The horror in Newtown

Children magnify the rawness of insensible death.

Friday’s massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the unfathomable number of murdered kindergarteners, the visitation of evil in the time of Advent. As we wrote earlier this year, how do Americans make sense of the senseless? Elie Weisel said years ago, “Words, they die on our lips.”

“The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” President Obama said on Friday. “They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” The president, that taciturn profile of reserve, was weeping. Edmonds Police Chief Al Compaan told The Herald, “You just can’t imagine. All these kids, why?”

For the third time since July, we sift through the horror of mass murder and reflectively search for meaning. On Tuesday, two people were killed at the Clackamas Town Center near Portland. The just-next-door bloodshed was soon eclipsed by the hell in Newtown. The Aurora, Colo., shooting in July at a movie theater was followed the next month by the Sikh temple murders in Wisconsin that left seven dead. In 2008, a Skagit County man murdered six people, including Skagit County Sheriff’s Deputy Anne Jackson. In May, a 40-year-old Seattle man, shot and killed four people at Café Racer Espresso, murdered a woman during a carjacking, and later killed himself. And from the pantheon of anchorless madmen with guns, there was the Virginia Tech shooting, just five years ago, that left 32 dead. In a world without end, violence without end.

A university, a movie theater, a house of worship, an elementary school. Sanctuary is the common thread. In theory, these are places at a remove from violence. But in a society with Libertarian leanings and easy access to semi-automatic weapons, and in a nation and a state with an overburdened criminal justice system ill-equipped to help those living with mental illness, the horror will not cease.

Perhaps this time, given the scale of slain children in Newtown, Northwesterners will feel compelled to do something. In July we recommended amending the Involuntary Treatment Act to ensure that violence-prone mental patients are appropriately treated; we also should change the state’s “shall issue” law to prevent the unbalanced from qualifying for a concealed weapons’ permit. All of these ideas, including the question of gun control, are leavened by the reality of evil. As the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, we need to avoid both idealistic illusion and a hands-off indifference to an often cold world.

For now, no politics. There is a time to mourn, just as there is a time to keep silence. There is also a time to weep.