The Right Time

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

On Monday, Jon Stewart said the following in a Daily Show segment entitled “Any Given Gun Day:”

“I think I get the rules now . . . you can talk about guns, just not in the immediate wake of any event involving guns, but with approximately 30 gun related murders daily in the United States, when will it ever be the right time to talk about the issue?”

An avid Daily Show watcher, I appreciated Stewart’s point — a defense, if you will, of the criticism Bob Costas received for daring to bring up the issue of gun violence and to lobby for tighter gun regulation in the wake of the NFL tragedies. Costas was not only criticized for his “insensitive” timing, but also for stepping outside of his role as sportscaster, and for making the argument during his halftime segment of “Sunday Night Football.”

I often post Daily Show clips on my facebook page, and although I enjoyed the clip and agreed with Stewart’s points, I didn’t post it — because, activist that I am, I wasn’t on my gun regulation soapbox that day. To my shame, I tend to be fickle with my social justice issues, vacillating between advocating for the poor, for animals, for marriage equality, for victims of violence, etc. Sometimes, my husband will ask about “the social justice issue of the day,” and I feel the reprimand (however unintentional) and know, in my heart, that all of these things (and more) are important all of the time.

Today, tragedy struck at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I feel, as many others, sick to my stomach, like I’ve been punched — very hard — in the gut. And I’m not even a parent, a grandparent, a sibling or a friend of those involved.

I know that people grieve in different ways and that they need to be able to feel without judgement, without being told that it’s wrong to feel so, or think so, or talk so.

I’ll try not to step on those expressions of grief that are different than mine, while unleashing, through the therapeutic process of writing, my own full expression:

It’s the right time for me to talk about gun control (may it be better regulated). And mental health care (may it be more accessible). And social responsibility (may we treat each other more kindly). And education (may we understand each other more fully). It’s the right time for me, because my empathetic imagination finds the grieving parent in the situation and forces me to imagine what I would say to him or her, which is always some variation of the following:

“I’m so sorry this happened to you. This should not have happened to you. Puny and insignificant person that I am, I promise to do what I can to keep this from ever again happening to you, or to someone you love.”

This leads me to wonder, then, how I can keep that promise, how I can turn my grieving into something productive and useful. This involves 2 things:

(1) Analyzing the situation, and focusing on *something* that *may* help. Of the many complex issues involved, I tend to focus most on more responsible gun regulation, simply because — through my reading and research — I know the most about it.

Do I think that tighter gun regulation would keep a gun-related tragedy from ever happening again? No.

Do I think it would make it less likely to happen? Yes, at least in this magnitude and with this frequency.

My mind has been turning to both the Daily Show clip and a blog post I read in The Chronicle of Higher Education after the Aurora, Colorado shooting. The post, written by David Barash, is entitled “The Mathematical Argument for Gun Control” and features commentary from Dr.  Michael Shermer. The post appealed to me, because Shermer uses math, which I’m slow to understand, in an understandable way. He argues, “the freedom of a few people to own WMM’s (Weapons of Mass Murder) conflicts with the freedom of the rest of us to enter the public sphere without the chance of our ultimate freedom of life itself being cut short,” and he provides some convincing mathematical equations “that should give even the most freedom-loving libertarian and conservative pause.”

Maybe it’s the right time for all of us to differentiate between weapons for hunting animals and weapons of mass murder, and pass some legislation that reflects this understanding. Maybe it’s the right time to make owning a gun at least as difficult as registering to vote, buying antihistamines, or getting a credit card; see Charli James’s “Eight Things More Difficult Than Owning a Gun.”

Trust me, I’m being generous here, because — at the present moment — I’d rather go all “China” on the issue and ban guns, so the comparable headline would be more likely to feature the verb “hurt” than “kill;” see another Friday event “China stabbing spree hurts 22 schoolchildren.”  But, I recognize my emotional state now, and am willing to compromise period.

(2) Using my angry, confused, heartbroken voice to engage others, who have their own ideas, their own *something* that *may* help; and to move together as a collective, grieving community towards sanity, which I define as some active good in the world.

However inarticulately I’ve managed this, I’ve used my voice, at least, with this blog post.

Because, of the many things about which I’m unsure, I have one certainty:

The worst we can do is to stand idly by.

And, the second worst, I think, is to forget.

Forgetting is so easy for those of us who don’t have the constant reminder that is a missing family member. But, I’m going to try to be better and do better this time. Because I know a truth that some of my Facebook friends seem to miss. And, I’m referring to those who always write about how “blessed” they are (this often follows some declaration of family togetherness . . . like “watching TV with my babies. I’m SO blessed!”)

These posters are good-hearted and  well-intentioned, I  know. But, nonetheless, this turn of phrase seems very Book-of-Job-like, as though if one person is “blessed by God” to be enjoying their children, another person, a Sandy Hook parent perhaps, is cursed by God. And, if there is one thing we can learn from the Job story, it’s this: the way to make God angry is to suggest that He works that way, rewarding the “good” and punishing the “bad.”

No, Mike Huckabee.

I’m going to try to be better and do better this time, because this wasn’t “some tragedy” that happened to “some person.” It could have happened to any of us, and if we do nothing about it (and, perhaps, even if we do), it will happen again. But, we owe it to those in the Sandy Hook community and ourselves to try some preventative measure or — preferably — measures.

And, no, my Christian friends: praying doesn’t count, unless praying causes you to *do* something else, because — after all — that’s how we know when prayer really works.