It isn’t really about sadness in the lives of other folks. It is about the sadness in the lives and the ways of us all.
Our tale begins on the morning of Dec.14, 2012. An armed and troubled man burst into an elementary school, pulled his weapon and began horrifically and savagely attacking innocent little children for no apparent reason.
The attacker was identified by authorities as Min Yingjun, age 36.
Also, the attacker was identified by authorities as Adam Lanza, age 20.
On that Friday morning, just as the school day was starting, Min entered and terrorized the primary school in Chengping, a town in Guangshan County, in the province of Henan, in central China.
Wielding his weapon, a knife, he stabbed and slashed 22 children, ages 6 to 11, and one adult. Mercifully, none of those he wounded died.
On that Friday morning, just as the school day was starting, Lanza entered and terrorized Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, in the state of Connecticut, in the northeastern United States.
Wielding his weapons, an AR-15 semiautomatic, assault-style Bushmaster rifle with a magazine holding 30 bullets, and carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition — enough to have killed every child in the school — he shot and killed 20 children, aged 6 and 7, and six adults, pumping into each as many as 11 bullets of a special type that inflicts maximum damage to the tissue. He also carried two handguns, a 10 mm Glock and a 9 mm Sig Sauer, in case his weapon of choice jammed.
Today, we cannot help but focus on the one detail of difference in these strikingly similar tales.
Lanza was armed with guns that were easily obtained here in the gun capital of the world. Min was armed with a knife in his country, where private ownership of guns is banned. It is fair to assume that if Min lived in a country dominated by a culture of guns, he too would have chosen a military-styled assault weapon. And this week, Chengping would be mourning and burying his victims, not just treating them in the local hospital.
We must focus on not just one, but two crucial lessons taught by our one tale of two tragedies. So far America is mainly focusing on just one: We live in a culture where guns are easily and legally obtainable, and can be easily and legally customized to become military-styled weapons so that even non-marksmen can quickly kill hunted animals or large numbers of human beings.
That’s why we need new laws — or, in the case of assault weapons, an improvement on the one that expired in 2004 — setting reasonable constitutional limits that safeguard the rights of all seeking guns for sport or protection, yet also safeguard our children.
And we must also focus on a second urgent lesson taught by our tale of two tragedies, half a world away: People anywhere can snap. Sometimes it happens with premeditation, other times from instant rage.
Most Americans can recall Sandy Hook’s antecedents of horror: troubled young men with guns raining rapid-fire death on students at Virginia Tech, Columbine and Aurora, and on people in shopping malls, fast-food places and post offices.
Many Chinese can recall the 2010 series of stabbing assaults that killed 20 schoolchildren and wounded 50 more; and the stabbing just last August of two children by a man who broke into a Nanchang city school. That’s why guards are now posted at Chinese schools.
Today it is hard — often impossible — for Americans to get mental health help for a troubled family member, friend or colleague. Yet, too often those who have blocked all reasonable limits on assault weapons also have blocked adequate funding for mental health.
What we need — now! — is to enact programs that will protect the rights of all who need help. We must finally find the fortitude and funding to protect our children who trust us to keep them safe.
Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.