In September of 1982 seven people in the Chicago area died from Tylenol capsules that had been maliciously and randomly injected with cyanide poisoning. Copycat crimes followed for a short time, but within months new federal regulations mandated tamper resistant seals for over-the-counter pill bottles, and further similar tragedies were prevented.
In the spring of 2004, a baby in New York State died from strangulation in a crib with drop-down sides. By 2012 such cribs, considered too dangerous to be on the market, were banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and are no longer available for purchase in the United States.
In America we are careful to regulate products that can be harmful or can be used in harmful ways. Toys are designed for safety in homes and schools, cars are routinely inspected for safety to passengers, medications are tested and controlled. Yet guns — those products that can, with a twitch of a finger, maim and kill — are widely accessible and ineffectively regulated.
We are most free when we feel most safe. And we are less safe every day we do not come to terms with the abundance of guns in our country. Intelligent men, intent on ensuring “the security of a free state,” wrote the Second Amendment. If they were here with us right now, I am sure they would think carefully about how to maintain our freedoms in today’s world. A homeowner's weapon of defense in the 18th century might have been a shotgun or musket. Protecting freedoms today calls for a different line of defense, as a proliferation of poorly regulated guns is threatening public safety. It is hard to understand why members of the NRA are not first in line to stand up for sensible regulations of modern firearms and a civilian ban on military weapons. They are arguing against their best interests and against the protection of citizens.
Maybe it is a kind of fear that keeps them so resolute. Maybe it is money. Maybe it is the same fear — or some other kind of timidity or cowardice — that keeps our Republican legislative majorities from enacting solutions. Meanwhile, the public wants these regulations and protections. Lives are shattering, and freedom in America is slipping away. Children going to school, families attending worship services, date-night concerts: These are the freedoms at stake.
Many years ago I taught English in a rural high school in Maine. There were discipline problems, as in any American public school. Angry, unloved, unruly students were always a challenge and sometimes a threat to themselves, to other students and to adults in the building. I remember when a student easily twice my size and strength accosted me in the hall after I assigned him to after-school detention. His fists were up and he threatened to “take me out.” The principal overheard the commotion and intervened. Had there been guns in the building, I have no doubt this young student would have known where to find them. Fortunately for all of us, guns were not at hand and potential tragedies were averted.
Every day dedicated educators work with divergent learners and students in trouble. These professionals will succeed to varying degrees. Ask them if guns in school would help them to protect their students. I know what they will tell you.
Congress held hearings on pill bottles after the Tylenol murders, and on furniture manufacturers after the crib tragedies. Legislators take action regarding the opioid crisis, cigarettes, toy construction, car safety, medical screening, water quality, pollution concerns — the list goes on, but does not included appropriate action on gun safety. It took fewer than a dozen people to die from tainted Tylenol before Congress acted to modify and regulate pill bottles. Meanwhile, thousands of people have been maimed or killed from gun use, and every day the tragedies continue. The greatest violence against all of us may be the inaction of Congress on gun control.
Citizens want hearings, discussion and action. People want safety, freedom, respect and representation. That does not seem too much to ask.
Elizabeth Elder lives in Baltimore; she is a former community newspaper editor and a former teacher in Maine; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.