The Weston selectmen were courageous and right to start a discussion in town on gun safety and what steps can be taken to improve it. It’s a conversation that should have happened years ago, and it’s one we should never stop having.
All involved — and there is no avoiding it, we are ALL involved — need to beware of hyperbole and inflammatory words when having this discussion, though. Phrases like “all guns are evil” or “gun control takes away my constitutional rights” stop the conversation before it even begins. Calling anyone’s ideas “stupid” or “crazy” is a good sign that the name-caller is not interested in facts or in advancing the discussion, but only in pursuing a personal agenda or stopping progress in its tracks.
Negative hyperbole leads to hot tempers and misinformation. When talking about weapons, we have to be especially careful of the power of words. Take the word “ban.” Americans hate it when government “bans” just about anything — books, rock and roll, freedom of speech, big sugary drinks. But it is the role of government to protect its citizens. When something exists that harms us — segregation, poison in our water, slavery, and yes, weapons created to kill — it is the right and responsibility of government to do what it can to mitigate the dangers posed by those things. It is up to us, the governed, to let our elected officials know how endangered we feel and how far we are willing to let them go to ensure our safety.
The Weston Board of Selectmen took the important step of talking about what it can and can’t do to address the very real problem of gun safety and the security of all Westonites immediately following the senseless shooting of 20 small children and seven adults in neighboring Newtown last month. One avenue it chose to travel was examining the town’s current gun ordinance. At first blush, the selectmen believed the ordinance did not go far enough, given the frustrating history of inaction by state and federal legislators.
It seems state and federal legislators may feel the same way. Last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy put together a task force, the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee, made up of experts in public safety, education, mental health, and policy making. This week, Vice President Joe Biden is presenting President Obama with recommendations of ways to tackle gun violence. The conversation is happening on every level.
One Weston selectman is suggesting the board put off making changes to the local ordinance until these other state and federal channels are given a chance to do something worthwhile. Whether the board follows this recommendation or not — a decision likely to be made at tonight’s Board of Selectmen meeting at 7:30 in the Weston Middle School auditorium — let’s hope the board — and the Police Commission, and the school board, and the finance board, and the PTOs and the garden club, and the Gun Club, and the Scouts, and sports teams, video gamers, hunters, seniors, parents, teens, and every single organization and individual in town — does not stop having the conversation about what can be done on the local level to eradicate violence and senseless tragedies.
As we remember one of the nation’s greatest orators, Martin Luther King Jr., with a holiday next week, let’s remember that powerful words can heal, too.