Dumbstruck horror. That's the main reaction I have to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I don't have kids -- a little ball of cells that grew inside my body and died after four weeks is as close as I've come. And I mourned that little ball of cells like nothing else -- I still am mourning it. It wasn't yet a boy or a girl. It didn't have its father's curly hair and my blue eyes. I never watched it learn to walk and talk or go off to school for the first time.

But if my pregnancy had survived -- my kid would be in elementary school right now.

And I could put myself in the shoes of every last one of the parents who lost a child in the massacre. But imagining that and fully embracing it would be the emotional equivalent of dropping myself into a bottomless pit. It wouldn't do me or them (or anyone who is expecting me to get any work done this weekend) any good. 

I don't know what would do any good. Taking steps to try to prevent this from happening again seems like it should be a priority for our society. We can all agree on that one, right? Slaughtered kids are a bad thing. Guns don't kill people ... but they sure do seem to help. There's a school in China with twenty kids who are slashed and traumatized ... but they're still alive

The headline on CNN is "Why? Why?".  My coworkers condemned the shooter as "sick" and said "I can't understand why anyone would do that."

But ... I can imagine it. Imagining the shooter's motives is a whole lot safer for me emotionally than imagining the grief of the parents. But I've had practice handling dark thoughts with protective gloves on; professionally I have to crawl inside the heads of dysfunctional people for my fiction. Every villain is the hero of his own story. Perhaps for others sharing the grief is a lot easier than looking at a killer's mindset. 

Clearly, the guy's brain was not working correctly. A well-adjusted, sane person does not gun down a room full of children. But a terrorist would have a reason, and so did this shooter. He killed his mother and went to the school. Why? If he didn't leave a note, we won't ever know for sure since we can't interview the dead.

It's possible he had his own selfish anger and hurt. Maybe he felt like his mom had cared more about her classroom over the years than she ever cared for him, and he grew to hate the class of kids he didn't see as real people. And he vowed he would expunge them as his last act on Earth.

Another possibility is that the adults in his life had grown increasingly pessimistic, and in the echo chamber of his malfunctioning brain their casual complaints about the economy and the future and the failures of love had become amplified until he was convinced they were all doomed. He'd convinced himself he didn't have anything to look forward to other than pointless pain and struggle, and neither did the kids in his beloved mom's beloved classroom. Perhaps he felt he was taking the only action that made sense to him. 

Maybe he looked at the world, decided it was a waste, and figured the only thing he could do that would matter to the world was to kill people and get on CNN. Or maybe the voices in his head told him that if he didn't sacrifice his mom and those precious to her, something even worse would happen here on Earth.

I don't know if any of that is even remotely close to the truth. I don't know what would have stopped this tragedy. I don't even know why his mom felt compelled to buy the guns he used against her and the school. But I do know that dismissing people like him as incomprehendable monsters doesn't help, either. It makes the rest of us feel better to talk of evil and wash our hands while we declare "Not one of us!", sure. But it doesn't help keep this from happening again.


Yesterday 28 people including 20 young children were gunned down in a school in America.

Unless America introduces some form of gun control, there will be more massacres of school children. There, I said it. Now next time this happens, no-one can say that it was an unpredictable event. I’m predicting it now. Ok, this is a rant, it will probably come across as insensitive, but people have died and people should not have died. If what follows is poorly thought through, irrational, insulting or naive, I apologise. I need to get this off my chest. 20/01/13 - removed the disclaimer. I've calmed down now, but I still think I'm right.

I’m sure people will say that as a Brit, this is none of my business, but I’m a human, and it hurts when fellow members of humanity are killed. Especially if they are children. The fact that it took place on a different continent doesn’t matter. It does affect me, it does make me sad and it does make me angry.

It makes me especially angry when the facts speak for themselves. Nations that have strict firearm controls have fewer gun deaths, and fewer murders overall. People kill people, but guns make it oh-so-much easier. Guns are not mere tools, like a hammer, or a knife. They are crafted for killing. That is their purpose and anyone who says otherwise is deluding themselves. To legitimise gun ownership is, to some extent, to legitimise killing, to legitimise the use of deadly force at the ultimate discretion of the user. To say that if a person is willing to risk prosecution and punishment, they may exercise the power of life and death over their fellow citizens.

I wasn’t the first to notice this, but a man walked into a school in China yesterday and attacked the children. China has strict gun laws. The man used a knife. Kids were hurt, and that is a tragedy. But none of them died. There are children in China who are walking around alive today who would not have been if their assailant had had a gun.

I accept there is no easy way to introduce gun control into America, but that does not mean it cannot be done. The Bill of Rights 1688 included a right to bear arms and yet today, in the UK, I would not even know where to begin if I wanted to get a gun, legally or illegally. I live in inner London, in an area that I’m told is rife with gangs and crime, and yet I have never even seen a handgun in the UK. We have been so successful that not even our police force regularly carries guns. The process may be long, even if America started today, it might be a century or more before guns are a rarity, but a start can be made.

But what of the pros of having few or no gun laws? I find it difficult to think of any. Sport? Well, sport can be controlled and regulated – that’s how you know it’s sport. Self defence against gun-toting criminals? Well, firstly, gradually introduced regulation makes it harder for criminals to get guns. If there are fewer gun-toting criminals, ‘self defence’ becomes less of an issue. In any case, how many crimes are actually prevented by people carrying guns? What happens in states where guns are legal but concealed carry isn’t?

Oh, while we’re here, the idea of arming teachers is horrible. If I were a teacher, I would want to be a teacher, not a body-guard. And anyway, what’s so special about teachers that they won’t crack and decide to kill the children? People are fragile, and teaching is not exactly a stress free job as it is! I suppose it would be argued that another teacher would hear the shots and come in with their own firearm and put a stop to it. Yes. Obviously. Firefights in schools. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, how about another teacher comes in and doesn’t know which of the two gun-toting educators is the bad one... then the police turn up and... well anyway. It’s a bad idea from some kind of dystopian Mad Max world.

Anyway, whenever I have had this argument with someone intelligent, it has always come down to an individualist, almost survivalist belief that ultimately the population of a free country must be armed so that they can rise up against the government if the government goes too far. From my Cold Dead Hands is the motto. Fine, America was a country born in fire. So were most countries. But eventually, a mature country has to invest in its nonviolent institutions. It has to be able to educate its citizens to the extent that it is impossible to seize absolute power because the institutions that hold the country together will not allow it. America’s constituent states are powerful. Its courts and legislatures are powerful. Even its state militias are powerful. America is in fact is better placed than most countries to resist tyranny. It is not because its citizens are armed.

Finally there’s culture. America likes guns. It really does, in a way that Brits like me have difficulty understanding. But how long can tradition and culture justify the retention of a system that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. Massacres of children are not the lesser of all evils. They are not something that simply must happen in order for people to live free and happy lives. The pro-gun lobby doubtless will try to suggest – as they always have done before – that somehow the liberals are cynically exploiting a tragedy for their own ends. No, they’re not. They would be if they had some ulterior motive for securing gun control, but they don’t. Every liberal – and I really mean every liberal – who is in favour of gun control is so because they do not want events like this to happen.

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