Tonawanda News

December 17, 2012

DUVALL: How many more have to die?

By Eric R. DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Days like Friday defy explanation. Whatever lived inside that young man from Connecticut that caused him to do what he did isn’t understood — can’t be understood — by the rest of us.

All those little children are dead.

So are some of their teachers, several who responded bravely to unthinkable terror and their actions probably prevented more children from being shot.

We will never fully know what caused this person to do what he did. We can, however, discern what enabled him to do it. We owe nothing less than a full, unbiased accounting of the situation. And then we must take action.

We must first acknowledge the obvious: No sane person would take guns into an elementary school and open fire on defenseless 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls.

I’m fed up with the bewilderment that exists on the part of people who know the people who do things like this. “I could never have imagined” isn’t a good enough answer. As a society, we must ask fundamental questions about how we interact.

There isn’t one America anymore. We are a nation of individuals, each in a state of impaired judgment. We surround ourselves with fortresses of social media sold to us as a way to let people in, but that really serves to keep people out. We no longer ask meaningful questions — and if we do, we don’t do it enough.

How could this tragedy have been prevented? By someone, anyone, on perhaps any day, asking a clearly troubled young man “how are you doing?” Maybe if asked enough, he would have answered. Maybe his answers would have led those around him to intervene in a way that would have altered his life’s tragic trajectory. 

We saw it eloquently stated by about the last person in the world I would have guessed, the backup quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, after a teammate killed his girlfriend, then himself and left a 2-year-old girl without any parents.

“I know when it happened, I was sitting and, in my head, thinking what I could have done differently,” Chiefs player Brady Quinn said. “When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?

“We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

But this isn’t merely a problem of emotional connectivity. There needs to be equal accounting for the grim tools of death that enable such tragedies. We must examine the role guns play in our society.

Why in the world can’t we come to our senses about this? It is the prevalence of cheap handguns, two of which were found at the scene but it appears Saturday that the attacker’s weapon of choice was a long rifle — hardly the tool of street gangs, drug dealers or two-bit thugs.

News accounts hold the shooter’s mother was a gun enthusiast who struggled raising a boy who the few friends she had described as troubled. 

Let’s get this straight: We live in a country where it’s perfectly legal for the mother of a mentally unbalanced son to stock the house with weapons. And people defend her right to do it.

Gun enthusiasts — a grim euphemism if I’ve ever heard one — will be the first to say “he’d have gotten a gun somewhere” or “if sick people really want to get a gun they will.” Some will go so far as to say if someone on the school had a gun they would have stopped him sooner.

That is, to put it mildly, complete crap.

First, the obvious: If you put more guns in schools more people will be shot in schools. 

We’ll never know if better mental health policy would have flagged this young man just the same way we’ll never know if stricter gun control laws would have prevented these weapons from falling into his hands. It is entirely plausible that intervention at a younger age would have helped and if his mother wasn’t a gun owner that he’d have been caught and stopped while trying to procure a weapon of his own.

I fully acknowledge the world is full of evil, twisted people and no amount of legislation will stop all of them. But better laws will stop some of them and I, for one, am not willing to simply throw up my hands and accept these kind of tragedies as inevitable.

If we want to call this a moral society we must make what changes we can to say to the families of those who will die the next time this happens that we did all we could to stop it.

All those little children are dead. For the love of God, what more needs to happen before we do something to stop this insanity?

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.