Image courtesy of the Crunk Feminist Collective blog.

Five days after the Newtown, CT, shooting, Marion Winik shares a proposal, a petition, and a poem…

It is beyond me to finish the end-of-year column I was working on this week, which is feather-light and silly and which I will try to get back to next time. Like everyone else, I am filled with grief and rage for people of Newtown and the concentric circles of family and friends that ripple out, by six or 60 degrees of separation, to touch every one of us.

In the stupefied frenzy of news consumption which overtook most of us on Friday the 14th, I read an op-ed in The New York Times by Gregory Gibson. He and his wife had just marked the 20th anniversary of the death of their son, killed in a shooting rampage at his college in Western Massachusetts, when they heard the news from Connecticut. “This,” writes Gibson, “is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it.”

No. That is not what I want. Is it what you want?

Only rarely does a popular movement change anything in this country. Civil Rights and Vietnam were the achievements of the generation before us. Ours will get credit, I imagine, for marijuana legalization and gay rights. As good and sane as those things are, there is something more important we have to do.

We have to ban automatic weapons. We have to ban all guns except hunting rifles (and here’s a great piece on that from The Economist). We have stop arguing about it and do it now. We don’t need the Second Amendment anymore because we’ve already lost our freedom and we cannot regain it with firearms. At this level of civilization, the tyrants use The Matrix to take over, and it’s fine with them if we are too busy shooting each other to pay attention. They’ve got the media, the internet, the economy, the military, the law, and the water supply — so your right to bear arms makes not a bit of difference.

Yesterday I tried to explain to my daughter and her friend why, when there are countries in which even the cops don’t need weapons because citizens don’t have them, Americans believe we need guns to be free. It’s a history lesson. Those days are over. Now we live in a freaky fun house of a country where we have armed the evil, the craven, and the mentally ill and set them loose in the streets. There’s no way to make sense of that. And I can’t say I feel it’s enhancing my freedom.

Every one of these insane mass shootings is wrenching, but none has involved so many young victims since the Amish school execution at Nickel Mines in 2006. I lived less than an hour from there; this is something I wrote back then. I throw it like a stone into the 27 oceans of grief that are filling with the tears of Newtown.

I would like to be part of the generation that puts an end to the nightmare. Please join me. Maybe this petition will help.

Amish Country: Fall

Because I have a little girl,
and I was a little girl,
I can picture them,
lined up facing the blackboard in their bonnets and aprons,
the curve of their cheeks,
the clear light in their eyes going out.
And their names, their sweet little girl names:
Mary Liz, Naomi Rose, Anna Mae.

The black buggies with their spoked wheels roll
along gold and crimson country roads
carrying the coffins I read about in the paper,
narrower at the head and foot, wider in the middle.
Inside a little girl is dressed for her funeral
in the white cape her mother sewed by hand,
whispering under her breath.

What are the words “little girl,” “ten little Amish schoolgirls,”
doing in the same sentence as “three guns”
and “600 rounds of ammunition”?
In every language our sentences
are stacked high with these things,
Next to “sister” and “doll” is “K-Y jelly,”
between “milk” and “school” is “execution.”
Amid the clopping of hooves and the turning of leaves
comes the sad, crazy man in his truck.

Mary Liz, Naomi Rose, Anna Mae!
This is no place for a little girl.
Run quick into my arms.

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

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Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

27 replies on “We Interrupt Your Regular Holiday Programming to Bring You This Message”

  1. Unfortunately, nothing will change. There’ll be the usual handwringing for a while. Then things will go back to business as usual.

    This country is steeped in violence. From its beginnings to the present. We glorify violence, we lionize it, we export it. We lionize the military. We blow the brains out of people at home and abroad, and then we have the nerve to ask “why?” I notice no tears from Obama on all the Pakistani, Afghani, Yemeni, Somali children his drones have killed and will continue to kill.

    And god forbid if even one of these near-constant shooters had a “Muslim-sounding” or “Arab-sounding” name. We’d never hear the end of it. Muslims would be even more persecuted, more entrapped in phony “terrorist” plots than they already are. Instead, we have an endless supply of “all-American” Toms, Dicks, and Harrys who can easily get their hands on lethal weapons. 30,000 killed and injured in shootings EVERY YEAR in this country; how many 9/11s is that? But nah, that’s not terrorism. Only swarthy people with funny-sounding names can be terrorists.

    This country has chosen its priorities. And they’re horrifyingly out there for all to see.

    1. MW, love your passionate response! @Lisa Simeone, cynicism is too easy. Did you fail to notice our President is swarthy and has a funny name?

      The practical idealist grabs the torch that history hands them and runs with it. Obviously MW doesn’t know her guns, but she is running, torch in hand.

