Gary Briane Tuttle

(Editor’s note – the following essay was written by Gary Briane Tuttle, of Waterbury, in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre)

   As each passing day brings news of funerals for victims of the Sandy Hook shootings, many of us see our own loved ones in the faces of the victims, and we are all in search of ways to answer the obvious question, “What now?”

   The pain we all feel about the tragedy in Newtown is there for a reason. The pain carries with it a message. That message is that now is the time to come together and find out why this type of thing keeps happening in our country, with each incident being worse than the last. Now is not the time for rhetoric, or political games. Now is the time to focus on finding real solutions.

   As much as we may want to spend our energy on calling the perpetrator of this horrible tragedy a monster, doing so only pulls us farther from ever finding out why and how we, as a society, continue to produce people who choose to, are capable of, and are empowered to commit these horrendous acts.

   Until we learn from it, we are doomed to repeat this terrible history. The perpetrators of these crimes will also keep trying to top each other in their level of horror…as much as that seems impossible to do right now. This unspeakable trend started in my lifetime. It was not always like this.

   The only real way to honor the many victims of this tragedy, both those killed, and those who are now and are likely to be forever shattered by this, is to make this the turning point…the point in history that we look back upon as the moment when things began to really change.

   We tend to look for one single cause, or for a single biggest cause in our search for solutions to problems. Our world is much too complicated and interconnected for that approach to truly serve us in the big picture, though. We are also not very good at handling slowly approaching dangers, like a diet or a lifestyle habit like smoking that will eventually kill us. The obesity, alcoholism, and smoking death rates in this country are undeniable proof of that.

   We need to take whatever action we can to help protect us all, especially children, from any ”immediate threats” that could arise, while at the same time addressing the roots of the issue. That is the only way to reverse this horrific trend. There is a lot of discussion right now about ways to address the “immediate threats”, as there of course should be.

   The roots of this, however, are not getting nearly as much attention.

   This is like the smoker who gets a diagnosis of cancer, yet continues to smoke while undergoing treatment, and looking for a cure. They are almost certainly doomed to perish from the disease, because they are literally still making cancer at a rate that is at least as high as the rate that got them into cancer in the first place, and there is no treatment that can outpace that.

   While we implement stronger security in our schools and public places, we also need to find out what factors in our world push people towards or empower this kind of behavior, and what kind of things can be done that push people away from it, and/or disempower it.

   If that becomes our guiding principle, and we do not lose sight of the true effects of our actions, eventually the scales will tip.

   There is no number of these tragedies that is acceptable. We need to keep taking steps until the only place any student ever has any chance of encountering the horror of such a thing is to read or hear about it as an event from history from an era before we truly understood the bigger picture. 

   There are those who say that this is an impossible goal, despite the fact that there was a time within my lifetime when there was no such thing as a mass school shooting in our country. It can indeed seem an impossibly large task to create an environment where these types of things cannot happen, but we, as a people, have made other very similar changes. Less than 100 years ago, the abomination and barbarity of lynching was common in our country, and as recently as 60 years ago blacks and whites could not integrate by rule of law in many places. The children of today rightly see the differences between races as the beauty of diversity, and something that was common only a few generations before is now beyond unimaginable.

   There are examples of other societies that have successfully addressed this very problem. One viable shortcut to getting the results we want is the common sense strategy of finding a society who had the same problem, and successfully rid themselves of it. Australia fits the bill perfectly. In 1996, there was a mass shooting in the town of Port Arthur, in which 35 people lost their lives. That event was the catalyst for the change in laws that changed Australia’s laws from ones that were very similar to those in the US today, to being a country that has one of the most restrictive set of laws in the world regulating gun ownership.

An Australian police detective adds another firearm to a pile of illegal rifles and shotguns. After the Port Arthur massacre, the government instituted a national buy-back program, ultimately paying around $527 million in exchange for Australians handing in nearly 700,000 weapons.(Reuters)

   There have been no mass shootings in Australia since 1996.

   Let that sink in for a minute. There was a truly horrible mass shooting in 1996, which promoted changes in the laws, and there have been no mass shootings in Australia since. As I write this, it has been 16 years, and there has not been a single mass shooting. Not one.

   It is well within our power to truly fix this, and we can do this within the lifetimes of many of the survivors. Lets do the only thing that can begin to truly honor their loss by making this a turning point in our history.