They say you're supposed to save the best for last. But in 2012, we got that backward. This year closed with carnage.
In 2012, we had a presidential election, one that many think could be a watershed: We re-elected Barack Obama, a man who, it's been said, looks like 21st century America.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld federal health care reform legislation.
Hurricane Sandy ripped the East Coast a new one.
Somehow all these things grew pale after a young man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and murdered 20 children and six of their teachers.
This was not the first mass shooting of the year. In February, there were multiple killings in Norcross, Ga., and Chardon, Ohio.
On April 2, a former nursing student in Oakland, Calif., forced an administrator and students to line up in a classroom and began shooting. Seven died, three were wounded.
In May, a man was asked to leave a coffee shop in Seattle. He pulled a gun and killed five people before killing himself.
A graduate student entered a cinema in Aurora, Colo., on July 20 and opened fire, murdering 12 and wounding 58.
Six people were killed at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Aug. 5.
On Sept. 27, a man was being fired from his job with a sign-making company in Minneapolis when he drew a gun, killing his two managers and four other people.
In October a disgruntled husband shot seven women, one of whom was his wife, in a Milwaukee spa. Then he killed himself.
In most of these cases, the news came and went, causing barely a ripple across the surface of public consciousness. An election was coming and, due to the disproportionate bullying by the National Rifle Association, nobody wanted to talk about gun violence. So people prayed for the victims, telling themselves that, surely, surely, they were going to a better place.
The killing of children in Connecticut may have changed this. Nothing haunts the lives of parents like the nagging fear that something terrible could happen to their sons and daughters. Most parents do all they can to make sure their kids are safe. Yet all of us know that, in spite our best efforts, we can't always be in control, nor should we be. We want our kids to be independent, after all. We want them to live comfortably in the world.
The killing of children on a Friday morning, in school, brought every parent's worst fear into every household in the country.
By Friday afternoon, a crowd had gathered in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., demanding something be done.
So far, arguments for greater gun control have gotten nowhere in this country. Gun advocates say such laws are ineffective and inhibit their dubious interpretation of constitutional freedom.
Yet researcher Richard Florida has found that states that have adopted assault-weapons bans, trigger locks and safe storage requirements have fewer firearms deaths. What's more, an August CNN/ORC International poll shows that while most Americans favor the right to own guns, they also support gun registration and background checks, bans on semiautomatic weapons and high capacity clips, and outlawing gun ownership for felons and the mentally ill.
This suggests that the public may be ahead of policymakers insofar as more and more of us are seeing gun control as being less about the supposed right to own guns than it is about reconciling gun ownership with public health.
After 600 people, mainly women and children, died in the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago in 1903, the doors in public buildings throughout the country were equipped with panic bars. One hundred forty-six garment workers died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City. That tragedy promptly led to the adoption of new fire laws, labor laws and the formation of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Surely, there are common sense measures we can take now to help reduce gun violence.
But violence, even more than guns, is at the root of what afflicts us. In his address to the citizens of Newtown, President Obama never mentioned guns. Instead, he drew attention to a larger, harder challenge: "Can we say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough, and we will have to change."
This is an X-rated, Adults Only society. It's a world designed for grown-up convenience, pleasure and gain. We talk a good game, especially at holiday time, about innocence and childhood. But from the way we structure our workplaces to the dehumanizing depictions of death and mutilation we smear across our screens at all hours, we behave as though kids are in the way.
The president is right. We have to change. This will be unspeakably hard. But if we can begin to make this a society that is truly good for children, I think we'll be amazed at how good it can be for the rest of us.