One of the ironies rooted in the experience of abject loss of the magnitude sustained in Newtown on December 14 is that so many people set about so quickly to see what can be gained from that loss. In its most positive form, this human impulse to do something constructive in response to such a horribly destructive event is redemptive. It has the potential to make the world a better place. In its most negative form, it seeks to leverage a community’s grief in the cause of special interests. That is exploitative. Drawing a distinction between the two is not always easy.
Like it or not, the anguish of Newtown has conferred on those most directly linked to the tragedy a kind of authority that has amplified local voices to the point where they are clearly heard in both Hartford and Washington. And now powerful people are interested in aligning themselves with that voice of authority. Last weekend, a contingent from Newtown was issued VIP passes and led a march against gun violence on the mall in Washington. This week, Newtown parents went to the head of the line at legislative hearings on gun violence both at the state capital and here in Newtown, while the town’s police chief sat down with the President and his administration’s top justice officials to discuss the same issue at the White House.
The only problem is that no community speaks with just one voice. That became clear at the first of a series of legislative hearings on gun violence when parents of victims at Sandy Hook School came down on different sides of proposals for more restrictive gun laws in the state. There may be one thing, however, that we can all agree on as a community in the wake of 12/14: the status quo is not good enough.
So as we communicate directly with those our democracy has vested with great power, let us hope our varied voices speak to the redemption of our shared loss through constructive action that transcends the entrenched positions of special interests at the extreme margins of the gun debate. These opposing orthodoxies have cemented the status quo in place. If the voices of Newtown are exploited, the status quo will only be reinforced, and the same horrifying confluence of mental illness and mayhem will visit yet another community and another after that.
Perhaps Newtown’s biggest contribution to this continuing debate will be to demand that the issue be addressed not from the margins but from the center, where insistence and concession have the least distance to travel to consensus. Let us insist and concede that Second Amendment rights are not dispensable. Let us insist and concede that the escalation of the lethal efficiency of weapons freely available in the marketplace presents challenges for public safety that need to be addressed. Let us insist and concede there is no single remedy for this kind of tragedy and that progress almost always entails some changes we like and some we do not like. Let us never concede, however, that our gains must come at the cost of exploitation. Let us always insist that our great loss be redeemed for a better world.