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How we remember

Matt Miklavic | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

For some Notre Dame students, it represented their first day of winter break. For others, their last day of finals. For 26 students and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, Dec. 14 was the final day of their lives. Thousands of laughs and millions of moments short, that was it. For them, there is no more. For the 26 families forever shaken by the Newtown massacre, the reminders will be frequent. At every birthday, Christmas and would-be milestone, that day will be remembered and that pain will be felt. Their challenge is to find a way to overcome this tragedy. For the rest of us, the challenge is to remember it.
In the aftermath of the shooting there has been much discussion about the horrors of that day. Some have claimed America has a gun problem. Others will contend it is our culture, not its weapons, which cause our seemingly insatiable appetite for violence. The truth is it is both.
Momentarily ignoring the gun part of the issue, America remains a violent and impulsive country. Our intentional homicide rate lies between those of Turkmenistan and Belarus, above those of Palestine and Yemen. Impressive company, to be sure. Beyond homicides, America’s penchant for destructive activities manifests itself through an array of statistics, including embarrassingly high levels of incarceration and drunk driving. This societal dedication to devastation gnaws at the country and weakens it from within.  Perhaps it comes from our apparent comfort with violence in entertainment. Perhaps it has roots in America’s increasing problem with poverty and a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Perhaps it starts in our schools, which, while educating millions, also fail millions more. Whatever the cause, surely this is one of the areas we must seek to improve in our society. Surely we can build a consensus that our culture needs some change.
As for guns, there is little question that it is a highly emotional and contentious issue. This fervor, however, should not distract nor deter us from confronting our addiction to violence and openly debating its remedies.  Homicides by firearm in recent times have exceeded 10,000 per year. We suffer a Newtown each and every day, then allow it to perpetuate. We accept more deaths each year than in the War in Afghanistan and the Battle of Gettysburg combined – and continue on as though nothing happened.
So long as we can agree with the Supreme Court’s conservative wing that, “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” we can see that like the other freedoms afforded by the Constitution, the rights afforded by the Second Amendment have limits.  Our debate, then, is not whether we can restrict and regulate guns but to what extent they can be restricted. Can states and cities ban handguns? The Supreme Court has said no in the case of both Chicago and Washington D.C. bans. These decisions must be treated as precedent. It is noteworthy, however, particularly in light of Notre Dame’s upcoming role in the March for Life on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, that while precedents carry weight, they can also be overturned.
Can we ban assault rifles, large capacity magazines and similar weapons of little use for self-defense but great use for mass violence? I believe we can, and should. These weapons are many times more powerful than the handguns favored for self-defense.  They’re also responsible for many of the most notorious mass shootings, as legally acquired weapons of these varieties were used in the Columbine, Newtown and Aurora shootings. They belong on the battlefield, not on our streets.
Can we enforce our current laws? Irrespective of new laws, what if we simply enforce what is already agreed upon regulation? What if the federal agency responsible for the enforcement of these laws had a confirmed director for the first time in six years? What if we closed loopholes that prevent the common-sense, agreed upon restrictions that exist from taking full effect? It wouldn’t eliminate the problem, but I’m pretty confident it would help.
Ultimately, we remember Newtown by working to prevent it from happening again. It will not be a singular action or effort. It requires cooperation, political courage and genuine action. It will take action in state capitals, in Washington, in our communities and in our schools. It will take society deciding to finally step against violence, and refusing to leave the safety of our children to the hope that our kid won’t be the one at that school on that day. We remember Newtown by refusing to settle for failure. We remember Newtown not by resigning ourselves to another massacre, but by seeking to recapture the exceptional society for which we once strove.
Matt Miklavic is a sophomore studying political science and business from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.