This is Bailey. Bailey lived a fast, frenetic life in ten brief years. He died in my arms just about a year ago. His kidneys were failing, so we walked across the street, (I walked and carried him), to the vet’s clinic. There, the vet administered an injection which combined two or three chemicals which brought his brief life to an end. It was just under ten years.
I’m not ashamed to say that his death changed my life. I’ve suffered many deaths before. It does not get easier. Each person, each loved one, changes your life. I suppose I should be grateful that I am not numb to it.
Today, as has been the case for the past month, several of the pictures of the child victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were displayed. Every time I see them, I have to remove my glasses. I have to lower my head. Sometimes I see their faces, and I recognize them now, but while in the process of doing something else, I am only mildly distracted. Then later, during the evening news, I see a child’s face again. Tonight it was Grace McDonnell and Noah Pozner. Grace and Noah were only seven years old when their short lives came to a violent end.
While watching the news, I did not have the benefit of being distracted. I watched with full attention as they discussed these children with the beautiful faces. Something in a normal person’s mind imagines these images as belonging to a living child, even as you hear that they died a month ago, even as you already know the facts. It takes a conscious thought process to overcome the denial that switches on immediately, protecting what you believe to be the way the world should be. Little beautiful faces like this are alive, and will be for a very long time. This is what I tell myself, right before I have to say, no, they are deceased.
I remove my glasses again. I lower my head. I wipe my eyes on my sleeve, and I purse my lips as some sort of spasm hits my face and I feel myself start to cry. I tremble.
As a kid, I think I was 11, some dude stuck me up for my bicycle. I listened to the instructions that he gave me, and when he went into action, I just calmly told him, “no.” I didn’t tremble.
As a cop, I was once in a crossfire standoff at about ten feet, maybe less. I couldn’t shoot him because another officer was behind him, again, it was a crossfire. The dude had his gun pointed at me, and I had mine pointed at him. This was a moment of direct existential threat. Considering the policy, and the tactics that I trusted, I knew I could not shoot unless he shot first. If the right, (or wrong) thing happened, I was prepared to shoot him...A LOT. I was running through marksmanship fundamentals in my head. “Rear sight, front sight, chest.” “Relax, breathe...squeeze.” I was extraordinarily calm. I could hear no sound besides my own breathing. I did not tremble.
Also tonight, and for the last several days, there is discussion about regulation of guns. There are those among us, among us in the human population who are not capable of feeling compassion. For them, life is a tactical situation. Everything, every...thing is a thing to be used to get what they want. Everything. They do not feel another’s pain, and even resent their joy. Some of those people are gun enthusiasts. When that cognitive disability is paired with the desire to have any gun that they can conceive of, no beautiful faced child’s murder, or dozens, or thousands of same have an impact on such a person. Life for them is merely tactical.
They talk about the second amendment, and their rights. They talk about Stalin, and Hitler and fascism, as if the President is intent on depriving them of something, or everything. They even talk about civil war. They don’t tremble. Not all gun enthusiasts are ill. Many, almost certainly most, are sane, reasonable, healthy people. In fact, they are not “they”. They are us. They are part of us, and they should be. Efforts to remove the people would be unethical, even if we can determine who they are. In most cases in the past, it was not easy, or nearly impossible to determine who the nuts were, because in all other ways, they look just like us. But in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, there is one way to know to an absolute certainty who the nuts are. Anyone who is advocating for their rights at the price of a single life like the 28 victims of Sandy Hook, the children, the Mom, and the killer himself, anyone who says that their “right” to own machines of death for political reasons or otherwise, those are the nuts.
Bailey was the best friend of a lifetime. He lived to nearly ten. I have to lean on the shelf when I look at his urn. I go weak in my knees. I tremble. The children of Sandy Hook were human. They did not have the pleasure of living as long as my dog. Their loss to their families, their community, and this world is infinitely greater than my best friend. I tremble when I see their young, beautiful faces, and have to tell myself that they will never be alive again.
Regulating guns wont be emotional. It wont be a death, or a loss. Regulating guns will come as a result of death and loss. The steps that will be taken in the legislature, at the ballot box, and in the Oval Office will be procedural and tactical. This time it appears that America is determined to match the exceptional sensibility that exists so many other places in the world. This time, we will not tremble.