At the same time that federal gun-control legislation is having trouble finding enough votes, the Washington Post reports, Connecticut legislators agreed on bill limiting gun magazines to 10 rounds, requiring registration and a host of other measures, according to the New York Times.
Maybe it takes a massacre to focus the attention.
Photo: Reuters/ Eric Thayer
The Post story, on the federal action, had this telling line: “Despite months of negotiations, key senators have been unable to find a workable plan for near-universal background checks on gun purchases — an idea that polls show nine in 10 Americans support.”
You know, protect the public.
There is, however, one picture that could turn the current assault weapon debate around. No more Congressional bickering. No more wails about the Second Amendment, the size of rifle magazines, whether guns of war should be kept in the house, whether we can “tell” whether someone is mentally ill, whether teachers should be armed.
But we’ll never see that picture. It was taken by law enforcement photographers in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook massacre. They were wearing white latex gloves, and they snapped pictures from every angle, high and low, using a flash and then natural light.
They were mainly male, and not a few were sickened by what they saw.
How do I know this? Because that’s what cops do.
What did they see? They saw the bullet-ridden bodies of 20 six-year old children, and half a dozen adults. Blood was everywhere. Dead teachers sheltered murdered kids. You can see the terror. You can hear the silent screams. “Noah Pozner, 6, had been shot 11 times at close range with a semiautomatic weapon, making him the youngest of the 26 people slain that day at the school,” a Washington Post story on January 17 said.
Eleven bullets at close range in a six-year old’s body. How many bullets per inch of his body? There were 19 other kids. And six adults. The shooter fired 154 shots in four minutes, today’s story in the Times said.
There is an iconic picture of first-responders leading children away from the scene. What did those children see? What did the police see? (The New York Times had this article
on January 29, 2013, about the impact on first responders – cops and firemen who will never get used to this.)
Social niceties keep images such as this from the public view. There were horrifically mangled bodies at the Twin Towers in New York after 9/11. We never saw those pictures and I don’t have any argument with that. The images of the towers burning are in everyone’s mind, and we don’t need the granular photos of the 3,000 dead on the ground to know what happened. We now have a decade-long response to 9/11, ranging from invasions of foreign countries to long lines at the airport to security checks at office buildings, to remind us of the consequences.
And it’s the consequences of civilians armed with weapons of war that we’re now debating (disclosure: I was an expert shot in my youth and have no problem with legally-owned long guns used for hunting and licensed handguns kept in the home for protection. But how many bullets per second do you need to kill a deer?).
There is precedent for one picture changing history. The 1955 picture of 14-year old Emmitt Till resting in a coffin, his face bloated and almost unrecognizable, is regarded as one of the images that changed perceptions about violence and racism and spurred the civil rights movement onwards. Autopsy reports showed that he had been shot with a .45, beaten so badly an eye came out, had both wrists broken and was dumped in a creek weighted down with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire (Wikipedia has an extensive report on the incident.
). The Chicago kid had been killed while on a vacation in Mississippi because he allegedly flirted with a white woman. His mother, Mamie Till, insisted that his coffin be open for the viewing, and Jet Magazine and others published the picture (warning: it’s an awful picture: http://bit.ly/16JIdAl
That image helped people understand what the bowels of racism were like. That picture made it real.
Today, a picture of the bullet-ridden bodies of 20 children would make the violence real. No abstract argument over how many bullets in a clip makes it a semi-automatic weapon. No argument about whether armed guards should have been standing watch by the front door; no debates about mentally ill people being denied access to guns (or services).
Bullets fly; kids die.
The manufacturers, the Second Amendment absolutists, the gun owners who are law-abiding but can’t see beyond the barrels of their guns – they will fight legislative efforts to make society safer – unless, as in Connecticut, the bodies belong to neighboring kids.
I would weep for the parents if the pictures are released. But the parents have wept enough already. We need to focus on the next group of kids playing with block letters and waiting for their juice boxes and snacks. We’re not worth much if we don’t.