Home Commentary The Way I See It: We Don’t Need More Beautiful Memorials

The Way I See It: We Don’t Need More Beautiful Memorials

The community of Uvalde, Texas, has already organized a committee to plan a memorial for the 19 children and two educators recently shot to death in the city’s elementary school. Meanwhile, in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, a memorial is poised to open in December, a decade after the tragic school shooting there. The memorial is a beautiful work of landscape architecture, a spiral path flanked by dogwood trees, ending in a fountain. I’m sure the memorial in Uvalde will be equally beautiful and moving when it is built. But neither of those memorials will ever be as beautiful as the innocent lives that were lost. 

As a nation, we are increasingly immune to the shock of these events, but we also seem to be growing more efficient about memorializing them. Perhaps every community should now have a subcommittee on speed dial waiting in the wings to memorialize the tragedy of a mass shooting. After all, 700 Americans die each week as a result of guns. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes local rather than national news. 

I’m not sure when the Second Amendment became more important than the Sixth Commandment, but for a shocking number of American gun owners, it has. They are the ones who shoot indiscriminately, who kill grandmothers shopping at grocery stores, elders in churches engaged in Bible studies, children playing in the street, concert goers whose voices are lifted in song, and, all too often, children quietly going about their school day. 

They are also those who oppose banning assault rifles, guns that have been designed with a single purpose — to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. The only prey assault gun owners have in mind is humans.

Strict constructionists, meaning those who interpret the Constitution literally, have no sense of nuance. Without a doubt, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson — two of our country’s founders, most brilliant minds and the writers behind the Bill of Rights — thought Americans should have the right to bear arms for “a well regulated Militia.”

Technically, this means a civilian, state-authorized army organized to protect the nation. (This is profoundly different from the gang of thugs who invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021.) But Madison and Jefferson could not have imagined a world in which someone could kill 20 people in as many seconds. Guns of the 18th Century were deadly, but they required time and skill to operate. Assault guns of the 21st Century require only an unsound mind and one finger. 

Finally compelled to act by the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, Congress recently grew the suggestion of a spine and passed some gun control legislation. It is way overdue and far from all that is needed, and most Republicans in Congress opposed it. Thanks to them, it does not, for example, impose federal red flag laws that allow a judge to order the temporary confiscation of weapons from people posing an obvious threat to public safety. Nor does it ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles to people under 21, who happen to make up the majority of mass shooters. Most importantly, it does not altogether ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

According to polls, 40 percent of American households contain at least one gun. According to those same polls, most Americans agree that assault weapons should not be part of the public arsenal. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that almost 75 percent of Americans think that gun violence is a big or moderately big problem. 

Frankly, I can’t see how the growing number of gun deaths could possibly be viewed as only a “moderately big problem.” They are a huge problem. As of the end of June, the United States averaged 11 shootings a week in which four or more people were killed, not counting the shooter. No week had passed without at least four mass shootings. At this rate, more than 2,000 people will be killed in mass shootings this year alone and approximately 34,000 more people will die from other gun incidents. 

When faced with other problems of similar magnitude, we began requiring that children be strapped into car seats and drivers maintain a blood alcohol level below .08 percent. I remember as a teenager when the government began requiring tamper-proof seals on items because of Tylenol poisonings. So it’s not as if we can’t take steps to protect ourselves. In the case of gun violence, Congress just won’t. 

We don’t need more beautiful memorials. When President Biden signed those recent gun bills into law, he said that “God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives.” Stronger laws will save many more lives. God doesn’t have to be willing to do more, but we do.