      This season call for infinite acts of kindness and passionate activism.

    2. Isabella, I’m not a cynic. Far from it. I’m a lifelong activist. I’ve grabbed the torch and run with it more times than I can count. And I won’t stop.

      But if we’re going to talk about these things, we’d better face them honestly. It’s not all about sweetness and light.

  2. “Automatic” weapons are currently all but banned. They can only be purchased through an extremely strict federal licensing program and, even then, they are still illegal in some states. Additionally, “automatic” weapons have not been used in a mass shooting in the US since the 1930s or so.

    Did you mean “semi-automatic” weapons? Do you know what the difference is? If you don’t, the very simple explanation is that semi-automatic means the shooter has to pull the trigger for each shot whereas automatic means the shooter can just hold down the trigger. Most guns that you have seen have likely been “semi-automatic”. The pistol you see carried by a police officer is a semi-automatic weapon. Many hunting rifles are as well.

    Guns are not semi-automatic can still be fired quickly. A shotgun, for example, is not a semi-automatic (two steps are required to shoot a round: pump & a trigger pull) but a shotgun can still be fired very rapidly. Hunting rifles that are not semi-automatic use a similar two-step loading/shooting process. These can also still be fired rapidly.

    The gun used in the Connecticut shooting was a semi-automatic gun that is made to look like a military-grade automatic weapon. It is NOT an automatic weapon. It is actually less powerful than many hunting rifles and fires at the same rate as your average pistol (one shot per trigger pull).

    I’m not sure what effect banning semi-automatic weapons would have given that non-semi-automatic guns (shotguns, various hunting rifles, etc) can still be fired rapidly. (Ignoring the fact that banning semi-automatic weapons is essentially impossible since many (most?) guns are semi-automatic).

    Maybe we should instead ban alcohol, which is linked to far more deaths per year than guns are.

    1. bfbcomments writes: “Additionally, “automatic” weapons have not been used in a mass shooting in the US since the 1930s or so.”

      True. And that’s why our never-ending massacres aren’t even worse than they already are. Thanks to the outlawing of actual automatic weapons. Legislation that worked.

    2. Hi Lisa & Marion,

      Not necessarily. Automatic weapons are much harder to control and many are more prone to jamming.

      “Assault weapon” is a meaningless term. An “assault weapon” is just a normal semi-automatic weapon with cosmetic changes to make them look like military-style weapons. It is equivalent to painting racing stripes on an average car–it doesn’t make it a race car. Many “assault weapons” are less powerful than hunting rifles. The gun used in the Connecticut shooting is actually illegal to use for hunting deer because it is not powerful enough.

      Given that their differences are only cosmetic, banning “assault weapons” is an empty gesture. Worse, it is dangerous if it gives you a false sense of security much like putting up a sign that says “gun free zone” does nothing to stop some idiot from shooting up a movie theater.

      You could try to ban all guns but, Constitutional issues aside, that would work as well as other prohibitions have. It would be impossible in a country with 200 – 300 million guns.

      But even if a ban succeeded and there were absolutely no guns in the US, there would still be mass killings. They are something that pre-date modern weapons and have existed in every culture. Look up the origin of the phrase “running amok” for some historical perspective. In China, a police state, a nutcase stabbed 22 school children on the same day as the Newtown shooting. In Norway, a country so safe the police do not carry guns, a mad man killed over 70 people with a gun and some explosives a couple of years ago.

      This is not to say that there isn’t room for changes in current regulations but that the knee-jerk reaction to ban certain scary-looking guns or even all guns would not produce the end result you desire. And the call to ban certain types of guns without knowing anything about the various types of guns is certainly not the model of an informed citizen.

      Again, alcohol plays a key role in many thousands of deaths each year. Are you also going to call for a ban on alcohol? Or maybe just hard alcohol? Or maybe even wine, after all 13.5% is more than anyone needs. Or do you realize that a prohibition on alcohol would be ineffective and that because even though some abuse their rights to tragic consequences, that does not mean the many should lose theirs? That is the trade-off of living in a free society.

    3. bfbcomments, Again, as I already said, straw man argument. No one is claiming that if guns were to magically disappear tomorrow there would be no crime and no mass killings ever again.

      Alcohol also a straw man argument. The purpose of alcohol is not to wound or kill. Yes, that’s often its effect, in the hands (brains) of people who abuse it. The purpose of a gun is to wound or kill. That its raison d’etre. It doesn’t make sense to compare the two. With that logic, you might as well ban all mushrooms since some mushrooms are poisonous.

      Nobody is proposing banning all guns; we all know that’s not going to happen. You evidently like guns; fine. Whatever. We’re trying to figure out a way whereby things might change, so that we become something other than a country where every goober with a grudge can get a gun.

