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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Community steps after Newtown

Published: January 25, 2013
Section: Opinions

Tragedies have made the cycle painfully familiar—from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Tucson to Aurora and now Newtown: a mass shooting dominates the network’s daily newscasts, editorial and op-ed pages are filled with proposed legislative solutions and gun control advocates loudly voice their opinions.

On July 20 last year, it was a movie theater—the type of place where couples, families and friends go to relax, to gain a momentary escape from reality in the imagination of cinema. On Dec. 14, it was an elementary school—the type of place where parents send their children, hoping they learn fundamental values of decency and kindness to begin their education and contribution to society.

But with our eyes fixated on the screen that July morning, as the death toll and wounded numbers rose on screen, for my internship colleague, Elilta Habtu, the day brought back horrific memories of April 16, 2007, when a shooter opened fire in Virginia Tech classrooms, killing 32 and wounding 17, including her.

Later that evening, as we prepared at work to pull our clips from CBS’ special broadcast about Aurora, she spoke about Virginia Tech. When she spoke about gun control, it was personal. She saw the tragedy unfold from inside her Norris Hall classroom on the Blacksburg campus.

In the aftermath of Newtown, our nation has mourned and voiced collective grief for the schoolchildren whose lives were cut far too short. We’ve launched discussions about gun control and mental health and school safety. And we should. Tragedies like Newtown require these conversations to help us heal and reflect on the steps we must take tomorrow.

Yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced legislation to ban the sale and manufacture of 157 different semiautomatic weapons, along with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Avid hunters need not be concerned: the proposed legislation exempts firearms used for hunting and grandfathers some guns and magazines. The Second Amendment, the one written to protect “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” in order to form a “well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” need not be an issue here.

In the coming months, our nation will continue the debates we’ve re-launched and the ones Newtown prompted about gun control and mental health and public safety. It’s easy to accurately connect the outcomes of mass shooting sprees to potential causes, but equally easy to overlook the direct cause of such tragedy: individuals, who, however we describe them, are deeply disturbed. We need to see that the most common trend in these shootings is a young person, disconnected and marginalized from the world, having drifted so far away from the community he lives in.

There is no one solution or set of solutions to evil or tragedy. But there are productive steps that any community can take to help aid its members, to help people feel safe and wanted and recognized. What our society is missing after Newtown, what we so desperately need, are the thousands of community discussions that must take place, in living rooms and hospitals, schools and churches, athletic teams and high school classrooms, about our friends and family, colleagues and peers. Conversations about the ones struggling, about the real problems in our lives, not the imaginary ones.

Politicians will debate the politics of gun control. And yes, evil exists in the world and we cannot eliminate it. But we can begin to shape our nation’s future, our society’s future by starting those conversations.

As I continued to pull news clips about the Aurora shooting that Friday afternoon, I stumbled across an obituary in The Denver Post about one of the victims, Alex Sullivan, who died on his 27th birthday.

As one family friend remembered him: “It will be of the bear hug that made it hard to breathe for a moment. And it will be of the smile on his face—the smile that made it clear he was deeply in love. And utterly happy with his life.”

Those words have stuck with me all year, and they resonated after Newtown last month.

As individuals, as members of our communities, we may not directly tackle the issue of gun violence or mental health or school safety in one month, or one year.

But undoubtedly we can help address the problem by looking at our lives. And we can focus on making those closest to us “utterly happy” with theirs.