Had my child been among the dead of Dec. 14, I don’t know that I would ever again trust the contours of the world. The years go by, and you’re sitting in a coffee shop with a neighbor, and out of the corner of your eye a guy walks in who looks a little goofy and is maybe muttering to himself: Is he just a harmless oddball – or the prelude to horror? The bedrock of life has been shattered, and ever after you’re walking on a wobbling carpet with nothing underneath. For a parent to bury a child offends against the natural order – at least in an age that has conquered childhood mortality. For a parent to bury a child at Christmas taints the day forever, and mocks its meaning.
For those untouched by death this Christmas, someone else’s bewildering, shattering turn of fate ought to occasion a little modesty and circumspection. Instead, even by its usual execrable standards, the public discourse post-Newtown has been stupid and contemptible. The Left now seizes on every atrocity as a cudgel to beat whatever happens to be the Right’s current hottest brand: Tucson, Arizona, was something to do with Sarah Palin’s use of metaphor and other common literary devices – or “toxic rhetoric,” as Paul Krugman put it; Aurora, Colorado, was something to do with the Tea Party, according to Brian Ross of ABC News. Since the humiliations of November, the Right no longer has any hot brands, so this time round the biens pensants have fallen back on “gun culture.” Dimwit hacks bandy terms like “assault weapon,” “assault rifle,” “semi-automatic” and “automatic weapon” in endlessly interchangeable but ever more terrifying accumulations of high-tech state-of-the-art killing power. As the comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted, “When the 2nd Amendment was written the most lethal gun available was the musket.”
Actually, the semiautomatic is a 19th century technology, first produced in 1885. That’s just under half-a-century after the death of Madison, the Second Amendment’s author, and rather nearer to the Founding Fathers’ time than our own. And the founders were under fewer illusions about the fragility of society than Hollywood funnymen: on July 25, 1764, four Lenape Indians walked into a one-room schoolhouse in colonial Pennsylvania and killed Enoch Brown and ten of his pupils. One child survived, scalped and demented to the end of his days.