      As for your “right” to have guns, I know better than to bother arguing that. A critical dependent clause gets left out of 2nd Amendment arguments, and there’s no point discussing it. We agree to disagree.

    4. Well, thanks for the correction, bfbcomments. It’s true, as another responder noted, that I don’t know my guns. But honestly I don’t want to.
      Would it be better to say “assault weapons” perhaps?

  3. Marion, you are absolutely right, the reasons undergirding the second ammendment are rooted in the need to protect the Americans from the folks who they were fearful of: the indigenous people of the land and the enslaved Africans. The right to bear arms is rooted in fear and brutality enhanced by the gun as the ultimate symbol on which masculinity and power are constructed. In a so-called post-racial qua first Black president America, gun sales, including assault weapons are up. The senseless public massacres are symptomatic of a much larger problem of violence and hate turning America into a killing field. If going to school, the mall, to the movies are now dangerous activities, how will any of us survive? Release the fear and ban the assault weapons!

  4. Oh, Marion. This is beautiful writing about an ugly, ugly thing. Thank you for sharing the poem. I’d forgotten about Nickel Mines and will think of that, too, as I have my hourly cry.

  5. From 1994-2004, there was a law called the “Assault Weapons Ban” in the United States. It was very restrictive, but regretfully, it did not affect crime at all. Politicians and citizens all agree on this. That is why the law expired.

    My understanding is that Connecticut already has *very* strict gun laws. Unfortunately, the only ones who follow these laws are law abiding citizens.

    I don’t know what the answer is. But I know the answer is not stricter gun laws.

    1. Doesn’t matter if Connecticut has strict gun laws if the whole country doesn’t. We can all get across state borders. Unless gun control is nationwide and not piecemeal, none of it matters. So it’s meaningless to criticize Connecticut’s — or any other state’s or municipality’s — gun laws in the current context.

    2. Lisa, your points about getting things across state borders is well taken. However, one thing you might not realize or remember is that during the 1994-2004 Assault Weapons Ban (which was nationwide), people were getting a lot things from overseas (like “magazines” which hold bullets).

      In the past, people internationally have had the same “borders” thought. They thought England and Australia would be places where tight guns laws would work because they are surrounded by water. But those places have turned out to be examples of failures for people wanting tighter guns laws.

      I disagree with you on how restrictive the 1994-2004 Assault Weapons Ban was. It was generally regarded as being very restrictive by people from both political parties.

      You mention “loopholes.” I have never seen a law without loopholes, and they are all poorly written when you closely examine them. Ask any judge or lawyer. I apologize if you are one of those, and I certainly do not mean to be condescending.

      I am not a gun guy or gun fanatic. But I have looked into this because I want answers just like you. I know the answer is not tighter gun laws. The shooter in Connecticut broke many guns laws. I don’t know what they all are. But I know more gun laws would not have mattered to him.

    3. JoeM, straw man argument. No one is claiming that gun control (meaningful, not toothless gun control) would eliminate all gun crime. No one is claiming that never again in this inherently violent country would people be killed by someone with a gun. There are no guarantees. There will always be crime. And there will always be mentally ill people. (And what’s with the bullsh*t about England’s and Australia’s gun laws being a failure??)

      But if Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner or that lunatic at Virginia Tech whose name I forget had had less powerful weapons, they would’ve done less damage. This is just common sense.

      No one “needs” an assault rifle. (Oh, and I love these people who go on and on about hunting, all over the blabbosphere. Like you need a semi-automatic to shoot a deer. Yeah, there’s some real skill there. What impressive manliness! Wow, can’t wait to meet that guy.)

      But hey, why stop at guns? The 2nd Amendment says the “right to bear arms.” “Arms” these days aren’t just guns. Why not landmines? Why not nukes? That’s the ticket! A chicken in every pot, a nuke in every garage! And grenades make great stocking stuffers. Go USA!

    4. P.S. In addition, the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban was hardly “very restrictive.” It was toothless. It was full of loopholes, which gun manufacturers and sellers easily got around.

    5. @joe, so you dont know what the answer is but you know what the answer isnt? There are 20 dead children and 6 dead teachers and an elementary school of children who will have to live w the nightmare they just witnessed for the rest of their lives. And yet you know the answer isnt stricter gun control laws? How could you possibly know that? Until you agree that what we have is failing our nation, and that quite possibly stricter gun control laws might help because experts like the james brady have been espousing this for a long time, people like you are part of the problem and certainly not part of the solution. Simply because of what you are so sure you “know”.

