EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 31, 2013

Column: We cannot let time soften the impact of Newtown

Jim Cain
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — As I’m writing, the serenity of the setting — near Harold Parker state forest — and the moment — Sunday morning — is punctuated by the distant crack of gun shots. This is ever present. While it diminishes at times there is no “season” when it ceases altogether; no season when the cracking stops, allowing the sounds of the forest to settle into a natural rhythm.

I rarely notice the shooting from the gun club anymore and that is an unsettling reminder of the world we live in. It’s the things that we don’t take notice of that are the texture and fabric of our lives — the subliminal definers of the culture we have created.

Americans seem to have concupiscent attraction, an almost erotic fascination with guns and the culture they have spawned. One measure of the passion of this embrace is a willingness to tolerate if not accept both the intentional and unintentional consequences that follow when a trigger is pulled.

For a long time I was unable to leave the horrific image of Newtown unattended in my mind. As humans we are tempted to deal with violence as an abstraction and insulate ourselves from the flesh and blood horror of children being slaughtered. I needed to push it into a subconscious oblivion. I needed time and distance to even think much less write about it. And that is part of the problem. This is the same passage of the time and quest for emotional distance that the NRA counts on and exploits.

The NRA conflates straw man and slippery slope arguments and clings to vacuous reflexive mantras hoping they will frame any discussion of gun control. However, the NRA seems to recognize that Newtown could be the point of inflection that changes the arc of the discussion. While in the past they have depended on the passage of time to dissipate the resolve of Americans, they have not simply relied on this to quell the outrage over Newtown.

They can’t spend money fast enough trying to suppress reasonable discussion on limitations. The NRA chorus is singing from their traditional hymnal — the golden oldies play list — including “They’re going to take our guns away” and “Guns don’t kill people…” They continue to be popular with the true believers who live for and not just in the gun culture. They have been singing along as the surge in gun sales and ammunition following Newtown will attest.

The NRA augment that gun laws will never stop mass killings is not a rationale for the status quo. Accepting this as a premise to the debate is a fallacy of false choice. As a society, we don’t have to choose between preventing all or preventing none.

In the wake of Newtown, there is the all consuming need to do something, to not feel powerless when either rational intent or the psychic chaos of an individual inflicts itself on our most vulnerable — the essence of innocence.

The NRA’s shallow response to gun violence — the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun — has a parallel in the nuclear arms race. Our inability to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons — now within the reach of terrorist and rogue nations — like the proliferation of guns has made us less safe. Just as having more nuclear bombs than the other nations has only complicated the problem, having more guns is not a solution.

The 30,000 gun deaths annually, like the gun fire incessantly echoing around Harold Parker, are the background noise that we habituate to and don’t notice unless it affects us personally. Virginia Tech, Aurora and Columbine get our attention but fade with time. Newtown needs to be the existential rupture that changes this too often repeated dynamic.

The nation reacted to Newtown with an instinctual primal disgust and horror that connects to evolutionary roots grounded in an imperative to preserve life. As individuals we unconsciously repress and consciously suppress the image of Newtown. We need to let it painfully linger unattended in our minds and, in so doing be the existential rupture — the catalyst for change.

Our national consciousness is stuck in Newtown and that’s as it should be and needs to be if we are ever to extricate ourselves from the paralysis of inaction the gun makers and their marketing arm — the NRA — exploits. We can’t simply absorb a tragedy like Newtown and keep moving. The deaths of children — of pure innocence — is different. It can’t simply be another incidence of gun violence that fades and vanishes on the horizon along with our national resolve to do something. It is a measure of our humanity that we hold on to the image and allow the deaths of innocents to take us to a better place. If this moment in time is not seized, the NRA will allow its passing, as it always has, to erode our national will for meaningful gun control.

Jim Cain writes from North Andover.