Remarks on Newtown, Connecticut

Dear Friends,

Yesterday afternoon, against the background of a gloriously beautiful day, we were told that a young man wearing combat gear and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle killed 26 people at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school – a massacre, whose enormity exceeded our capacity to comprehend it when we also learned that 20 of the dead were children between the ages of 5 – 10. Other victims included teachers and staff, the custodians of early childhood education, going about their business of teaching and learning. The suspect is dead, as, too, is his mother, who died in another location.

When I heard the news, I was driving in my car with my 13-year old daughter sitting next to me. We listened in stunned silence. Then we cried and held hands. And then we talked.

President Obama said that our hearts were broken. And indeed, they were.

If you were like me, there were other emotions as grief contended with anger and fear and disbelief.

I am certain that you join me in extending our thoughts and prayers to all who were touched by this heartbreaking tragedy. As far as we can ascertain, there are no members of the Emerson community who are related to the victims.

While we certainly do not wish to politicize such a tragic event, the senseless and shocking brutality visited on these innocent children and their teachers seems to have a national significance that implicates all of us and transcends what actually occurred, as awful as it was.

President Obama seems to have acknowledged as much when he said “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

A Safeway market in Tucson, Arizona; an espresso café in Seattle; a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; a theatre in Aurora; an office in Minneapolis; a shopping mall in Oregon: all of which were scenes of mass shootings since January 2011. And this is just a partial list.

It feels like an epidemic and amid our suffering and bewilderment, we reasonably ask, “When will it stop?”

Many of these killings had something in common: the victims died at the hands of someone who had both a fascination with, and easy access to, military or law enforcement grade assault weapons: guns that can hold up to a 100 rounds of ammunition without reloading and have no place in the hands of civilians.

Some people have asked that we pass laws that would severely restrict the ownership of guns capable of continuous firing or urge lawmakers to close the gun-show loophole, recognizing that 2 out 5 of legal gun sales take place at gun shows, on the internet and with private sellers, places where buyers are not subject to federal background checks. The assault weapons ban adopted by Congress in 1994 was permitted to expire eight years ago.

In contrast, other Americans view these restrictions as attempts to erode constitutionally provided rights of our citizens to keep and bear firearms under the Second Amendment.

After yesterday, however, it would seem nearly impossible for anyone with heads that think and hearts that feel to conclude that the status quo is acceptable.

When we return to campus in January, I am going to ask our commonwealth of learning to do what we do best: seek to make sense of the senseless, to comprehend the incomprehensible through debate and discussion, which, in turn, might lead to positive action.

We will be reaching out to thought leaders on the issue of gun violence and ask that they come to campus in order to engage with faculty, students and staff on this important issue.

In the meantime, as you go about your various holiday activities, regardless of your faith tradition, please keep Newtown, Connecticut in your thoughts and prayers.

Thank you.