I could scarcely watch the news coverage of the horrific shooting that occurred in the small Connecticut town of Newton on Friday. It was just too awful. Children no older than seven, all shot, along with several teachers, by a young man who had already killed his mother and who later took his own life after causing unimaginable carnage. When the first reports emerged and newscasters were speculating on the number of people killed, I recalled then-mayor Rudy Giuliani’s reported response to a journalist who asked him how many were killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center: “More than we can bear.”
As nurses, we are no strangers to what happens when violence occurs. We see the results of it every day in our workplaces. Individuals, families, and communities are changed forever, and often we as caregivers are, too. What begins as an ordinary day becomes a tragic milestone: future events are remembered as “before” or “after” the event.
I’m tired of hearing “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, but some guns make it a heck of a lot easier to do so, and in large numbers. We’ve had Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Aurora movie theater, a Portland mall, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and others on an Arizona street, and now Newtown. And as I was writing this, the Chicago Tribune reported that a 60-year-old man in Indiana was arrested after threatening to set his wife on fire and kill people at a nearby elementary school. He had 47 guns in his house.
What are we waiting for? Automatic weapons are too readily available; we need sensible restrictions on the purchase of automatic weapons. These are not hunting or sport shooting guns; they are rapid-fire machines designed to kill multiple targets in a short period of time. Some question whether anyone other than law enforcement and the military should be in possession of these guns. What does it say about us as a nation that we allow the greed of special interest groups and the politicians who cater to them to continue to block what is clearly for the common good?
In a Sunday column, Nicholas Kristof points out that, in the 18 years before Australia enacted gun control legislation limiting the sale of rapid-fire rifles, there were 14 mass shootings. There have been none since the law was passed.
There are more than 3.1 million nurses in this country. Although we are largely fragmented, choosing affiliations with many different organizations, this violence should bring us together with other health care colleagues to support changes in legislation around ownership of automatic weapons.