This was going to be a wonky blog about the Greek physician Galen and his bizarre notions – by modern standards – of how the body works. It was to be a follow up to a blog from last August about him and his anatomical writings.
But Galen will wait. The horror of the Uvalde, Texas mass murder at the Robb Elementary School unearthed the specter of the Sandy Hook massacre as if it were yesterday.
On December 14, 2012, a troubled teenage gunman slaughtered twenty first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, about a half-hour from my home. He first killed his mother, then walked into the school and killed those children and their teachers, and took his own life. As the news came over the car radio I sat stunned and tearful, my mind unable to push away images of terrified children cowering before their executioner. And then images rushed in of frantic parents huddled at the school, about to be plunged into the darkest of living nightmares. A year later, I was moved to write a column honoring the memory of one of the children who lost their lives.
In the aftermath of the Sand Hook massacre, President Obama came to Newtown to shed tears with a devastated community as a shocked nation looked on. Connecticut promptly passed a set of strict gun laws. Other states introduced gun safety bills, but most of those bills went nowhere. In fact, many states ended up passing laws that relaxed the regulation of firearms, and guns were purchased at record rates.
Now, ten years and an unrelenting string of mass murders later, we face a déja vu tragedy in southern Texas: nineteen fourth-grade children and two teachers mowed down by a troubled teenage boy. Having just turned eighteen, he legally purchased two assault-style rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that he brought to the slaughter. With the atrocity of Robb Elementary School, the same unspeakable images I conjured up from the Sandy Hook massacre have returned, pulling me up short several times a day.
News coverage of the Uvalde massacre pivoted from the abject horror of the murders to the feckless response of local police. But it’s too late now to save those children and their brave teachers, and nothing will ever remove the jagged scar across the face of that Texas town. But we can still, finally, take steps to prevent heavily-armed teenagers, and even others, from carrying out murderous assaults.
Come on, America. Let’s admit that we have a problem with gun violence – a public health problem – that extends far beyond the mass murders that understandably grab our attention. It’s plain to see, and there are common-sense and widely-supported ways to start to move in the right direction. The sad fact is that no measure or series of measures will prevent all future mass murders – or homicides, or suicides, or accidental shootings. But shrugging our shoulders and doing nothing – not even trying – covers us in shame.
Come on, America. How can we allow all these gun-related deaths and injuries? How can we allow teenagers to buy firearms? How can we not have better background checks? How can we not require the safe storage of firearms and ammunition? How can we not have red-flag laws that let law enforcement act on social media threats?
Come on, America. Stop ranting and posturing. Stop picking over the wording of the Second Amendment. This isn’t complicated. How about demanding that our lawmakers enact solutions that most Americans, gun owners or not, Republicans and Democrats alike, already agree on?
Come on, America. Even since Uvalde, there have been two mass shootings per week. Do we keep looking the other way?
Thanks for listening. Next time, I’ll get back to Galen. In his era, two thousand years ago, a lone teenager with a spear would have a very hard time killing dozens of people in a few minutes.