(Originally published in Florida Voices)
President Barack Obama’s speech at the service for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School atrocity was one of the more remarkable recent moments in our national life.
To some, the speech may have seemed simply to be the president filling a time-honored role as national comforter in time of tragedy, but there was a tone to Obama’s speech that transcended both clichéd psychobabble and vague calls for policy debate.
It has been noted that Obama made free use of scripture, particularly the New Testament, in his speech. He relied on texts that do not provide cheap and easy answers in the face of evil acts, texts that suggest mystery and faith rather than weightless slogans. Anyone who doubts Obama’s professed Christianity would do well to study his speech.
But the president artfully shifted from comforter to prophet partway through the speech. It is the role of a prophet to speak the truth in such a way that everyone recognizes it, and that is precisely what Obama did.
Clearly these murders got to him in a profound way, and he realized that with this crime, the moment had arrived to say what needed to be said: We have all had enough of mass gun violence. That has been said before, but Obama said it with conviction and at a hushed moment when perhaps this time it may be heard.
The truth is that there are just too many guns and far too few regulations. It is no good pretending that this massacre could not be foreseen. After Columbine? After Aurora? How could it not have been? In that respect, we have all failed the victims of Newtown by not acting before now.
It was inevitable that in the wake of the shooting some people – including those we elect to enact laws – would suggest that the way to stop such massacres is not fewer guns but more. One such lawmaker was Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, who said that on two occasions within days of the murders.
Baxley said that allowing school personnel to arm themselves on school grounds is one option that should be “on the table.”
“In our zealousness to protect people from harm, we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target,” he said.
It is clear that Baxley does not understand what has happened here. People do not want a schoolteacher to pull out a magnum and blow away a killer after he has already shot several 6-year-olds. They want potential killers not to have guns in the first place.
And that is where, in addition to slapping some sense into politicians like Baxley, ordinary Americans can do one concrete thing themselves. They can stop buying guns. And further, they can master the fear that leads them to want a gun. Only a small fraction of homes are victim to random violence, yet how many households have a gun in them just because we do not believe that we are safe enough?
If Newtown causes people to revile weapons rather than stuff them in the side table and glove box, perhaps the tide of our national conscience may begin to turn, and the truth of Obama’s call of “enough” may spread.
It will be up to the president to keep the focus on this vexing issue, despite the pressures to abandon it. But it is also up to us to take up a rallying cry: Give up the guns. Remember Newtown.