Searching for answers after Newtown tragedy

In memory of Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Rachel Davino, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana M Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Hochsprung, Madeline F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison N. Wyatt  …

As Newtown, Conn., and America mourns the children and women murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it’s hard to find joy in this holiday. Grief grips our hearts, even 4,000 miles away here in Homer. In thinking of the death by gun of 28 people — including the troubled man accused of killing his mother, Nancy Lanza, and those at the school  — we also have to think of our own local losses. We have been fortunate in this small town not to have had a massacre, but death by gun is no stranger here. Since the summer, our town has seen a murder, an attempted shooting of an Alaska State Trooper and several suicides.

The tragedy at Newtown, and the mass murders before it in Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., Virginia Tech, and Columbine, have restarted a national debate on gun control. Should military-type assault rifles and large-capacity magazines be banned? Should sales at gun shows come under the same restrictions as at a sporting goods store? 

Our conversation on guns should be larger, though. We need to open our minds, open our hearts and listen to each other. We need to go beyond gun control and look at why we have violence.

America has a culture of violence. If we took away every gun, destroyed every bullet, the violence might be less lethal, but it would still be there. Spouses and domestic partners would still beat on each other. Parents would still harm their children. People would still kill themselves.

Gov. Sean Parnell and his Choose Respect campaign offers one solution to domestic violence and sexual assault. Its message is simple: do not tolerate violence. Respect women. Respect children. Respect men. Respect yourself. 

Sen. Mark Begich has called for addressing the issue of mental health: “There is no doubt that we must do more to keep our families and communities safe and that is why I believe we must start with the ever-pressing issue of mental health services in this country.”

Our culture also desensitizes us to violence. Bloody movies and video games make shooting seem unreal. Evan Ramsey, the man who in February 1997 killed a 15-year-old boy and his high school principal in Bethel, later said, “I honestly believed that if you shoot somebody, that they would get back up.”

Drugs and alcohol often fuel our inhumanity.

All of us need to take a hard look at why we tolerate violence and what we can do to end it.

“These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change,” President Barack Obama said on Sunday in Newtown.

In this season of peace, when peace may seem impossible, we can change. The spirit of the season, after all, is change. On Friday, the winter solstice, and for several days, the daylight hours don’t change. By Monday we gain a minute, and then a minute more, and the light returns in our lives. Christmas celebrates the light of Jesus.

On this Christmas, let us work for change. Let us hope and most of all, let us love.