Smithson: Finding hope in path of sorrow

When something like the Newtown massacre happens, it’s difficult to know how to react or what to do.

In the immediate aftermath of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, one of my predominant feelings was of helplessness.

When something this awful happens, especially at such a great distance away, it’s difficult to know how to react or what to do.

At a time in my own life when I went through a (comparatively minor) crisis, my brother said to me, “Every time something like this happens, I never know what to say.”

Those words have stuck with me, and they again come to mind and capture precisely how I feel right now.

Something positive that I think we can all do in times like these is to talk about what happened, to voice our reaction, and to discuss what might be done to make sure it’s the last time.

So, this column is my own small effort to spark some aspects of that discussion.

The first and obvious feeling is of dismay and bewilderment about laws which countries such as the United States (and Canada) allow to persist on the topic of gun ownership.

I don’t really know if guns kill people or people kill people, but I do know that the totally unnecessary availability of these weapons facilitates massacres of the type Newtown has just endured.

I’m not an expert on gun laws, but media reports have indicated that, in the U.S., a handgun can be purchased on the spot upon production of a drivers’ license.

Other reports have indicated that many of the same weapons are readily available in Canada, (albeit only after certain red tape has been satisfied and a waiting period has been completed).

What I don’t understand is why handguns, assault-style rifles, etc. are available at all.

Regardless of the application process, the waiting period or the background checks, I think there simply is no valid reason for these weapons to be available to the general public.

Just because our rules and laws in Canada are somewhat more stringent than those in the U.S. is no reason for us to pat ourselves on the back.

The same tragic situation can happen here and, if that seems inconceivable, think again.

As I’ve said previously, the inconceivable is only inconceivable until the moment when it occurs.

And then we tend to look back and ask ourselves how in the heck we didn’t see it coming.

It is time for concerned citizens to speak out on this highly troubling topic, to communicate to our politicians that the ready availability of these weapons is unacceptable in our country.

The topic will get onto the governmental agenda only if enough people make its importance to them apparent to their elected officials.

A second thing that comes to mind is the tremendous impact this tragedy as a whole, and the scene inside that school in particular, must be having on the so-called “first responders.”

In the course of their day-to-day jobs, police officers, armed forces, fire fighters, paramedics and ambulance crews, and medical personnel witness horrific things that surely none of us ever want to see.

We’ve observed time and time again that these people selflessly march into direct contact with the absolute worst of what society can produce.

To some extent, we take for granted the role that these people play on our behalf, but it shouldn’t be forgotten what risks they take and the inevitable personal toll on them of what they see and do in the course of their work.

If you are looking for people to uphold as heroes to your children, take a pass on drastically overpaid athletes and celebrities.

Introduce your children to a fire fighter, a police officer, a paramedic, a soldier, a nurse. These are the people who, in exchange for a modest wage, often absorb the burden of society’s ills.

A third thought coming to mind is the role the news media plays in situations like the one unfolding in Connecticut.

I don’t think I’m alone in questioning the extent to which news media representatives converge on places like Newtown.

While there is undoubtedly a widespread desire to know what happened and to follow the unfolding story, there is something bothersome about the hordes of reporters and camera operators scrambling to obtain some snippet of information in order to produce a story.

Camera shots of distraught citizens dominate the coverage and microphones are seemingly stuck in the face of anyone who is willing to say something.

If the citizens of Newtown quickly come to resent the presence of the media throng, I wouldn’t blame them.

If I were going through what they are surely experiencing, I have no doubt that this unquenchable thirst for news content would offend me.

There have been numerous developments in the last few years in which the role of on-air personalities and the news media, generally, has been thrust into the spotlight.

I wonder if we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in attitude towards the news media, the result of which will be a collective cry of, “Leave us alone!”

There are, of course, many, many more thoughts and issues which arise from the sad events in Newtown.

I’m sure I’m missing something important and I apologize for that.

But these are mine, and I’m hopeful that they will hold meaning or value for someone out there, particularly on the topic of gun control.

As we head into a normally joyous time of year, perhaps we could all spare a moment to share a thought of solidarity with the people of Newtown, a hope that they can somehow find a path through their sorrow, and a wish that we’ll never again have to have a discussion like this one.

Robert Smithson is a labour and employment lawyer, and operates Smithson Employment Law in Kelowna.

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