Silent Night

Sandy Hook statement

At times overcome by emotion, President Barack Obama addressed the nation hours after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Another massacre rocks the nation, and again the silence falls. This time should be the last.

First came Columbine, then Virginia Tech. Now Sandy Hook joins the list, the second-deadliest school shooting in American history. Twenty six are dead, twenty of them children, after a lone gunman’s senseless rampage. But as Americans turn their thoughts and prayers to Newtown, Connecticut, the call has already rung out. No national conversation is to be had, no solutions are to be discussed. The country may mourn, but under no circumstances may it “politicize” this latest tragedy — but it should.

Why do these shootings demand the strictest political silence? Americans would never tolerate such inaction in the wake of other national crises, but here alone it’s prized. The assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords brought no action, the carnage in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater changed nothing. In each case, and now again, mentally-ill gunmen purchased their weapons legally; in Aurora, not even gas grenades or body armor raised a red flag. Whether the endgame is more or less funding for mental health, stricter or looser gun control, it’s a discussion that deserves to be had. If that’s politicization, by all means, let’s have it.

The United States has long struggled to provide adequate medical care to its people, and mental illness remains severely stigmatized. On the other hand, America boasts the highest rate of gun ownership — and gun-related homicide — of any developed country. Only Chile comes close, a distant second. Whatever our political leanings, it’s time these issues took center stage.

Some disagree. The National Rifle Association, for example, deactivated its Facebook page and suspended activity on its Twitter account in the hours after the massacre. Rather than participate in national discourse, the pro-gun group has simply gone dark. But the fight may come regardless; California Senator Dianne Feinstein has pledged to introduce a national assault weapons ban when the 113th Congress convenes in January. The Sandy Hook shooter carried three legally-owned firearms, two handguns, and an assault rifle.

Innocent men, women, and children were killed in Connecticut while the status quo response demands we carry on in silence. It’s more than disrespectful, it’s disgusting. The conversation need not begin and end with guns, but it need begin. The shadows of Columbine and Virginia Tech have for too long hung over the United States — Sandy Hook cannot add to their crushing weight. We owe it to the victims to do what is difficult and work toward a solution. We owe it to them to at least try.

The full list of the victims released by Connecticut authorities can be found here, courtesy of CNN. Children’s full names are included only when their parents have spoken publicly.

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Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy delivered remarks on the massacre Saturday afternoon. President Barack Obama addressed the nation twice, once on Friday and again on Sunday. His first statement is repeated below:

“This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered [the Governor] my condolences on behalf of the nation, and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.

We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would—as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them—birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today—for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.

As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago—these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.

This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans. And I will do everything in my power as President to help.

Because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need—to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories but also in ours.

May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.”

The President’s second statement, delivered Sunday evening, echoed sentiments expressed in this article. A portion is excerpted below:

“This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose—much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this. If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

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