It’s been more than a month since the abominable mass killing at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, and in the weeks since, hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the tragedy.
All of them are inadequate; no doubt these will be, too.
There are times when the scope of an event, the depth of its horror, reaches beyond our ability to chronicle or quantify it. There really are no words.
But we read most of the efforts, literary and otherwise, anyway. We recount, through the reports and images and documentaries, the events as they unfolded. We give our best effort at the impossible — we try to understand what happened and why.
And we can’t.
We can’t make sense out of the deaths of those children, 20 of them, or the deaths of six adults and the shooter who died that Friday in December. We can’t fathom the feelings of families caught in that nightmare. Can’t image what they felt when Christmas came and went; can’t comprehend what they might have wished for each other on New Year’s.
There really are no words.
And yet, we look to leaders for help and guidance. We look to our church, to our priests and bishops, to the Vatican — we look to those places “from whence cometh our strength.” And, faint though they may be, from time to time we find sparks of hope.
There is a verse in the Bible that captures this dim optimism for us. St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …”
At another point, St. Paul writes that “for whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
No one can rejoice in what has happened, yet we know hope is a powerful four-letter word. It is sometimes a difficult emotion to maintain, given the details of Newtown and other mass killings in just the past 12 months. That’s right — unfortunately the Sandy Hook massacre was just the latest in a long string of mass shootings, mass killings, mass murder. They include:
- Just three days before Newtown, on Dec. 11 in Portland, Ore., a man killed two people before fatally shooting himself at a Portland-area shopping mall crowded with holiday shoppers.
- On Nov. 7 in Fresno, Calif., a man opened fire in his workplace, killing two people before taking his own life.
- In Chicago on the third weekend in October, five people were killed and 24 others wounded in various episodes of gun violence.
- In Aurora, Colo., in July, 12 people were killed and 58 injured at a movie theater.
- Three women were killed Oct. 18 at a beauty shop in Casselberry, Fla., by a man who later shot and killed himself at another location.
- In Minneapolis on Sept. 27, a disgruntled employee entered a sign company where he used to work, killed five, wounded four and then killed himself.
You get the picture.
If you visit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Web site and look at a compilation of shootings throughout the U.S. in just the past seven years that killed at least three people, you’ll be amazed at what you find. Your computer will spit out a 64-page-long chronicle of violence.
It all defies common sense. Common sense should tell us that in our nation of about 350 million people armed with 300 million guns, we are not safe. If guns make us safer, as some advocates maintain, we ought to be the safest nation in the history of mankind. Yet we are far from it.
Guns are obviously not the answer, despite what some vocal-yet-myopic gun advocates continue to preach. There is no reason for civilians to have military weapons, assault rifles with the ability to spew forth dozens of rounds in a minute.
Blessed John Paul II told us what we need to know in times such as these, when our arguments about the Second Amendment and our freedom to bear arms conflict with the ever-rising toll of those killed by mass murders and their auto- or semi-automatic weapons.
“Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought,” he said in 1995 while visiting Baltimore.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in response to the Newtown tragedy, called on U.S. legislators to support measures to limit the sales of handguns and to limit public access to assault weapons. They also asked that movie makers and video-game producers take a good, deep look in the mirror and consider the violent images they are producing.
It’s common sense, and perhaps someone in Washington will listen. Perhaps there really has been a change in attitude following the carnage in Connecticut.
We can only hope.