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Steinberg: Latest massacre pierces our armor

Updated: January 16, 2013 6:07AM



We all have armor that we craft throughout our lives to protect ourselves from the awful things the world serves up with such tragic frequency.

When we are young, that armor is thin, and we extend our sympathies to stuffed penguins and goldfish, to missing socks and worms on the sidewalk after a rain shower.

When we grow older, we tend to develop thicker armor, we withdraw our sympathies to within the walls of our communities, our faiths, our neighborhoods, our cities, our friends, our families, our children.

We don’t open up the gates of our concern to just anyone.

Children tend to have the key to those gates, wherever they are. People who don’t care about Africa can be moved by the plight of children in Africa. Kids belonging to groups you might dislike don’t seem so disagreeable. If you have kids, they usually own your hearts — parenthood is the sudden realization that your entire world can choke to death on a penny — and, by proxy, you tend to extend the concern you have for your own kids to other children, the worry you have as a parent makes you sympathize with all parents, whoever they are.

Thus the news from Newtown, Connecticut — 20 young children slaughtered at an elementary school, with adults killed too, all of it still sketchy — could not be more shocking if it were five miles away. It would still be shocking if it happened on the opposite side of the earth for that matter, never mind our own country.

The mind gropes for a finger hold on this information. What should we do with it? Where do we put it? Where do we begin? Do we think about what monster did it, how anyone could have done it? What coldness and calculation, what disease or damage is behind it? What inevitably scant, banal reason sparked this nightmare — a gripe, a complaint, a dispute, a neuron gone wrong. How could another human being do it?

We know the answer — just look at history. But we ask anyway.

Do we dare think about the guns? That seems crass, so soon. Dip our fingers in the blood and write our pat messages. We really aren’t allowed to do that, are we? Our politicians won’t whisper anything, the NRA has declared it in bad taste to discuss guns at all, never mind in the immediate wake of such a tragedy. Their solution would be to arm every teacher, maybe every student too. So we push that thought away for a later conversation that won’t actually ever occur.

How about history? Why treat a crime as a freakish anomaly when it is really only the latest in a long string? I covered the Laurie Dann shooting in 1988, when a deranged woman walked into a second-grade classroom at the Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka and started shooting the children — she wounded six, two girls and four boys, and one, Nicholas Corwin, 8, died.

There was a sinking, pit-of-the-stomach feeling then, a numbness to the face, an emotion that I recognized Friday. And as I thought back to the Winnetka shootings, I wondered if perhaps in 24 years we haven’t deteriorated, if our armor perhaps hasn’t thickened to an unacceptable level. The death of one child horrified us to our core, then. It was too much. Are we still that way? Had it been one child killed Friday in Connecticut, or two or three, would we have felt anything like the overwhelming sadness that 20 bring? Do we need a lot of people to be killed before our humanity is touched through all of our protective layers of emotional armor? Have we become used to this, so much that it takes tragedy of an ever-increasing scope to raise any kind of feeling in our blown out sense of outrage and sorrow?

I think I know the answer.

Or maybe not. I thought about all those parents in Connecticut, all that formula pumped into all those babies, the pictures, the dolls, the cards, the hopes, the dreams, the lives snuffed out at the beginning, even more lives forever deformed and sidetracked, crippled by woe, the mothers’ hearts broken, the fathers’ hearts broken, the futures shattered into sorrow and dust. The mind reels.

No conclusion then. No Punch and Judy over gun control. Arm everybody, that’s where we’re going. Did the 7th Circuit Court not demand concealed carry for Illinois just this week? There’s an irony for you . . .

Yet why not say it? We’re still allowed to speak our minds, right? Someone said that concealed carry will lead to a more polite society, because you never know who is packing. That’s the standard fantasy, the dream that gun sorts run through their heads, to justify their arsenals and make themselves feel safer. The reality is that the more guns, the more disturbed people will have access to guns, the more shootings like this. Maybe in 24 years, we’ll look back and remember we used to be shocked when only 20 kids were killed. Maybe this is just the start.



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