  6. thank you, Marion. You express my sentiments so perfectly with words. Is it going to take more horrific nightmare scenarios to get us off our butts and affect change? What more needs to happen?This was the 9/11 of 2012 except this time, the perpetrator came from within our borders. No one did this to us. This time we did this ourselves.

    People are getting the issues confused-lets not lose sight of the fact that if we didn’t live in a country full of people hell bent on insuring our second ammendment “right” to own handguns, this would not have happened. We are going to have mentally ill people living within our borders, there is no way to avoid that. But restricting gun ownership is well within our ability to control. Gun owning is a privilege, not a right. No one should be entitled to own a gun. If this is what “freedom” looks like, I too, want no part of it.

  7. On December 14th, in Japan, a man with a knife attacked kids at an elementary school, injuring 20 (or so, plus some adults, I don’t remember the actual number but 20 is pretty close). Notice that I said injured, as in not dead. No one died. The 20 or so kids were injured, went to hospitals, went home, recuperated and will live the rest of their lives. I’m relating this story because I’m so tired of hearing excuses from people about why nothing can be done…don’t bother banning semi-automatic weapons because pump and shoot can be nearly as fast, it doesn’t matter if CT cracked down on guns because across the border they haven’t, Timothy McVeigh didn’t even use a gun to kill people so banning guns isn’t an answer….etc. So if one small part of a solution doesn’t fix the entire problem, then why even bother trying. Let’s just continue on the same as usual until the next tragedy and we find more excuses why we can’t do anything about it.

    1. Donald, I tried responding, but my comment wasn’t allowed to post. Perhaps because I included links? Anyway, trying again:

      It was China, not Japan. But anyway, many of us here are in favor of gun control. Actual gun control, not toothless, not piecemeal, not written by the NRA and its corporate backers.

      But until the citizens of this country and the worthless wankers in Congress grow a spine and stand up to the nutcases and “survivalists” out there with their militaristic fetish, who are urged on by corporations making tons of money, nothing will change. Mouthing the correct political pieties at cocktail parties ain’t gonna do it.

      Here are two enlightening discussions on guns in this country and their history — contrary to the gung-ho, pro-gun propaganda, every citizen armed to the teeth wasn’t the norm until relatively recently:

      Not posting links because see above. Go to Ian Welsh dot net, and the show from Friday, Dec 20th, on Fresh Air, where Terry Gross interviews Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center. Both audio and transcript available on-line.

  8. Lisa, it sounds like you have had a relatively narrow range of life experiences. The purpose of guns is not always to kill or wound. You will probably not believe this, but there are thousands and thousands of competition shooters in this country. Their only goal is competitions, not killing people. The competitors use hand guns, rifles, and shotguns. Yes, many of those guns are what people would label “assault weapons.” I don’t expect you to believe this. But if you open your eyes and mind and look into this, you will find it to be true.

    Someone I know got a full scholarship to a prestigious university (tier 1) for skeet shooting (shooting using a shotgun). He also competed internationally. But the extensive and nonsensical laws that had to be followed by him and the team were funny once you realize criminals don’t follow those laws. It makes you realize how ridiculous gun laws are.

    This particular shotgun shooter now also regularly competes with handguns and rifles, yes ones that people would probably consider “assault weapons.” If you met him, you would find him to be a very well mannered and intelligent person (and well traveled). He is one of many gun owners like that, despite the way most media portrays gun owners.

    1. Joe,

      Somehow I don’t think competition shooters need to carry their guns into schools, malls, stadiums, theaters, train stations, etc. — in other words, have access to them all the time. But that might just be my narrowness speaking.

  9. Thanks for sharing your reflections on this horrendous events Marion. As with most cultural changes it will take the span of several generations to effect real change. As an almost 50 year old I still struggle to buckle my seat belt and have a little bit of resentment that I can’t smoke one of my non-filter cigarettes at the table after a filling meal at a restaurant. I sense my dinosaurness. But I see the changes occurring around me.

    Cultural norms do change and will continue to evolve but I fear not quickly enough to match the expectations of this electron paced world we live in. What is required is unfailing faith that change will come, mourning those who have fallen victim to antiquated concepts, and the ability to stare into the eye of power (government, commerce, idealistic dogmatics) and speak truth. You cannot justify the murder of even one child (be they white collar suburban or impoverished african american) in the name of any political ideal.

    When gun owners are required to be part of a well regulated militia I’ll feel that the political ideal is being approached. Until then, all who feel that the relatively unregulated world of gun ownership is as it should be or even that their rights are under attack, will be constitutionally suspect in my view.

    I think that I heard out of the corner of my ear the other day that every 2 days an equal number of victims die to gun violence as fell on that awful friday. Click,click, click, the meter is ticking.

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