Pray for Innocence

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I’ve never seen a gun up close. I’ve never seen one fired. I don’t personally know anyone with a mental illness, but I’ve had classes with some. In high school, two girls got in a fight and one was pushed against a locker—that’s the most violence I’ve seen in school. My classmates and I went through the motions of fire drills and nuclear bomb drills like they were games—a chance to drop the textbooks and chat with friends. I don’t have any close friends who have died and I’ve never seen someone killed right in front of me, the light fading from their eyes. In these respects, I’m as innocent as the children at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. As innocent as they were.

I was working all day on Friday. The words “twenty kids shot at an elementary school” reached my ears at some point, but a Friday at a restaurant is a busy day. I didn’t have time to slow down and check my phone. On Saturday, my family drove to Ohio in the morning to visit family. We went to church, where, during the homily, the priest asked and answered the question, “what do we do?” with respect to the shooting. “We pray,” he said. I didn’t get any full information until Saturday night. And when the names of twenty first-graders and six adults were shown on the television screen, my family wept.

No child goes to first grade with any thought that this tragedy could happen. No parent sends their child to school, thinking a shooter might come into the building. We believe schools are a safe environment, a haven with friends and mentors, full of knowledge and promise. I loved school as a child. I loved my teachers and textbooks and the feel of a newly sharpened pencil on a clean sheet of paper. I loved reading, writing, and learning. What will these children love now?

The biggest shock to the nation is that these victims were children and teachers. Twenty young lives, who haven’t even seen the world or know what amazing things are yet to come, were sitting at their desks eagerly soaking up knowledge. Six adults, trying to mold young minds and teach children to be the best they can be, put themselves in front of their kids, trying to protect them. The questions going through everyone’s minds: Who does this? Who shoots innocent children in school?

Like the shooting in the Colorado movie theater, this tragedy brings up so many questions and issues. People take sides, they fight for their beliefs, they write articles, letters, and blog posts. We desperately search for the reason why this happened, in our effort to find a better way to stop it. Is gun control the issue, or is it school safety? One mother of a mentally ill teenager writes that we must examine mental health and the care that is available for people who have special needs. But perfectly sane people can still buy a gun and shoot someone. If it’s a combination of all of these things, can we ever truly solve this problem?

Once again, the nation grieves for a community that has been torn apart by violence. We light candles, hold vigils and send teddy bears. We can’t unwind the time that has passed, or bring the children we love back, but we can send our thoughts and our hearts to those who are grieving. And we can pray. We can pray for the families of the victims and the shooter, and we can pray for action.

I hope there are more children like me, who stay innocent for as long as possible. I hope there are children who don’t know violence, who have never seen a gun, who feel that their  school is a safe haven. I hope children take their emergency drills seriously, but never have to put them into action. I hope children who need special help, get it, and I hope this never, ever happens again.

I pray for innocence.

(photo via)

Tragedy in Colorado

The news about the shootings in the Colorado movie theater  is like an addiction. It’s like cracking your knuckles. It’s like driving past an animal killed on the street and you don’t want to look but you just can’t help yourself. Of course we are being constantly fed this news by the broadcast networks and CNN. We are updated through every newspaper and all social media outlets. They are forcing this news upon us everywhere, but even if we wanted to, we couldn’t turn away.

This tragedy hits so many levels of our society, it touches upon all kinds of issues that maybe the nation should be compelled to address. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families because it could have just as easily been one of us, or our brother, or daughter, or girlfriend. Every theater across the nation was packed with the exact same kinds of people, filled with costume-clad Batman fans, anxiously awaiting this sequel, excited to tell all their friends about it. Everyone in every theater bought tickets in advance, stood in line for hours, bought popcorn and flooded these theaters. It could have been any of us. We were all in theaters that night. That’s why we can’t turn away.We hear the victims’ stories and our hearts cry out for them and we just can’t imagine what kind of person could do this, especially the person with that infuriatingly satisfied smile on his face that we see plastered all over TV’s and newspapers.

Twelve people have been killed, and 58 injured. This mass shooting has been compared to the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. It is the result of a sick person buying weapons and ammunition legally and easily and deliberately walking into a crowded theater and firing at people who had limited ways of escape. Maybe some things need to be re-evaluated in the wake of this tragedy.

The biggest issue that has been raised in the news is that of gun control. Journalists and politicians are saying that Obama and Romney should now have to address this issue in detail and take a public stance. On the one hand, it seems that the government should restrict gun ownership. Right now, we are giving guns out to people who obviously shouldn’t have them. The other side of the coin is that it is our Constitutional right to own guns and be able to defend ourselves. This may be, but so many people will be buying guns for self defense and firing away that we’ll just end up with more innocent casualties. Such laws like those in Florida where the Trayvon Martin shooting occurred not too long ago, allow people to shoot and kill if it is in self-defense and they’re in fear of their lives. But whose word do we listen to?

Perhaps gun licenses should be controlled just as alcohol is controlled. We are allowed to drink alcohol in the U.S., and the government can’t tell us not to. But we have to wait until we’re 21 and there are rules even after that. You can’t buy alcohol for minors, you can’t drive under the influence, bars are allowed to cut you off if you’ve had too many. Maybe people should only be allowed to have one gun and only a limited amount of ammunition. If you have a gun for self-defense, you shouldn’t need more than a few bullets–certainly not 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

Last summer, as a news intern, I sat in on the trial of a young man who killed three police officers. I watched the court go through every piece of weaponry he had in his home and was appalled. The sheer number of guns and amount of ammunition led the court to believe that the act was premeditated, along with other evidence, and I believe that is what we can assume from the Colorado shooter. No normal, sane person needs so much weaponry and I believe this needs to be regulated in some way.

A smaller issue that this shooting might bring up is the subject of violence in the media. Is violence and killing a direct result of seeing violence in movies and video games, or hearing violent song lyrics? Advocates of the direct effects of media might say yes. Children are taught from a young age that people shoot and kill each other in movies and games–why not in real life? Kids imitate things they see on the screen, they act out battles and fight with pretend weapons. Maybe this is only pretend for so long before they might try it out in real life. Opponents might say that all kinds of children see violence in the media and yet very few of them actually imitate this violence in real life. Whatever the case may be, this Colorado shooter may have been acting out his Batman fantasy, saying he was the Joker and proceeding to inflict harm on innocent people.

Underlying all of this is the societal issue that we as Americans apparently raise, teach and allow people to shoot and kill other human beings. We have a moral crisis at stake here. Crime is everywhere, even if it hasn’t been headlined in the news. Where did any person get the idea that it is okay to take another human life? What kind of morality is being promoted in this country?

We have politicians who are overly concerned with their campaign finances and advertisements, spreading rumors about each other and mud-slinging, just to win the “race.” We have public officials who are distracted by gay marriage rights, as if that pertains to anyone but the two people involved. We have news outlets that are sidetracked by celebrity scandal.

There are some things that are distractions, sensationalized pieces of news, and there are other things that are worth the addiction. We should take notice when we see a story that we can’t turn away from, when we can’t turn off the TV because we can’t believe something this horrible could happen. Maybe that’s our wake-up call, the red light going off telling us something is wrong and needs to be changed. Because how else could we keep watching this tragic coverage over and over and not want to fix it?