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Those with the guns must be the most scared

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:28AM



Players and fans alike fought back tears as schoolmates of children slaughtered in the Newtown massacre sang “America the Beautiful” at the Super Bowl last weekend. What did the tears mean? And what signal did those who planned this moment wish to send? That the conversation about guns in the wake of Sandy Hook will not go away? Or that, thank goodness, we have put this tragic episode behind us, crowned our good with brotherhood, and once again life goes on peacefully from sea to shining sea?

Had anyone sought my advice about televising this moment, I’d have suggested that when cameras cut away from the singers, we’d have seen not the reverent faces of the quarterbacks and coaches standing nearby, but photographs of Sandy Hook’s little bodies and young teachers as they lay strewn about the schoolroom floor, blown to pieces by the weaponry of warfare. The grisly images that Newtown’s first responders can’t purge from their memories would prevent the rest of us from finding refuge in denial and compel us to face the bloody truth of what we must find a way to keep from reoccurring.

While the national conversation hasn’t ebbed, neither has it become a reasoned dialog. Legislators aligned with the National Rifle Association have proposed laws in several states aimed to increase dramatically the number of guns, especially in schools, churches and other places once deemed sacred and safe. Arkansas lawmakers hope to legalize concealed weapons in churches, and several states may allow schoolteachers and both students and faculty on college campuses to carry guns.

Perhaps the Adam Lanzas of the world would think twice about storming an elementary school with an assault rifle if they knew a first-grade teacher might have a pistol in her desk drawer. If the deterrence factor failed, maybe, just maybe, the teacher could get to her desk, grab her gun and get a shot off before some heavily armed intruder mowed down everyone in her classroom.

My mind can’t accommodate that vision of what our society has become, nor can I imagine a worship service during which we pass the peace among folks carrying a piece tucked discreetly in a waistband or purse. Some years ago on a campus not far from where I teach, a student angry about a grade shot a math professor in his office. If my students start packing heat, I’ll likely adjust my grading standards.

Or maybe I, too, could carry a gun and be ready for one of those quick-draw-on-main-street scenes whenever I dare to return a paper marked D or F.

When searching for information on whether the ammunition Adam Lanza used on the Sandy Hook children would be allowed under the Geneva Conventions for conducting war, I happened into an even more chilling conversation. Comment threads on websites that sell or provide information on guns and ammunition make it quite apparent that at least some folks among us are arming for some sort of civil war. Scaring off or even killing a burglar or two doesn’t require a dozen assault rifles and a 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

I find the reality of living amid a well-armed, invisible and unregulated militia somewhat frightening. Where will my children hide when the next of these “soldiers” decides the war is on?

The only people more frightened than me, of course, are those who need an arsenal of killing machines in order to feel safe. Indeed, maybe the most crucial dialog we need to have in this country isn’t about guns at all, but about fear.

Who among us can facilitate that conversation?

Frederick Niedner teaches theology at Valparaiso University.



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