Saturday, February 16, 2008

School Shootings Strike Home Again

As soon as I read yesterday afternoon about the school shooting on Thursday at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, I called my cousin, Malinde Caldwell, who is a senior at Northern. I breathed a sigh of relief the second she picked up the phone. She was shook up, but fine - as were her friends.

Malinde, who has nearly completed her study to become a special education teacher, was off campus at the time doing her student teaching. Since the shooting, though she lives only a few blocks from the University, she hasn't been back on campus. It's not that she wants to avoid the reality of what occurred in the auditorium in which she has had many classes over her time at Northern. That would be impossible. Her apartment is next to DeKalb's sole hospital, which has been overwhelmed since the shooting by a volume of dead and wounded far beyond what the tiny hospital could ever have conceived of having to treat.

For me, the shooting at Northern was a bracing reminder of last semester at St. John's University, where I work as an adjunct professor. Fortunately, the University's alert campus police aided by some courageous students were able to diffuse that incident before anyone was hurt, but what might have been was a horrifying image lost on no one at the school. Since Columbine, we Americans have become all too familiar with how this type of madness looks.

This was no less than the fourth school shooting in the U.S. within a WEEK. Since she was in a position to understand this latest headline on a human level, I asked my cousin why it was she thought these massacres are occurring so frequently in our country. She responded that since the gunman at Northern, unlike the one at Virginia Tech, demonstrated no real sign of being disturbed prior to Thursday, she didn't blame the University at all for failing to stop the senseless slaughter of her classmates.

The preventive measure that she said was "obvious" was stricter gun control laws. I couldn't agree more. If only this conclusion were as "obvious" to our elected officials!

All of the guns used by the perpetrator were purchased legally - two of the four within the past week. No questions asked. For a small wad of cash, a would-be murderer had all he needed to kill six innocent kids and forever mar the lives of many more.

We are far past the point of pushing for background checks and waiting periods to ensure people who might misuse guns won't get their hands on them. At this point, the alleged right to hunt and bear arms is dwarfed by the right of our citizens not to be hunted - the right to life, so to speak.

I was disappointed by the reaction of our presidential candidates to the shooting at Northern. Senator Obama said existing guns laws need to be strengthened and bullets need to be traced as they are in California. Senator Clinton said "we’ve got to figure out how to get guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists, gang members and people with mental health problems". I couldn't find any comment online from Senator McCain.

It is time that our politicians stop pandering to the nation's gun lobby. I am not sure what Senator Obama means by strengthening our gun laws, but I am certain it is inadequate by my standard. And as for Senator Clinton, there is a simple solution to getting guns "out of the hands of criminals". America must make it illegal once and for all for private citizens to own automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons, and, yes, even handguns, as is the law in England and many other countries with startlingly fewer incidents of gun violence.

Gun vendors are not psychologists, nor should they be expected to be. And our government has proven far too many times that it is ill-equipped to or incapable of deducing whether an aspiring gun owner will one day turn out to be a murderer.

The only way to rid our society of gun violence is to rid it of guns.

How many more children need to die before this point becomes as "obvious" to our leaders as it is to the victims of these crimes?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A friend of Matti Saari also reported that he had been seeing a psychologist in the months before the shooting: