These families will be reminded of this every Christmas for the rest of their lives.
That's all I could think about as I drove home from school last Friday afternoon, the sun setting to the west as I weaved down Route 149 toward the Fairgrounds. I wasn't entirely sure what the depth of the news was. It hit me almost worse than the news of 9-11, only this time it struck a deeper nerve, a chord I'd never felt. The news and talk on the Cape radio had me simultaneously riveted and revolted. My eyes watered up.
This was truly horrifying. I felt devoid of Christmas cheer.
Almost to the point of being desensitized to such news over the past decade, this time it hit home. These were someone's children. It just made no sense, not even a shred of logic.
Which is precisely what people who suffer from mental illness suffer from. A total lack of logic or sense, or much, much worse.
I still remember back in the late 1980s when the news hit that Massachusetts state government was going to slash mental health care facility budgets and close down mental health "institutions" by the dozen. I remember the same thing when I lived in New York City. I could write a book about the countless people I witnessed each day wandering the streets of Manhattan because their faces and behavior are burned into my memory in a way I wish was impossible.
All I could think of then was, "where are all these people going to go? The streets?"
That's precisely where many of them went. That's precisely where many of them reside today. That's precisely the issue at hand.
If 1 in 17 Americans suffer from mental illness - or some experts say as high as 22.1 percent of all Americans suffer from mental illness - it's fairly easy to see that there aren't enough rooms and beds and budgets to accomodate all of those who desperately need help.
How many more school shootings or movie theatre shootings or any kind of shootings is it going to take before our government reinstates or re-opens some of the types of facilities that helped those who suffer from such incurable maladies as a complete lack of human empathy or some modicum of conscience.
How different would I have felt if the Newtown, CT killer had used a knife or a hatchet or any other instrument capable of causing death? The answer is I wouldn't have felt once ounce less horrified, not one iota less devastated or any different on any level at all.
As difficult as it is to talk about what happened in Connecticut last week, the cold truth is it could have happened in any number of ways because the person who committed 26 acts of evil could very well have done so in any of 1,000 ways, none of them with a gun.
I must confess I despise the very idea of guns. They were invented and created for one simple reason and I assure you, it was not for "target practice." I was taught how to shoot at the age of 9. I was taught a deep and profound respect for the sheer omnipotence of firearms by a person - my grandfather - who saw in my eyes that I still possessed a very childish understanding and view of guns, perceiving them not as they should be, but as toys or as something "cool."
From the moment he taught me that respect, I never again thought guns of any sort were "cool." I thought, simply, that they were "tools" with one specific purpose and that purpose was not for me to decide. I experienced no thrill whatsoever firing bullseyes at 300 yards in the United States Marine Corps. My ego was not boosted with a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol strapped to my hip.
I understood the necessity of "defense."
But criminals and people suffering from mental illness understand none of that. To those types of people, guns will always - somehow, and in some way - be "attainable."
A friend recently told me that his "guns" were locked up and that "no one can get to them."
I guess I'm of the frame of mind that if someone wants to steal something, or take something they should not - even when that something is deemed secure and safe and hidden - that, well, they'll probably find a way. People escape from maximum security prisons. Banks get robbed all the time. Jewelry stores and museums and anything of value in vaults three feet thick are broken into routinely.
I guess I've yet to see a law written that has not been broken by someone and I guess I cannot see the difference between killing someone with a rifle versus a nail gun.
It's the desire or urge or complete disregard for human lives and souls that has our country immersed neck deep in the crisis it is in right now and none of it has anything to do with the brand name or caliber of a gun. As hard a sell as that may seem right now in the wake of unbearable pain of these 26 extinguished lives, it would help the people who are suffering from either a choice or a physiological inability to value human life if we could give them the right, necessary and appropriate way to cope with their emotions, feelings and twisted "ideas."
It would help all of us.