Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 7, 2013

HEINIG: Sandy Hook atrocity — time for reflection

There’s no foolproof way to prevent another

By Mark Heinig Jr.
Tribune columnist

— Charles Layne’s recent letter in the Kokomo Tribune helped me clarify my own beliefs about gun ownership and the Second Amendment. As a lifelong educator, the Sandy Hook massacre terrified me. The slaughter of young children and their teachers brings forth emotions that no one can suppress. Those emotions force us to confront a dilemma that can have no satisfactory solution. We desperately want to safeguard our children and prevent similar tragedies in the future, but how?

Some people hope to do that by arming school employees. Maybe that’s a good idea for the few school employees with law enforcement experience. Giving guns to the rest of us would probably endanger more kids than it could protect. Other people seek to protect our children by stricter gun control laws. They feel that an intruder who can’t get a gun isn’t as much of a threat. Probably so, but who can’t get one illegally?

Mr. Layne’s ideas come at a particularly appropriate time for me. His letter appeared on Jan. 2. I’ve been remembering my father even more than usual. Dad died on New Year’s Eve 25 years ago. He was a police captain, but his duties were primarily administrative. Nevertheless, he was required to carry a gun even when off duty.

Actually, Dad didn’t like guns, but he would have agreed with Mr. Layne that the weapon itself is passive. He thought the problems came from irresponsible gun owners, and he tried to prevent them from having guns. His duties included issuing gun permits and disposing of guns confiscated from felons.

I don’t think Dad ever denied a permit to anyone legally eligible for one, but he often encouraged them to consider alternatives: “You want a gun because you work nights at a convenience store. Does your employer pay you enough to risk your life? Is your future worth more than a few bucks an hour?” The alternative in this situation is obvious. Get another job! Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it used to be.

When I was a young teacher, I supplemented my income working part-time in a jewelry store. When I told my Dad that some jewelers carried guns, he urged me not to do it. He believed the best response to an armed robber was total cooperation: “Money and merchandise can be replaced. Can you?” He also said most gun owners aren’t accustomed to using one under stress: “Knowing how to shoot doesn’t mean you know when to shoot!”

Mr. Layne is right on target when he states we can’t blame the Second Amendment for atrocities like Sandy Hook — not when the media persistently romanticizes the very worst elements in our culture: “Virtually every form of entertainment — television programs, movies, music, video games — contain increasingly violent themes.”

Even if I had disagreed when I read his letter on Jan. 2, I would have to agree now. This past week, I made the mistake of seeing the newly released film, “Django Unchained”. I found the amount and the severity of the violence in it disgusting. As an old history teacher, I must admit the movie accurately presented some of the most brutal and inhumane aspects of slavery. It isn’t surprising that the film was rated “R”. I certainly wouldn’t allow my child to watch it without supervision. So why did more than 80 percent of the reviewers like it?

We will never know why Adam Lanza stole the lives of so many innocent people, most of them very young. The tragic reality is there is no foolproof way to prevent another Sandy Hook atrocity or any random killing spree. We can only pray to be observant enough to protect our children, our neighbors and ourselves from such heartless cruelty.

The families and friends of the victims will never achieve complete emotional recovery. They will grieve for the rest of their lives. The parents of the slain children will suffer the most. It isn’t natural for us to live longer than our children. Our only comfort is our faith that those poor little ones and their teachers have returned to the Creator who loves us all. We will be with them again!

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana principal and teacher. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.