You frequently find fortune cookie aphorisms, yes, but it’s not often you find searing insight within Twitter’s 140-character confines. Which is why a June tweet from one Dan Hodges — his profile describes him as a British political commentator — stood out.
“In retrospect,” wrote Hodges, “Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
You might cringe to hear the nation’s response to the December 2012 massacre of 20 young children — six adults also died — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., described in that fashion, but you can’t deny the brutal truth of the observation.
After Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama called for new legislative initiatives, saying, “Surely we can do better than this.” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, “We need action.” Rep. John Larson said, “Politics be damned.” Parents of one victim walked the halls of Congress carrying pictures of their dead son and beseeching lawmakers to look, even as polls showed nearly 60 percent of Americans wanted stronger gun laws.
And nothing happened. In deciding between its children and its guns, America had decided the loss of the former was, in Hodges’ chilling word, “bearable.”
The memory of it haunts a Sunday interview CNN did with Andy Parker, the father of Roanoke, Va., TV reporter Alison Parker, who was murdered live on camera recently by a hateful and deranged man named Vester Flanagan. In vowing to commit his life to achieving sensible gun control, Parker said a number of striking things.
“I’m telling you,” he said, “they messed with the wrong family.”
“I’m going to be working on this for a long time,” he said. “I know that this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
He acknowledged we have seen many “tipping points” where guns are concerned: the shooting of a congresswoman and her constituents at a supermarket, a mass murder at a movie theater, the Christmas season butchery of schoolchildren in Newtown. “But,” he said, sounding like nothing so much as a father who very much loved his daughter, “I think people recognizing who the victim was and what she represented and how kind and sweet and innocent she was, I think this time it’s going to be different.”
It’s always going to be different. But it never is.
With all due deference to a father’s incalculable sorrow, the likeliest outcome here is the murder of Alison Parker and her colleague Adam Ward and the wounding of local official Vicki Gardner will join the long line of tipping points that didn’t tip and turning points that didn’t turn. Which is why Parker’s words inspire no great hope, but only break your heart.
The sad thing is, there is no — repeat: no — inherent or insoluble conflict between the desire of some of us to have access to guns for sport and self-defense and the desire of others of us to keep dangerous people from possessing those weapons. Decent, moderate people, working from both sides of the question, probably could hammer out ideas to safeguard both imperatives in an afternoon.
Problem is, gun owners’ interests are represented not by decent, moderate people, but by the NRA, an extremist gang for whom even the most modest regulation is a brick in the road to tyranny. So long as the NRA has such an outsized voice in this debate, so long as politicians, unencumbered by conscience or vertebrae, tremble to its call, and so long as many of us are silent and supine in the face of that obscenity, Hodges is correct. And we are doomed to a future of frequent, predictable and preventable tragedies some of us will mistake for freedom.
It makes you wonder. If that kind of thing is really “bearable” then what, pray tell, is not?
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.