Choosing to Act

The images and first-hand accounts from Newtown during the last few days have been wrenching. The specter of vicious violence turned against the very young makes us gasp for breath, makes us question the very fabric of our society. If this kind of thing can erupt in communities like ours, what kind of community are we?

There is another image from Newtown that is powerful in a different kind of way: the image of teachers rushing into harm’s way to protect their students, to protect their school. The care and courage of principal Dawn Hochsprung, who hid others before rushing to confront the gunman, is staggering, is inspirational. In the face of violence she chose to act. We should be motivated by her example.

Just a few years ago our school was deeply scarred by gun violence when Johanna Justin-Jinich was brutally slain. At the Commencement that followed that awful event, I asked our students to join in working to curb gun violence:

The second area where we need your help is gun control. I know many regard this as a lost cause because of the passionate effectiveness of the NRA. But it is only a lost cause if we give up. Johanna’s murder should remind us all of the idiocy of our handgun regulations. The status quo is unacceptable. With more than 30,000 people dying annually from gun violence in this country, and with more than 12,000 murders committed with guns, we need you to help us enter the world of nations governed by laws, not by violence. Debates about the 2nd Amendment and about the glories of hunting need not stifle reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths.

Reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths. Is that too much to ask? We know there are policies that have worked elsewhere – in Australia, Japan, Great Britain. We will be told that these places are very different from us, and they are. That is no excuse. We should demand that our representatives enact (at a minimum) restrictions on ammunition and on automatic firearms. And we need to act immediately.

If we falter, if we think the politics too difficult or too complicated, we should remember Johanna, and we should remember Dawn. Their care and courage should inspire us to move our country to a place where students don’t have to face wild-eyed gunmen, and where teachers don’t have to lay down their lives defending their schools.

11 thoughts on “Choosing to Act”

  1. As I watched the unfolding of Newtown I remembered the horridness of that awful day in Middletown. If nothing, we need to curb the accessibility of semi-automatic weapontry. Even if you are a “gun enthusiast” these weapons are only meant to kill many people. It is not necessary to have a weapon of that speed in the home. I do believe in our 2nd amendment rights, but at some human point, we all must become reasonable and responsible.

  2. Less we forget, the wild-eyed gunmen are often suffering from some sort of mental illness. Here is an essay that speaks to this painful fact and our need to provide for treatment. It’s a wrenching and eloquent statement by a mother who says “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”:,d.dmQ
    Copying & pasting this address into your Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox or whatever will take you to _The Blue Review_, a journal published in Boise, Idaho subtitled “scholarship in the public interest.”
    Christina Crosby

  3. Thank you, Michael. True and reasonable thoughts for what I hope will get us to a reasonable, civilized new set of laws to curb the sort of Far West violence we face too often.

  4. You’re obviously right, but there’s much more to the problem. The sick media culture of violence in movies, video games, rap music, and related garbage that Hollywood spews out every day is a huge part of the problem. Treating mental illness more broadly and responsibly is another problem. Sure, you can land on guns, which you should, but it’s almost too easy. We ought to be ‘choosing to act’ on those related issues as well. Sadly, it only seems to get worse.

  5. Like all interesting issues, gun control is a complicated one. As in virtually all highly charged political discussions, facts are rarely considered in gun control discussions. For example, the word “semi-automatic” is used as a pejorative, as in comment one above, when all it describes is the mechanical means by which many guns operate. It does NOT mean a machine gun, a weapon that fires many rounds from one press of the trigger. Semi-automatic pistols and rifles require a separate pull of the trigger for each shot, just like revolvers and bolt action rifles. So why are semi-automatic pistols and rifles deemed worse as a class than revolvers and bolt action rifles? There are half-decent arguments to be made about large cartridge capacities in some semi-automatic weapons, but even those usually fall apart when considered in the light of most (though not all) actual gun use circumstances.

    This is not the place for a lengthy essay on all the issues, of which there are many, but I hope that the free-thinking Wes community will learn the facts and apply logic to this debate, rather than just going with the conventional liberal wisdom that guns in good individuals’ hands are a bad thing, and that we ought to cede all responsibility for our personal safety to a somehow omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent government–when we all know that no such thing can ever exist, as evidenced by the very event that we are now lamenting.

  6. Thank you for posting this, Mr. Roth. I was a senior when the shooting at Wesleyan happened; and what happened in Newtown reminded me of how things have not changed at all about gun control. As a person who work with children for more than ten years and have personal interest in mental illness; I am very shaken by this tragedy personally and emotionally. In response to the article above; here is a very interesting point of view from a psychiatry who talked about mental illness and limitation of psychiatry. There is also the clarification on why we cannot always blame mentally ill people for this kinda of crime. Yes, mental illness plays role in this; but the accessibility or weapons increases the chance of violence. I hope we can be proactive and start to find the way to prevent this kind of tragedy to happen again. We do not want to just deal with the aftermath, mourn, then forget. Instead, we want to take action and hopefully this will not happen again.

    The link can be found here:

  7. I’m glad to see that Wesleyan is in the forefront of the discussion of this serious problem. With its first hand experience, and with its expertise,the school could be a valuable asset in the struggle. I’m also grateful for providing the essay ” I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” , which gives new clarity and sense of immediacy.

    Hugh Lifson’59

  8. Ed, Where in any of the statements either by President Roth or anyone else does it say to get rid of guns? It doesn’t. People are asking for responsible, common sense laws. I was witness just two days ago to someone with a “semi automatic” weapon who showed me how easy it is with a bullet or magazine itself to eject one magazine and insert another. Takes about 2 seconds. A nice way to get around magazine restrictions. You can also easily remove the spacer in magazines to allow for more bullets. If we are going to get serious about sensible gun ownership, we ought to make it impossible to have this kind of easy firepower.

  9. President Roth,
    Thank you for your words, and for your call for reasonable laws to restrain such horrid violence. I hope Wesleyan students and the entire Wesleyan community (including alumni) heed your call and lead on this issue — on campus, in Connecticut and across the nation. Have you considered signing onto the letter to President Obama written by Emerson College President Pelton and currently co-signed by 210 college presidents?
    Thank you.
    Bob Seifert ’83

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