“I kissed my daughter as she left for school today and realized it might be the last time I would ever see her.”
-New Jersey mom, three days after the Sandy Hook, CT shootings
On December 14, 2012, twenty school children died of the Gun Disease, shot making gingerbread houses. As guns beget guns, firearm injury and death spread like a virus. Doctors, the healthcare system, have failed to protect the most vulnerable part of our population from this highly infectious illness, and innocents continue to die.
Once upon a time, most guns were owned by people with the maturity to control their use. Lawmen, hunters, marksman, and owners of vulnerable property used firearms as tools and exercised a high level of safety. However, guns have massively proliferated and are in the grasp of those without the capacity or desire to limit their violence. So now, instead of improving or protecting life, guns guarantee no one is safe and the children die.
The critical question regarding any infestation or disease, which kills thousands of people, is how does it spread? What is the method of contagion? Lyme disease is spread by tick, lung cancer by smoking and diabetes by overeating and limited exercise. What do guns need to proliferate and kill? Fear.
With every gun purchased, every bullet discharged and every child buried, the level of fear in our country increases. As fear increases more lock their doors, bar their windows, and look with anxiety toward their neighbors. Parents listen as their children’s nightmares replace holiday hope with horror, bare their knuckles in anger, and in desperation and fear they do the only act that seems to remain; they buy a gun. Fear is the root cause, the necessary event, for the spread of this disease.
If we are going to stop the slaughter and not simply accept the blood of innocents as the cost for a distorted view of the American dream, then we must overcome fear. Fear of “others.” Fear of change. Fear of taking responsibility for our nation. Fear of fear itself. As long as we are so frightened that we deny the need to work together, we will fail to give our children that most basic freedom, the right to life.
Who should “fix” this problem? Every one of us. Doctors, because gun deaths are linked to psychiatric illness and if they are going to be stopped mental health services in this country must be improved. Politicians, because those they represent are frightened and dying. Law enforcement, because criminal ownership of weapons increases gun violence and because effective gun laws are vital. Teachers, mothers and fathers because they have a duty to raise children in a safe environment. Leaders of industry, because a country which the world sees as a shooting gallery cannot compete or lead. Major pro-gun organizations because they have the expertise to propose reasonable solutions, and rampant shooting deaths put responsible gun ownership in jeopardy. Gun manufacturers, not only because of their unique knowledge, but because if they do not help stop the violence they are morally culpable for the slaughter.
Random death spread by fear terrorizes all. The future not only of our children’s lives, but of the fabric for which this nation stands, is threatened. Together we can conquer. The question is “does that star- spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
James C. Salwitz is an oncologist who blogs at Sunrise Rounds.