On December 15, I rode home for the winter break with little on my mind but the thought that I now lived forty minutes away from one of the worst mass killings in American history. A month later, the emotional wounds are just as fresh. The ripple effects of the tragedy at Sandy Hook now reach as far as Washington: President Obama has moved gun control near the top of his agenda.
From the first moments following the shooting, a ferocious debate over gun control was inevitable. Not so inevitable, however, was the national ruckus gun control produced. Senators and governors alike quickly pointed fingers, and the NRA tackled a furious barrage of accusations. Hundreds of new petitions landed at the White House steps, calling for background checks, outright abolition, and everything in between. People barely had time to blink before the gun control policy became convoluted by meaningless political implications. This is not the right response to such dire circumstances. I have no reservations that new gun control legislation should be enacted. Yet what needs to go is the media fanfare surrounding it.
Pundits, news commentators, and analysts trumpeted the coming of a huge gun control overhaul, and social networking sites exploded with rhetoric. Yet the entire hubbub was ill-timed, and, to some degree, inappropriate. We cannot play politics with Sandy Hook so soon after the tragedy. People everywhere are still struggling to comprehend the horrible event that occurred, and to turn so noisily to the political questions is to ignore the situation’s lingering sensitivity. Twenty children and six adults were slaughtered. All of Newtown, all of Connecticut, and to some extent all of America, felt a harsh blow. We are still recovering.
For sure, in stark contrast to this apparent evil, America has reacted in the most positive ways it can. Candlelight vigils dotted all fifty states, and strangers sent sympathy cards in earnest. Random acts of kindness flourished in every neighborhood. Party lines fell away as citizens focused on supporting our fellow Americans in need. For this past month, our nation has not die-cast its citizens in red or blue, but as brothers and sisters.
The gun control negotiations before us threaten this incredible solidarity. If business must be done, let it be behind closed doors. Congressional leaders must not approach gun control with a resounding march, but by tiptoeing. Indeed, the first step toward embracing our newfound brotherhood is to pass legislation without squabble and without a spectacle. The true spectacle lies in American resilience, and to tarnish such a defining moment with politics is nothing less than shameful.
Now, Americans everywhere mourn Sandy Hook with the same voice. Yet our collective sorrow begs another question: Why does it take a horrible tragedy to bring our nation together? Why do Democrats and Republicans bother to reach across the aisles and look each other in the eye only after such horrors? Truly, the political bonds tying together the American people have fragmented. Congress must take advantage of this brief ceasefire in mudslinging, and instead focus on quickly and quietly strengthening gun control as a unified chamber.
Any gun control changes must be quiet, for we cannot afford to disrupt a national healing process so soon. The road beyond Newtown may be filled with political uncertainties, but before embracing partisanship, we Americans must embrace each other.