Putting a face on tragedy

Thursday April 11, 2013

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators announced they had reached an agreement on expanding background checks for gun buyers.

Spearheaded by Senators Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, the bill would require background checks for gun buyers at gun shows and online.

Thirteen senators, led by a group of young conservatives, had vowed to filibuster any legislation that they saw as infringing on the constitutional right to bear arms, preventing it from even getting to the floor of the Senate for discussion. But over the past few days, that threat has slowly faded away. We believe the reason for that is President Obama brought families of 11 of the 26 children and educators killed in Newtown, Conn., to Washington, D.C., to meet privately with senators.

"I think we bring a face to this tragedy," said Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was one the 20 6- and 7-year-olds killed.

Unfortunately, the families weren’t welcomed with open arms by everyone on Capital Hill.

"Some of my colleagues were more welcoming than others," Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told the New York Times.

One of those who wasn’t so welcoming was that paragon of tolerance (sarcasm alert), Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who said on Tuesday the gun control debate doesn’t have anything to do with the families of Newtown.

"See, I think it’s so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them when, in fact, it doesn’t," Inhofe said.

No, we think it’s unfair that they had to travel to D.C. at all to urge legislators to do something, anything.

Apparently it’s easier to put a little spin on their trip than it is to look into the face of misery that is a parent who dropped off a child at school in the morning and picked up a bloodied body at the morgue in the evening, when they should have been snuggled tightly in loving arms, being read bedtime stories.

It appears many legislators would much rather meet with constituents who have a fistful of cash for campaign coffers than find the time to sit down with a parent who has seared upon his or her brain the image of a child’s body blown apart by bullets.

Sen. Inhofe, we beg to differ, but yes, this does have everything to do with them.

"It’s so much bigger than a political debate," said Jimmy Greene, whose daughter died at Sandy Hook. "It’s so much bigger than Democrats versus Republicans, conservatives versus liberals. I believe, in my humble opinion, this all transcends that."

The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker points out that nothing proposed in the gun control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Newtown killer was a mentally disturbed young man living with his mother. She had legally purchased her arsenal and had even taught her son how to responsibly handle firearms, but she did not deal appropriately with her son’s mental illness nor safely secure her guns, she wrote.

"Criminals will always have guns ... and forcing law-abiding gun owners to submit to new regulations will not prevent another Newtown, or Aurora, or Columbine," wrote Parker.

We would amend that to read some criminals will get guns, but hopefully, if universal background check and straw purchase legislation is passed, perhaps fewer will. We think that’s an admirable goal.

It’s true that universal background checks probably won’t prevent gun deaths such as that of a 6-year-old boy in New Jersey who was accidentally killed by a 4-year-old playmate with a rifle, or that of a 4-year-old boy who shot himself in the head with a loaded gun that was left out in the open during an Easter gathering in Alabama, or that of a 10-year-old North Carolina boy who was killed when a gun his father was cleaning discharged.

But maybe background checks would have prevented the death of a 13-month-old baby in his stroller who was shot by thugs in Georgia after they demanded money from his mother, or the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl in Chicago just days after she had performed at Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

Yes, it’s almost impossible to prove a negative, but as the Connecticut Post noted "Expanded universal background checks would be a meaningful first step toward reducing the 30,000 gun deaths that happen in America annually and making less likely another mass shooting like the one in Newtown."

Even if a check saved the life of just one child, we think it’s worth the added "burden" on gun sellers and buyers. Those who think it’s just one more hassle that violates their constitutional rights should have to sit down and share a cup of coffee with a parent who has wept over the lifeless body of a child -- a creature they invested their heart, soul, love and hopes in -- that only hours before was zipping around the house, eagerly getting ready for school.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions