The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

“Wall to wall, throughout the day”

A congresswoman in Arizona, movie-goers in Colorado, Sikhs in Wisconsin, mall shoppers in California and Washington. Unfortunately, I could go on. Sons and daughters in Afghanistan.

“These were BABIES. There’s just no comparison,” a friend said of last Friday’s mass shooting in a Newport, CT, school.

I served 20 years in the U.S. Navy. I believe in the need for a police department we arm and send forth to allow the rest of us to sleep at night – or go to school the next morning.

But she was right. There was no comparison. Why else would so many of us refuse to sanction abortion, yet eagerly seek the death penalty?

A tragedy nearly equal to the shooting was Brian Williams announcing what he termed “wall to wall throughout the day” coverage. The evening news, normally 30 minutes, would go to “special programming” for a full hour, “virtually commercial free.” It’s a made for TV spectacle. Some of the kids are so traumatized “we couldn’t even interview them.”

Closer to home, a little girl who had been looking forward to a movie with her grandma listened to the news enumerate all the tragedies of the recent past – the mosque, the street corner, the movie house. Wait, a movie house?

“Ï don’t want to go to the movie,” the little girl said, while the “news” mumbled on, repeating hours-old details because there are no new details.

Thousands of miles from the scene being played and replayed on television, mothers who sent their kids to visit Grandma dial the phone to check on the kids’ safety, and become uncontrollably angry because Grandma doesn’t answer the phone on the first ring – and even more angry when Grandma finally answers to say the youngster is playing with a friend next door, who’s parents also are home.

Now there are calls for gun control, ranging from banning large magazines to outright confiscation of all firearms. I certainly understand the need to blame something – but if someone is feeling as though he doesn’t get any attention or respect and he needs to “send a message,” – oh how we do love to send a message – he’ll use whatever will make a big splash on the all day news coverage. We should be thinking what message we’re sending to him, every day, about how to get that attention.

There is a saying in the news business: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

And if it bleeds enough, it leads all day. It gets the ratings.

How many schools and movie houses and street corners are there, in the nation, in the city, in that little town, that have not, and will never, experience such horror, and how many children and parents must be made afraid of the light of day because, as the evening news keeps repeating, “It could happen here. You never know.”

“Django Unchained,” Rated R. Opens Christmas Day.”

I like the actors, I like what I’ve seen of the TV trailers – not the killing necessarily, but the story I hope is behind them. But doesn’t it seem a little incongruous that a movie that puts so much emphasis on killing would be touted as “Django Unchained,” rated R, Christmas Day.

Less than one percent of our population is in the military. Every now and then the news carries a story of a soldier killed. We pause a few seconds, think, “what a shame” – we hope they got the guys who killed him.” and move on to “Person of Interest” or “Law and Order” or “Last Resort.”

But a much higher percentage of our young population pretends to be in the military, via video games featuring guns that never run out of ammunition. Well, they do, sort of, but all the player need do is start over. It doesn’t work that way on a real battlefield, but our youthful players, to whom it’s all a game, wouldn’t know that.

The TV broadcaster proclaims 8,500 killed in gun-related violence each year, as though if we could make guns illegal, the killings would stop. They won’t, of course. The history of mankind is full of killing. War is how we test our killing machines in the real world, on other people’s sons and daughters. It’s how we send a message to other nations that they should pay attention to us; we demand respect.

On “Hawaii 5-0” this week, Steve McGarrett looks across the squad room and spies a lad handcuffed to a desk. The lad admits breaking a window in the police station.

“It’s the only way I could get someone to pay attention to me,” the kid says.

The kid wanting attention Friday was Adam Lanza, and he wasn’t 13, he was 20, but he wanted attention. The window he broke certainly got all our attention – was 28 people dead, 20 of them children, most of them children.

Six in Tucson, AZ

Fifty-eight in Aurora, CO

Six in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI

Twenty-eight in Newtown, CT

I’ve been watching, on and off, constant coverage of the event. I can’t begin to fathom the despair of the parents whose kids who went to that school.

There’s no comparison.

There should be.


  1. Well said, John. This is one reason I don’t watch tv news. I can get more than enough information in the newspaper – and it’s not repeated every 10 minutes just to fill space.
    On the other hand, how do we give these killers the attention they need so they don’t feel the need to kill dozens of people?

  2. It would be nice to ask his mother for that answer. She made sure he knew how to shoot firearms only at targets he intended to shoot. He reportedly had Asperger’s. I know only a little about it, but what I know makes it’s unsurprising that he could learn to handle firearms safely and accurately, and that he could, if he thought it necessary, deliberately set about shooting his mother and those kids and teachers at school.

    I have some ideas about his needs, though some would accurately observe they would be made without benefit of a license or list of initials suffixed to my name.

    • You are right about that. Why would a woman who had a son with Asbergers not have her weapons in a gun safe? And, why would she teach him how to use them?

  3. Well said, John, as always. As to your question “Why else would so many of us refuse to sanction abortion, yet eagerly seek the death penalty?”, I would answer that the commission of capital murder is a deliberate act; a conscious choice take the life of another human with malice aforethought. Being conceived is not.

  4. Ralph: I submit that either life is sacred or it is not. If we murder by aborting an unborn child, then we murder by killing an adult who has murdered. In fact, I should rerun a column about a 12-year-old being sentenced to death.

    Sharon: Why she would teach him to shoot is easy. To the degree you can teach a child to accomplish any feat, you are successful as a parent. I could see the young person going among the other shooters, explaining the safety features, and though he might be difficult to fathom by a stranger, those who knew him likely would congratulate him.

    But most of us have little experience with autism. His mother should have known the possibility he would one day slip his moorings. She should have kept the guns in a safe. Why she did not, or why she allowed him access, is beyond our capacity now to ask.

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