Opinion - Actions, not words

'Dialogue' about gun control has gotten us nowhere

The most holy of Christian holidays is about a week away, which means I've developed a pit in my stomach roughly the size of your standard round Christmas ornament. As the pressure mounts, it's threatening to burst into shards.

I've failed everyone on my list — all of three people — by procrastinating. While I was busy demonstrating my superiority by thumbing my nose at the people who dashed out on Black Friday, the 25th drew nearer. It's just about too late to buy gifts online, so I'm limited to physically going out and shopping in actual stores, a prospect that'll grow more and more daunting as the holiday approaches and I continue to put it off. The questions swirl: Will I even find what I'm looking for? Do socks count as a gift? What do you buy for the mother who hates everything?

Just as I'm about to succumb to grief and self-loathing a gunshot rings out and snaps things back into perspective.

Last week, a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, a young man entered his high school strapped with ammo and carrying a pump-action shotgun — not to mention several Molotov cocktails — and went on an 80-second rampage. He fired a shot down a hallway that ended up putting 17-year-old senior Claire Davis in a coma. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time; it seems like there are fewer "right" places to be lately. The low death toll — as of this writing, the shooter, 18-year-old Karl Pierson, was the only casualty — will prevent this from going down in the annals as a mass shooting, but for the moment we're reminded of Sandy Hook.

The physical location of the most recent shooting offers additional associations to similar crimes: Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colo., is fewer than 20 miles away from the site of the July 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, and just eight miles away from Columbine High School, where two students murdered 15 people in 1999. (Like a lot of people my age, when I hear the word "columbine," I think massacre before I think flower.)

Last year, in the days before Christmas and in the wake of Sandy Hook, I wrote an editorial right here in this space called "All I want for Christmas ... is to be able to utter the words 'gun control.'" In it I said I wished it was possible for there to be a dialogue about gun ownership that didn't end in members of the don't-tread-on-me set accusing people who favor stricter gun regulations of being enemies of the Constitution or of having shit for brains.

My Christmas wish didn't come true.

One commenter, "yep," told me to: "1...stop writing. 2...see number 1. 3...go fuck yourself." "Mr. Mateo" was somewhat more reasoned in his response: "In plain English, this is what Gwynedd is saying: 'Let's have a rational discussion that's based solely on my emotional aversion to guns.' Well, here is my contribution. Don't like guns? Don't own one. You want to take away my God given right to defend myself because of that personal hatred? Go to hell. End of discussion."

Basically, he's saying "FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS." I should add that I don't have an emotional aversion to guns, rather, I have an emotional aversion to the slaughter of schoolchildren. And I'm sorry, the "don't like blank, don't do blank" logic doesn't quite work here. My not owning a gun hasn't prevented a single shooting death from taking place and, remember, those shootings affected lots of people besides the owner of the gun that was used.

However, everyone who reacted negatively to my editorial was sort of right. If there was any meaningful dialogue about gun control over the course of the past year, it didn't matter. Nothing changed. The gun lobby, powerful machine that it is, snapped into action in the wake of every gun-related tragedy and at any sign of ideological pushback. In all, 137 people died in acts of mass violence in the United States this year. That number isn't limited to shootings and, don't worry, ''USA Today says the carnage is basically on par with an average year, so we're in fine shape. Just fine.
Just off the top of my head, I can remember the high-profile gun sprees (like the Navy Yard murders), even those with low death tolls (like the LAX shooting in November that left just one person dead). And of course, the mass-murder-that-wasn't in late August when Michael Brandon Hill walked into Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in DeKalb County armed with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition.

"We have to make a reasonable assumption he was there to do harm to someone," DeKalb Police Chief Cedric L. Alexander said at the time.

Luckily, Hill encountered Antoinette Tuff, the remarkable woman who spoke to 911 on Hill's behalf and eventually convinced him to surrender. Tuff showed immense compassion and grace under pressure. Atlanta Magazine named her Atlantan of the Year. I completely agree that she is.

But there isn't always going to be an Antoinette Tuff around. And it's only a matter of time before another mentally ill young man gets his hands on a gun — whether he purchases it legally or borrows it from a criminally irresponsible parent — and storms into a school and wreaks havoc.

This year, dialogue about guns hasn't gotten anyone anywhere. So I'm asking for something different for Christmas this year. I want actual action. It doesn't have to relate to gun control; for instance, maybe local, state, and federal governments will improve access to mental health services for young people. Maybe just one parent will think better than to make their guns accessible to a moody, withdrawn teen. Maybe 137 people don't have to die in acts of mass violence next year.

I realize I'm about as likely to get these things as the people on my list are likely to get anything better than socks.''