What bravery means during, after Newtown shootings

She was brave, so brave. Vicki Soto, 27, was a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Hearing the tumult, she hid 15 students in a closet. When the gunman entered her room and asked where they were, she said they were in the gym. He killed her, but many children lived.

Also heroic was survivor Maryrose Kristopik, a music teacher who saved 20 children. Kristopik said, “I did take the children into the closet and talked with them to keep them quiet. I told them that I loved them. I said there was a bad person in the school. I didn’t want to tell them anything past that. Of course I was afraid, too.”

And just imagine the fear of the six year old whose classmates were all killed as she feigned death. Said Pastor Jim Solomon, “She ran out of the school building covered from head to toe with blood and the first thing she said to her mom was, ‘Mommy, I’m OK but all my friends are dead.’”

They were afraid, but they acted. Now we must act.

What should we do to stop this epidemic of mass shootings? While better mental health treatment surely is needed, what sort of gun and ammunition regulation might be pursued?

In 1994, Maine’s entire congressional delegation — two Republicans and two Democrats — supported the assault weapons ban.  So far the state’s incoming delegation seems less supportive.

Granted, there’s no easy way to thwart large-scale random killings in our schools and public places. But as one analysis shows, “Since the expiration of the [assault weapons] ban in 2004, the number of shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled.”

Lethality matters. In a knife attack in China last week, about the same number were hurt as in Connecticut, yet no one died.

Discussing putting limits on what weapons and ammunition clips can be sold, and how they can be sold, provokes much emotion. But a civil and productive discussion is possible.

One thing that won’t help would be to claim that new laws would lead to making all guns illegal. Such a broad ban could never become law and it would be clearly unconstitutional. And, no, the United Nations cannot take away Americans’ guns.

Let’s remember two key things about our rights.

One is that with rights come responsibilities. We have the right to travel, but we do not have the right to weave around under the influence of alcohol. We have the right to own property, but we do not have the right to dump toxic chemicals that can find their way into streams and lakes.

Moreover, there are no rights that exist without restrictions. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law” limiting free speech. Yet it is constitutional to limit speech when it involves national security, public safety and child pornography.

And so it is true with Second Amendment rights. While the amendment says, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” the Supreme Court has said it is constitutional to keep guns from felons and the mentally ill. Also constitutional, decided the court, are “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sales of arms.”

Interest groups have spun a false tale, that individual gun ownership played a big role in expanding freedom in America and that an amendment referring to a militia’s that’s “well-regulated” allows no regulation.

Besides which, it’s an odd notion of freedom that blithely accepts turning our schools into armed camps, as some propose. Doing so would be costly, in dollars and cents, and in making us a less free and open society.

While most Americans, gun owners and National Rifle Association members support some regulation, their voices have been drowned out by the most extreme.

Since what is needed to make change is a coalition within Congress and a public mobilized beyond this time of tragedy, change will take organization and commitment.

Some elected officials are finally saying, “enough.”

As for those politicians who fear the intimidating gun lobby, they must be brave. And yet, they need not be as brave as the heroes of Newtown.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.