I am haunted by this morning’s news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtoun, Connecticut. I’ve been affected before by news of shootings in schools and public places in the US… but the death of children is especially hard to bear. To know that such innocence and helplessness were gunned down in such a fashion; to know that life so new has been cut so short leaves me breathless with heartache.
I know that all deaths suffered in previous shootings are equally heartrending, equally tragic, equally devastating. But today as a parent, with my baby and my man gone out for a day’s Christmas shopping, I surveyed my house and its clutter of shoe boxes upended by a curious mind… I washed her dishes, packed away her clothes, gathered her books and swept my biscuit-crumbed floor, and I could not get away from thinking of those parents. Of wondering what it must be like, when the noise and panic have finally died down, when the tears have emptied and the funeral event-managed and performed. When the news cycle picks up on another tragedy, when Christmas and New Year have come and gone.
When all is supposed to be normal again. When a new term at school starts. I wonder what it must be like for those parents to sit in their houses, in the absolute stillness, and to know that life has gone out of it.
Arddun is starting childcare in February. Did you know that Tony had recently applied for a posting in Washington D.C.? He didn’t get the position. And irrationally perhaps, I now think that such a blessed break. Because I’m now terrified of America and its inexplicably asinine irresponsible gun laws and its propensity for the occasional loon to walk into a sacred place like an elementary school with a bullet-proof vest and a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle which his dad probably got from Walmart, along with the week’s groceries and some toothpaste.
But I know it’s just the panic talking. I know it’s unfair to paint America right now with this tainted brush. And cerebrally, I know that a lot more must have been happening in the background before that boy – not yet an adult – walked into that school to gun down his mother, the principal, and young children.
But I cannot understand.
It is so easy to blame God for this. Or at least to ask Him how He could have borne such a thing, how He could have dared to allow it. I know that some Christians tend to whitewash every tribulation and tragedy as God’s will. And I’m going out on a limb here to confess that I am absolutely not one of them. That horrible affair, that act of terrorism, could never have been something that God would have willed. It could never have been something anywhere in the ballpark of His mandate for us to love one another, just as He loves us. It is, rather, the proof of what happens when God is willfully shut out of the equation. He comforts all, He is there at the beginning and at the very end. But He did not want this to happen.
I find it very difficult to pray in times like these, but I’m going to list a bunch of things and people to pray for right here. So feel free to join in, and add your bits if you like.
I’m praying for those who were murdered. I wonder if it had been quick, and I pray that there was as little pain as possible. That it had all happened too fast for them to be filled with the sheer terror and loneliness that comes from having your number unexpectedly called. It is hard to think of them all and to know that they needed their mommy and daddy right that moment. It is hard to think of them crying. But the only thing that even comes close to comforting the heart and mind right now is the conviction that each and every one of them is safe and loved with Christ.
I’m praying for those left behind. For those who will need to find a way to move on. The survivors. The parents. The siblings. The colleagues. The community. The country. The world. But especially the first four groups, because they were right there in the fire, and burns sting for a long, long time. They leave marks. They hurt deep. And even though they have each other, and even though they have God, they will also feel unbearably lonely through lots of it. I pray that they get peace that passes all understanding, even as they grieve deeply.
I’m praying for the country. I know I understand very little about the American constitution, and I’m a Singaporean residing in Australia so what do I know about the love of guns, having not grown up with them? But I pray for fundamental change. Whether that means tightening their gun laws or not, I just pray that as a country, they will be able to move towards (or move back?) to an age where school children and their visitors would not have to go through a security clearance each day to feel safe enough to learn. I pray that Australia and Singapore – two countries I love deeply – will never get to that stage.
I’m praying for the brother of that shooter. Let’s not forget that the media had initially reported him as the shooter – along with name and age, so there goes his privacy, personal security, possible job prospects and social life. Let’s not forget that in one fell swoop, he lost his entire family. He will have to grapple with the concept, the knowledge that his own brother, whom he probably loved, took the lives of their father and mother. He will have to walk the earth with survivor guilt. He will feel loneliness and anger. He will probably feel that he has no right to mourn his loss. But it is a loss – a huge loss. And it is as unfair to him as it was to the parents and families of those children and adults gunned down. As tempting as it is to look at that family and wonder about the parenting skills of the deceased, we have to remember that we don’t know the facts. We may never know all the facts – as much as the media is going to have a field day with this.
And finally, the most difficult bit – the shooter. I pray that I can one day get to the stage of praying for Adam Lanza, instead of wishing him a kind of hell only reserved for those who recklessly murder young children. And it’s wrong to do so, I know. But I am angry, and even a little freaked out. So I pray that I can one day pray for his soul, pray for mercy. Because even though I’m not a murderer, I have sinned constantly and often. And I know I don’t get to cast stones at the end of the day. But for now, I am far too emotional to pray for his soul without adding a few extras that shouldn’t be there. And that’s the truth.
