A poem by Michael S. Harper, titled “Nightmare Begins Responsibility,” is one I have treasured for the poet’s raw emotion at losing two children. He lays open his grief, his feeling of powerlessness, his desperation. The title reminds us we have to come to grips in the midst of horror, accept the responsibility of our own position in such circumstances. How does one move forward when a wonderful child has been lost and how do we deal with that grief?
I received very sad news Saturday. My wonderful aunt lost her beloved nephew in the shooting in Santa Barbara. He was a very loved young man, the only child of two great parents who made considerable sacrifices for his well-being and upbringing, sending a good citizen on his start into this world. His family is *truly* devastated, as his father said on TV. Christopher’s mother is taking it very hard as is his grandmother and his cousin, my uncle has told me.
It pains me horribly to see how grief-stricken my own cousin appears in photos that are all over the internet and TV (he is the dark blond with his arm around a woman on the side of the photos). Christopher was as close to a little brother as he could have. When I see Christopher’s photo, I see my aunt’s eyes, the genetic legacy he carries from her family. I see his mother’s dark-haired beauty.
I have been thinking a lot about this for the past few days, of course. I have only one son who is dearer to me than anything else in this world. He is my gift, my fortune, my reason. Christopher’s parents felt the same way about their son, so I can only anguish for his mother. In my grief for Caryn and Richard, I have decided to write something to support their family.
I have pored over the articles trying to understand the motives of the young man, Elliot Rodger, and his means of carrying out the deaths he perpetrated. It was clear he was hell bent on killing himself and taking others with him. It was clear that several people knew he was expressing certain delusional and dark ideas and tried to act but were restrained by the law as much as the law did not restrain this young man from owning a weapon made for killing.
Christopher Michaels-Martinez’s father blamed the NRA and the “craven” politicians who allowed his son to die. I agree wholeheartedly. No needs to own a semi-automatic weapon. The only reason to have one is the intent to take someone else’s life. Period. Many of the guns the NRA supports the right to own are expressly made to kill other humans—not animals—efficiently and devastatingly. And the proliferation of these weapons, the easy access to them, is supported because the development and sale of these weapons make lots of people lots of money. That’s the bottom line.
These weapons are not being made to create a “well regulated” militia, and the argument that people need to arm themselves them against a government that overtakes them is laughable. Believe me, when the government takes over, they will have means much more insidious and devastating than a mere gun. Your assault rifle is not going to stop them from making laws to gerrymander voting districts, keep records of your electronic communications, or torture in the name of security.
A law regulating the guns that Elliot Rodger purchased would not have prevented the deaths of the people he killed with a knife. However, it would have curtailed his rampage greatly. Elliot Rodger killed Christopher quickly and efficiently with little effort with a semi-automatic weapon that required little effort to use. It was designed to kill. And it is documented in his writings that once he purchased his first gun, he felt emboldened. Perhaps if he hadn’t gotten the gun, he would not have acted at all.
The Rodger family was in a very difficult position with their son. He was clearly mentally ill and mental illnesses such as his often develop or are exacerbated at precisely this time in life—when the brain is in its final physical development and when a person is set suddenly free to make his own choices, sink or swim, and the pressures of making those choices exacerbates the anxieties, fears, angers that he has fostered in his delusions.
The law prevented his parents and therapists from doing anything to stop him. It regulated them. They could not insist he was evaluated in a mental institution. They could only beg police officers to look in on him, police officers who were also rendered helpless by the law. Their right to stop Elliot was taken away while his right to kill was freely given to him.
A federal ban on semi-automatic weapons makes complete sense. A vote was up in the Senate after Sandy Hook and received 55 affirmative votes. If the Senate wasn’t rigged to require a super majority, it would have passed. If the ban on such weapons was made law, a young man with homicidal and delusional intent would not be able to walk into a gun store and buy a gun as easily as if he were presenting an ID to get a drink.
It would have saved the life of a young man like Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who through no fault of his own, no culpability whatsoever, was shot dead, a shot that was felt brutally by his family and loved ones and his community.
With nightmare begins responsibility. When are you, Legislators, going to put your foot down and stop pandering to the NRA? When are we going to step up and protect our children and ourselves? Not one more.