The Empty Seats At The Newtown Holiday Tables


Dec 24, 2013

Written by Mary Buffett

It has been just over a year since Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 first graders and six staff members before turning the weapon on himself. The horror was over in minutes. I think of these young victims, their teachers, and administrators this holiday season. I cannot bear to think of what it must be like for these families to spend their second holiday with an empty seat around the table.

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik created a day of terror in Norway after he blew up a car bomb in Oslo and then killed 69 teenagers on a nearby island who were at a political summer camp. In all, 77 were killed and more than 200 were injured. It horrified a nation and galvanized it to take action. Laws were passed and action was taken.

However, in the year after Newtown, nothing has changed on the federal level. While there has been some movement on the local level, the basic notion of equal background checks for all firearms, whether they are purchased as a gun shop or a gun show has wide national support but fell short in the US Senate. Worse, the American hunger for the semi-automatic and illegal fully automatic weaponry continues to be our national cancer.

I remain disturbed by our lack of action. It reminds me of the battles surrounding Civil Rights back in the 1950s and 1960s when a small number of legislators hijacked both houses of Congress and denied full citizenship with the excuse of “tradition” or worse, “state’s rights.”
Since Newtown, we have had 25 gun attacks at schools (from elementary to college), with the most recent taking place in Colorado, the home state of the Columbine massacre as well as last year’s shooting in an Aurora theater. Basic math tells us that there is a school shooting every two weeks yet this elicits only a yawn. Every two weeks. Instead we have heated national debates about Duck Dynasty, where the only victims quack before they are brought down from the skies.

We owe these families who have lost so much a debt we cannot repay. We owe it to the administrators and teachers who selflessly gave their lives on that terrible day. In that sense, we have failed.

Just this week, a 14-year-old girl was killed by her stepfather when she entered the house through a window. Her stepfather thought it was a burglar. Now she is dead, yet another empty seat around the holiday table.

One would think that the slaughter of innocents, especially on the cusp of the holidays, would offer Americans the courage to move forward. However, we ended up with cowardice from a select set of Democratic senators.

The worst among them were Mark Begich of Alaska and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, with an honorable mention going to retiring Senator Max Baucus of Montana. Senator Begich recoiled in cowardice. Senator Heitkamp felt that her state could not support it even though 94 percent of North Dakotans supported it. Senator Baucus made the vote prior to the announcement of his retirement and he could have voted his conscience. Lyndon Johnson used to tell legislators that he did not need them for the easy votes; he needed them for the tough ones. All, along with Senator Pryor of Arkansas, failed their country.

In all actuality, it all boils down to fear, the worst kind of elective emotions. Conservative Democrats in rural congressional districts do not want to give Republicans an extra 5 to 7 percent bump in the next election over a gun issue. Moderate Republicans fear a conservative primary challenge that focuses on the gun issue. Everybody fears that gun owner money will go to their opponents. Even the NRA is running a little scared. For the first time, there are well funded gun rights groups, like Gun Owners of America that are further to the right than Wayne La Pierre and his group. If the NRA moves to work with the White House, they fear losing members and controlling the conversation.

Another type of fear is found within the “Stand Your Ground” or “Make My Day” laws where people now can use their weaponry without facing any legal ramifications if they feel that they feel placed in danger. We saw this when George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin in Florida and there are countless cases that are mounting as people act out their fears. We now live in a nation where there are more guns than there are people. Battlefield weapons are proliferating our neighborhoods at a frightening pace and the unintended consequences bring only heartbreak.

However, whatever fear these people fear is nothing compared to the fear that those students and administrators at Sandy Hook experienced in their last moments as first graders, as sons and daughters of those who for this Christmas and many others to follow, mourn that empty seat around the table.

We need to honor their courage.

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