EDIT: This was written earlier in the morning, when news had just unfolded and details were still hazy. Since then, more details have come to light – like the fact that Adam had killed his mother before driving to the school to massacre everyone else. There now doesn’t seem to be any mention of a father. Again, everything is still unfolding so details could still change again. The sentiments above, however, still hold true. It is still a tragedy, and it is still hard to explain away.
15 December 2012 at 11:57 pm
I agree with you that it’s not God’s will… so many people ask why do bad things happen to good people and it’s because there’s sin in this world… God wants us to be save and would do everything to protect us be he gave us free will and it’s the bad choices in this world that let this happen…
I’d also like to say that it’s not our gun laws that keep letting people do this… without them the good people would be prey to the criminal that could still get their hands on a gun… when someone wants something there are too many ways for them to get it… gun laws won’t change any of it…
18 December 2012 at 11:36 pm
Society definitely needs healing and fixing. I also wonder about the media and the messages that we surround ourselves with.
I now think I’ve led quite a sheltered life growing up in Singapore, and now living in Australia.
I think *only* changing the gun laws is oversimplistic. But I have to say that having spent all my life in two countries that either have banned guns or created and enforced strict gun laws, that we don’t seem to have the same level of violence. I don’t know if it’s the difference in media reporting, or the seeming rise of atheism – but then again, we watch the same movies and get the same news reports. And Australia is a very secular nation.
I’m not saying that Australia and Singapore have “better” societies than America, because that’s hardly fair or true. But they do enjoy low violent crime rates. One of the big differences between the treatment of guns in Australia and America is the idea that guns are for personal protection in the States. In Australia, gun owners just don’t use guns for the explicit purpose of self-defence. It’s not in our national psyche. Gun owners here shoot roos for meat and recreation; they shoot for professional and amateur sport. We don’t keep guns in our handbags or under our pillows on the off-chance that we get mugged.
Maybe that makes us naive about personal security. But I believe the fact that people own a gun for self protection means that even on the subliminal level, they are prepared to use it on another human being. Otherwise, why own a gun for self-defence at all? Once that line is crossed in the mind, there’s a kind of innocence lost, I think.
Sorry for the long spiel! It is a topic close to my heart, actually. I don’t like labels on people, but I do believe I’m quite the pacifist sometimes.
Bottomline is that while I believe that suffering and violence entered the world because of sin, and that “guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people”… I also believe that lax gun laws do “strengthen the hands of evildoers”.
19 December 2012 at 2:37 am
well my problem is all the other laws out there haven’t stopped people from using drugs, raping, stealing, and do other harmful things to people that in no way include guns… the thing is America is a huge place… Australia and Singapore are only a few million while America is over 300 million… which may be why it seems worse because over such a huge population the level or crimes are going to be higher when compared to a smaller place… i mean if you take each state on it’s own it wouldn’t look nearly as bad… but i carry a gun and my husband never leaves the house without and the fact is I am willing to use it to protect myself… I had an ex-husband put me in the ER and i wish more than anything that i had a gun on me at the time… i don’t plan to kill but wounding will work just fine for me… and i know it sounds like all Americans are gun crazy but you can only be pushed around so much before you either die or decide to fight back… in all honesty i think there should be harsher punishments for those who break the law… i mean half of them seem to treat it like a vacation and then the media cries out about the terrible treatment of the criminals…. how is that right? I believe if people knew there would be serious consequences to their actions they’d be less likely to do wrong….
18 December 2012 at 2:43 am
I think many of us are feeling the same way. I think we have entered a new normal and it is not one we would have wanted. Nowhere is safe.
18 December 2012 at 10:59 pm
You’re absolutely right about “new normal”. I know the older generation always like to talk about how it was all rosy “in their day”, but I have to say that the frequency of these atrocities are starting to wig me out.
19 December 2012 at 2:08 pm
You’re right – stringent gun laws do not eliminate crime. And they do not eliminate suicide – people can and have switched methods and weaponry. I agree that in some cases, the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” holds true.
You also brought up population density, and so I had a closer look at that. I take into account the fact that Australia is a huge country, land-wise – although parts of the east coast is very densely populated compared to the rest of the country that’s arid. So I had a look at a random sample of other countries that have a population density comparable to or surpassing that of the United States. I’ve also eliminated Singapore because gun possession for personal use is illegal, and because I couldn’t find the stats.
Here’s what I found, in order of population density:
#10 Japan: 4 in 100,000 chance of homicide by firearm
#21 Switzerland: 4 in 100,000
#52 United Kingdom: 1 in 100,000
#191 Sweden: 5.5 in 10,000 chance
#227 Canada: 1.5 in 10,000 chance
#231 Australia: 1.5 in 10,000 chance
Then, there’s the United States:
#178 United States: 3 in 1000, or a 1 in 333.33 chance of dying in the hands of a murderer armed with a gun.
These stats, by the way, do not include death by suicide using a firearm.
I’m not saying culture, media, gun security, education, healthcare etc don’t have a part to play. They do. I’m not saying religion doesn’t have a part to play, or sanctity of life at the very least – they do. But easy access to guns? The “normalising” of guns? The temptation of reaching over in the white heat of an ugly moment, a fierce brawl? I believe they do play a part. I believe it, because I know I wouldn’t have the self-control not to shoot someone to death if a special circumstance called for it .
