Of images and guns

By Beryl Wajsman on December 18, 2012

“In our sleep, pain falls drop by drop upon our hearts until, through the awful grace of God, we attain wisdom.” ~ Aeschylus

…and yet again.

Words fail. Comfort the bereaved yes. But platitudes to the living, whether from realms private or public are inappropriate. As Father John writes on the page opposite, there is a time to respect silence. Or perhaps a time for respectful silence.

But let us suggest that in one arena this is just the time for certain words. Not the obsequiousness of public officials promising to do something about…it…at some time…soon. But the urgency of addressing…it… in the public arena, with fierce urgency… now.

This does not mean that we have to enact intellectual constraints on the young on what they see, or hear or read, lest they find themselves ensnared in the “culture of violence.” That kind of pop psychology breeds nothing more than endless debate producing nothing. Nothing that is but a false premise to lean on. We cannot and should not constrain thought because of tragedy.

Nor do we need talking heads on television, or commentators and illustrators in the press, matching the iconographies of guns or the personalities behind the NRA (National Rifle Association), to the symbols of Nazism. That is cheap thrill-seeking that degrades the memory of victims of unspeakable atrocities past and does no honor to the memories of victims of today’s senseless slaughters. It is intellectual laziness.

No, what we have a fierce urgency for now is that precisely in the crucible of a continent’s pain, in the heart of families’ unimaginable suffering, let us address – at levels political and social – the one thing we can do something about. Stopping the availability of the kind of weapons that account for 90% of the murders of the innocent we most recently witnessed in Newton. We must end access to military-based automatic assault rifles.

To those who say that a time of mourning is not the right time. We say there is no “right time.” There was no “right time” for six year olds to die.

But if anything would be a living testament to their sacrifice, it is that their deaths rouse the resolve of a continent now! Not six months from now. Nothing will ever lessen their parents pain, but action could make their grief redemptive.

And yes this is a continental question. America may have more guns and a more violent gun culture, but the reality is that much of our two nations’ growths took place after the historical moment when the muzzle of guns replaced the points of swords. Authority followed frontier pioneers, not the other way around. Law, and the ordering of society, followed the settlement of wilderness. A settlement that would not have been possible without guns, at the very least as protection from predators and as harvester of food. Let us not fool ourselves that guns are not as ingrained in the Canadian psyche in many parts of the country as they are in the United States.

Having said that, there is of course one overwhelming difference. Our two nations share, as a fundamental birthright, fidelity to the right of free expression. But America, in its Second Amendment to the Constitution, enshrined that the “right to bear arms” shall not be abridged. And that brings us back to how both our nations dealt with the primary fundamental right of free peoples. That of free expression.

Both our countries, in our judicial codes and our jurisprudence, have recognized that shouting fire in a crowded theater is not part of free expression. That incitement to violence is not an exercise in free speech. They are both examples of license not liberty, and have been duly constrained. By the same token, it cannot possibly be argued that ending the availability - and even confiscation – of assault rifles is in any way an abridgment of the right to bear arms. One can understand men and women in dangerous lines of work, or who hold positions that could make them targets for attack, or who have already been victims of attack, wanting a licensed handgun. One can understand farmers and hunters who want certain types of rifles whether fromnecessity or choice. But no one, under any civilian circumstance, needs a military assault rifle. No web site or store should have a license to sell them. Not the sanest among us should ever be given a permit to own one. An assault weapons ban is not an abridgment of freedom. It is just common sense.

Yes dear readers, there is a time to respect silence. When comforting the aggrieved, words sound cheap. But in the public square, at this moment, on this question, in this time, silence would be complicity. Action now would help assure that no one must ever suffer the “pain which falls drop by drop upon the heart.”


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Beryl P. Wajsman

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