When my wife and I drive in Canada, we listen to the CBC. When we drive in the USA, we tune in to NPR.
Exactly one year ago today, we were driving from Boston to Washington, happily listening to a random program when a news alert interrupted. Unconfirmed reports told us that dozens of students had been killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"No chance," I said to my wife. "These early reports always over-estimate final numbers. And besides, who would want to kill children?"
Apparently I underestimated the American propensity for carrying highly-efficient human-killing weapons.
As we drove for the next few hours, the reports "firmed up." Twenty students and six teachers lay dead. I asked my wife to find Newtown on our map. We were two exits away. We decided to pull off our planned route, to see the scene and to pray.
What we witnessed was overwhelming -- miles of traffic, police officers everywhere, helicopters circling, reporters descending. We went into a coffee shop. The barista wiped tears from her sobbing eyes and tried to make my wife a tea. I walked around, chatting with reporters. I spotted many of the unfiltered, unedited photos that would later appear on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.
Newtown is a quiet town, a sleepy town, an all-American town. White picket fences. Stars and stripes everywhere. A safe place to raise a family.
One year ago today, Newtown was transformed into a fearful, broken, devastated town. In that state of turmoil, we bowed our heads in prayer, along with millions of people around the country. It was eerie, and somehow beautiful, to know that the prayers of an entire nation were focused on the very ground on which we stood.
But our prayers mean little if they're not followed by decisive action.
In the year since the Newtown shooting, very little has changed. In the year since the shooting, at least 11,000 people have been killed by guns in the United States... that's more than one Sandy Hook shooting for every single day of the year. It's like a hellish version of 'Groundhog Day,' with no end in sight.
As a Canadian, this boggles my mind. As a progressive, reasonable citizen, controlling handguns and assault weapons makes sense to me. As the old saying goes: "rifles shoot deer, shotguns shoot ducks, handguns shoot people."
It's not the video games -- kids in Windsor play the same games as the kids in Detroit. It's not the media -- we watch the same shows and listen to the same music. It's the guns. Even allowing for mental illness, if no one had an assault weapon, no one would be killed by an assault weapon, right? How many people would Adam Lanza have been able to kill with a knife or a baseball bat or a single-round rifle? One would need to be highly creative to somehow believe Lanza could have wreaked similar damage with a crowbar or a machete.
As my wife and I rolled into Washington that evening, we passed one of the Virginia Tech campuses, home of the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history. It was a not-to-subtle reminder that, until the nation makes drastic changes, America will never truly be a safe place to raise a family.
Is the answer to arm every man, woman, and child? Of course not. Can any place truly be safe when people can conceal handguns in public places? Can any place truly be safe when people can purchase assault weapons?
Maybe, just maybe, the answer is to act selflessly, to make some sacrifices for the greater safety of the whole. If America wants to curb its massive number of gun deaths, maybe she should look to her friendly northern neighbour.
As we mourn and remember those lost in Newtown one year ago today, let's remember that this was a preventable tragedy. Let's remember that the Sandy Hook nightmare will re-occur every day until we, as a society, decide to stop it.
It's worth a shot.