Then again, I didn’t grow up with the stuff around me. (More on that later.)
There are some things we agree on – the need for serious consequences to serious crimes, and the fact that women need to learn self defence. I am SO SORRY to hear about your ex-husband. I was horrified when I read that, and I cannot imagine the terror you must have felt. And I completely acknowledge what you said and still feel – that you would have given anything to have a gun at that moment. Anything that could have given you leverage.
I’ve been thinking about this response for the better part of my morning, and my conclusion is this: that we come from different worlds, and our upbringing has obviously shaped our thinking and attitudes on this topic. It struck me that both of us – one who grew up with guns, one who didn’t – feel SAFER for our respective choices. Isn’t it bizarre that on opposite ends of the spectrum, we arrive at the same goal? :)
20 December 2012 at 2:36 am
i’m not sure if i agree with your statistics… i found several different statics… ranging from 1 in 133 to 1 in 18,000… and it really depends on where they did the survey at… honestly i’m guessing the higher number is right… i’ve moved around the country and known a lot of people and have never known anyone to be murdered… i’ve never even known anyone who knew someone that was murdered…
i do believe that there should be more laws on getting guns… i was in alaska and all i had to do was fill out a piece of paper and i got a gun that day… which was cool for me but then how many crazy people can get one… i read where they’re finally updating the system because felons aren’t allowed guns but also to make sure those that have been listed as mentally unstable can’t have one… these were things that should’ve been good to go but apparently they’ve been slow to keep it up to date… and so i think that maybe we’ve gotten to lax about such things and should have stronger laws… i don’t think everyone out there should be allowed to have a gun when they’ve obviously shown they can’t be trusted…
and to be honest i’m glad i didn’t have a gun on me with that deal with my ex… it was better watching him go to jail and if i had accidentally killed him that would be something i’d have to live with for the rest of my life… i just don’t want you thinking that because we do hold on to our gun rights that we’re all willing to kill… we just don’t want to loose anyone we love because we weren’t able to protect them… it really is in how you were raised and the culture surrounding you… my dad is a very small funny little fella that would never do anything to harm anyone… but he makes sure there’s a loaded rifle by his bed because like he says if someone breaks in it doesn’t matter what they might be cracked out on the sound of a rifle loading will get them gone faster than anything… sometimes it’s just about showing we’re willing to stand our ground…
20 December 2012 at 8:04 am
Ah… you know what they say about stats. “Lies, damn lies, etc…!” I basically took the homicide-by-firearm figure for 2011 and divided it by the total population of America for 2011 according to the World Bank. But other figures probably take into account the fact that babies and young children can’t handle real guns, perhaps? I have no idea.
I agree with you completely about tighter laws and increased barriers of entry. I’m not against gun ownership, I just seriously question the need for assault weapons in the home (which I know is something we see differently on), and I think there needs to be a lot more hoops to jump through in order to get a gun (something we seem to agree on.) I think gun security is very important to reduce theft, and there are many more creative solutions for making gun ownership responsible.
You’re absolutely right on another point – it’s all about the very few bad eggs that make the rest of the carton seem to stink. But I have encountered and made friends with many Americans over in Singapore, when I was in Hawaii, in Australia and yes, through my blog. I have always enjoyed the openness, disarming candour and genuineness of Americans. (Not to mention your passions!) So please don’t think that I believe murder lurks in every corner of the US. :) In fact, Tony and I have always talked about taking a trip across the US together, once the munchkin(s) are old enough to understand what’s going on.
I want to thank you for engaging with me, and for so respectfully disagreeing in places while putting across your view so eloquently and sincerely. I know it can’t have been easy reading about my points of view on something that is clearly close to your heart as well (and being shown how other countries do it different), but I’ve really appreciated the time you’ve taken to provoke my thinking on gun ownership and control in America. :)
20 December 2012 at 8:20 am
i never mind a good debate as long as everyone is respectful… being hateful never did any good… and if you ever do come to america I’d suggest Savannah, Ga i just love the old south feel… or Alaska has beautiful scenery… i myself have seen more of america than most but i honestly don’t have any other suggestions than that… personally i like any place that has a gift shop… :D
20 December 2012 at 8:31 am
Hahah! Noted. We had initially talked about doing all the national parks, but I would love a combination of city and country. I had done my internship in Hawaii back in 2000, so I spent 3 months there. But everyone in Hawaii tells me that it doesn’t count as having visited America, truly. :D
As for my stats, after thinking about it some more today – you’re right again! I made a pretty big error with decimal points, so it’s actually something like 4 in 10 million for Japan and 3 in 100,000 in America, or 1 in 33,333.
20 December 2012 at 8:35 am
ok that makes me feel a bit better… i was really worried for a bit there on those numbers… ooo i did go to yellow stone which was cool… but i got trapped camping there for much longer than well… i hate camping… so my memory of that is a little tainted…