Amongst all the ink that's been devoted to last week's tragedy, there are dozens of articles that bring tears to the reader's eyes. How could that not be, with twenty children dead--all of them, we now hear, between six and seven years of age. I heard the President's remarks at the memorial service last night, and could not help but choke up myself as I heard the names of those twenty children solemnly recited. We read reports about the chronology of the events, about the brave actions of adults at the school, the devastating effects on the community. It's all so very sad.
And so deeply disturbing in what it all says about our country. Here, for example, is an important article about target shooting in the Newtown area that appeared in the New York Times this morning. It tells the story of the persistent sound of gunfire and explosions in and around the community, as target-shooting enthusiasts spilled over from overcrowded licensed ranges into open, public areas, where they practiced their skills on butane tanks or other targets equipped with explosives designed to explode when hit. According to the article, in the year preceding the tragedy, the sound of gunfire and explosions became almost incessant, provoking persistent complaints to the police department. Alert to the possible dangers, the article says, police authorities tried to assert some minimal authority to assure community safety--but were thwarted by the organized resistance of gun owners to the least regulation.
We do love our violence and our noisy pyrotechnics. The movies that dominate the box office are those that make a spectacle of gunfire and explosions. The same, I hear, is true of the video games we promote amongst the young. Reading the article, it's hard not to conclude that there is a substantial number of adults who have taken to translating this imaginative excess into reality. It's all about fire-power, deafening sound, destruction.
This in itself, in my view, would be a disturbing commentary on our culture. Worse, though, is the passion with which such attitudes and behavior are defended, and all reasonable efforts to keep them within the bounds of safety resisted as attacks upon individual liberty. Does personal freedom now trump every other citizen's rights? The right to live in safety, without the threat of bullets flying within a few feet of their homes? To live without the continuous sound of gunfire in their ears? To know that their children can attend school without the fear that some deranged person might appear with an assault weapon and multiple clips of ammunition and mow them down?
The clash between individual freedom and the rights and responsibilities incurred if we wish to live in peaceful prosperity with our fellow human beings--particularly, perhaps, now that there are so many of us, and that our numbers are alarmingly increasing throughout the planet--that clash, it seems to me, is at the core of all our current social problems as well as our political controversies. What will it take for us to recognize that our personal freedoms can never be unlimited, no matter how much we may desire it; and that some sacrifice, some compromise is needed for the well-being of our human community?