think of the hope that the Hanukkah candles represent, I think also of the darkness that they try so hard to dispel. I think of murder. But, I can’t ever give up hope. So, with these candles, I send all the light and all the  loving energy I can muster across the continent in the hope of bringing light to a very dark place at a very dark time.

And I hope for a day when all there is is light.

  1. Larry Emery says:

    I am a Life Member of the NRA and believe its leadership has been on the wrong path for a very long time. I blieve that the Second Amendment does provide a right for individuals to keep and bear arms for self defense, marksmanship sport, and hunting.

    I also believe that we can and should draw a line as you suggest, but would not eliminate the right to own semi-automatic guns, but I would eliminate the right to own high capacity magaizines which I would cut off at perhaps 15 rounds, but I could live with 7 or 8 rounds. The M1 Garand that served us so well in World War II and the Korean War holds an eight round clip. More than enough to defend oneself in a crisis.

    We also need to have a serious discussion about the failure of mental health care in this country. We need to be able to identify mentally impaired people and treat them with or without their cooperation. How I do not know, but there must be an effective and compassionate way to do so.

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