Keeler: Let agony of Sandy Hook shootings spur us to confront NRA
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Every parent or grandparent in America should make it a point to watch the agonizing CNN footage of Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old Emilie, one of the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday.
In his brave, tear-streaked accounting of his daughter's short life, he spoke with pride about the gifts of character and artistic talent that she was given; about the drawings or cards she created spontaneously to give to anyone whose spirits were down; about the way, in saying goodbye to him that morning, she told him she loved him, in Portuguese, a language he was teaching her.
Looking at Emilie's picture, listening to her dad, watching the photo of the family and thinking of her two younger sisters, who will never get over this, I felt tears welling up. I thought of my own grandchildren, but beyond that, of all the families that will endure this horror as long as they live: the immediate families, whose lives have been destroyed in a few minutes of madness; the children who survived the shooting, but may well end up suffering something very like post-traumatic stress disorder; the friends of those who died, and the children who endured hours of uncertainty Friday, wondering if close friends had been killed. Endless ripples of intersecting grief.
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As it turns out, this tragedy has reached into my own family. The first details I heard about the murders on Friday came in a phone call from my daughter, Rachel, who had just arrived in Dallas on a visit to my son-in-law Noel's family. They had just picked up news of the shootings on their phones, and saw that they had taken place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. My nephew, Frank Milano, lives there with his wife and three sons. "Dad, are Frank's kids OK??" she asked, with a shaky, nervous edge in her voice.
Thankfully for our family, Frank lives just over three miles from the school, and his sons attend other schools. But the shootings did not leave them untouched. One of the children murdered was an occupational therapy client of Frank's wife, Lauren. And the best friend of Frank's son Alex attends Sandy Hook. His friend emerged OK. But for Frank -- and for Lauren, suffering a deep grief over a student she had come to know so well -- explaining all this to their children, Lucas, Alex and Tristan, and helping them to cope with the thick, persistent fog of grief in the community, won't be easy.
If this obscenity, this slaughter of the innocents, does not finally make us look at what we have become as a nation and do something substantive and real to change it, what it will take? We are an incredibly violent nation, where the attitude toward guns is almost idolatrous. Fueled by a righteous anger over this event, we must do something to curb the power of the high priests of gun worship, the National Rifle Association, and to send a stern warning to their lackeys in Congress.
The NRA will trot out its insane refrain, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." But mentally ill people, like the young man who took these lives, can kill far fewer people with fists or knives. We'll never be able to predict those whose illness will turn them homicidal, but we can at least make it as difficult as possible for them to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Even in the Supreme Court's disastrous decision that the Second Amendment gives private citizens a constitutional right to weapons, there's room for regulation. Let's do it.
Our first reaction to this event was: "Not again!" Now it has to pivot quickly to: "Never again!"
Bob Keeler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.