It would be good if I had some profound guidance to offer. I don't. Some eloquent words of faith and comfort might help. I don't have them, either. The wanton killing of women diligently performing one of the most important and selfless of tasks, and the causing of innocent children to spend their last moments on earth in terror, then slaughtering them like penned-up animals -- this kind of insanity leaves me with nothing profound or comforting to offer.
So why should I write anything about the murder of six adults and 20 small children in Newtown? Because to ignore something that has caused such unspeakable grief seems, as someone has said, disloyal. To write about something else at this moment seems not worthwhile. So I'll express a few thoughts.
The first question most of us ask is, Why? And we are besieged with answers from all sides.
Some have said these incredibly savage events occur because "we've taken God out of the schools." This seems an awfully small view of God. First, we're powerful enough to take an all-powerful God out of our schools? And then He, vengeful beyond understanding, says, "So you object to state-approved prayer for your children and you want to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto me what is mine? OK, just for that I'll let a deranged madman slaughter some of your youngest innocent children."
Some say our national fascination with violence, especially in movies and video games, is the culprit. I can see where this might very well be a contributing factor. But how to cope with it without seriously violating constitutional freedoms is debatable.
The issue of mental health pops up pretty quickly. It seems obvious that this is a major factor. The Colorado theater shooter was far from stable, as were the killer who shot Gabby Giffords et al in Arizona, the University of Texas killer in 1966, and many others. Not unusual was 16-year-old Brenda Spencer, who from a window in her home in San Diego in 1979 sat shooting at kids and administrators in the school yard across the street. She killed two adults and wounded one adult and eight children. Her reason: "I don't like Mondays. This livens things up."
But how to determine who is dangerously mentally ill is a major problem. There's the matter of privacy. There's the matter of the stigma we unfairly attach to mental illness. There's the fact that most mentally ill people don't kill. Separating the sheep from the goats in advance, even if we can identify them, seems impossible.
Many people cite the availability of guns as the main culprit. By far the majority of these assaults involved the use of guns.
Let me be clear. I'm a gun owner. I've owned one or more personal weapons every minute for the last 50-odd years. But I don't own an assault rifle, or anything with super magazines that will hold large amounts of ammunition. I don't need them. You may think you do, or at least that you should have the right because you enjoy them. Look into the tiny faces of any of the murdered children of Newtown and ask yourself if the pleasure you get from firing rapid bursts from an AR-15 is worth the life of any one of them.
I know, I know killers will find a way to kill. But it's much harder to kill 20 children and six adults with a club or a knife, or even with a six-shot pistol, than with a semi-automatic and unlimited magazine capacity.
Say the words "gun control" and you get a knee-jerk reaction to "gun elimination," which is not the same. You get reasons why it won't work, as if we should just give up. But we can't give up. An American child has many times greater chance of being killed by gunshot than the children of any other developed nation. This demands that we not give up.
I believe all the reasons I've mentioned, except the one blaming the shootings on lack of school-sanctioned prayers, play a part in this American tragedy. We are awash in guns, many of them designed to fight wars, not children. We can't eliminate the danger, just as we can't solve the problems of lethal forms of mental illness or excesses of violence in our culture. But surely we can find ways to improve the situation. In the name of the innocents of Newtown.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."