September 2009

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In the Wake of Wakefield:

Thoughts about Gun Control


by Toni Seger


In the mid-1970's, for two lovely years, I lived in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Wakefield is a very pretty town about 10 miles north of Boston. It's close enough for an easy and comfortable commute on the train, yet far enough away to offer open space and trees. Wakefield is the sort of place people move to when they want to keep a city like Boston accessible, but not oppressive. I remember, clearly, the many times my husband and I walked our dog along the attractive town green or through an historic graveyard or along the narrow road that wound around Lake Quannapowit, certain that the crazy stress and violence of the city could not possible intrude.


In 2001, when I heard that Wakefield was the scene of a national story about a workplace massacre, I had one of those 'it couldn't happen there' reactions I've seen so often in television news stories. Shocked faces struggling to comprehend the incomprehensible. Who would have thought . . . and so forth. Innocent people enjoying their lives until that moment when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.      


Before this story, when I remembered Wakefield, I thought about all the classical accouterments you'd expect in a quietly photogenic New England town. Ice skating on the lake was great in the winter. There were local softball games in the summer and every July 4, a terrific fireworks display that brought people from surrounding towns. My husband, Timothy, walked down to the village every day to buy a newspaper. I realize that, in my memories, Wakefield used to resemble a glass paperweight I was given as a child. The clear glass was hollowed out, filled with water, fake snowflakes and a perfect Currier and Ives type village. You shook the glass and the snow flew. 


In the end, my thoughts brought me back to feelings I've had about Columbine High School and so many other terrible tragedies happening in otherwise placid surroundings. Clearly, just because the paint is fresh and the view is great, there's no guarantee something truly awful can't happen.  After all, if children can acquire an arsenal of weapons and threaten an entire school, can we expect any less from a full grown adult? Still, I was a little amazed to hear that the Wakefield shooter had a rifle in his locker. Had he walked into work with it in full view? Did he bring it in under his coat? Do we need to install metal detectors in all workplaces just to feel safe?


While writing this essay, I thought I'd run a search on the web for guns and I was appalled how easy it was to find them. In just a few seconds, I faced a banner ad declaring the cheapest source of bulk ammo on the net. In today's world, everything is available, in great abundance, including destructive weaponry. The ready availability of guns is a reality we are continually reminded of every time we take note of a tragic occurrence in an unlikely environment. The truth is, people don't live inside glass paperweights.


The Wakefield shooter didn't have a permit for any of his guns which apparently surprised the authorities who said they would investigate how he got them. I know lots of people will see this aspect of the story as an argument against gun control, but I fail to see their logic. Just because some people will crack up a car without having a driver's license doesn't argue against requiring the rest of us to carry proof we've passed a driving test. I just can't see setting standards for the sake of the most irresponsible and irrational among us, instead of the other way around.


Gun control isn't gun removal, by the way. It's a societal measure for tracking the purchase and sale of dangerous weapons. It also makes it possible to refuse those purchasers whose backgrounds are criminal or unstable like the Wakefield shooter who had also been receiving psychiatric care. What could be more reasonable? The goal of gun control is to protect society at large from the deranged among us. Who could argue with that? Obviously, it's not a perfect method, but if it manages to deter some people from buying guns legally who aren't capable of being responsible with them, society, as a whole, will benefit.


The fact that guns can still be purchased illegally is also not an argument against recording all legal purchases. Cars, once again, can also be stolen or purchased from thieves. Is this an argument for eliminating the use of titles and other methods of legal transfer and record? Is democracy's growth to move from order to chaos? And, by the way, it's true that guns don't kill people, people kill people, but the fact is, people kill people with guns and they do it on a disturbingly frequent basis. They rarely kill each other with bare hands.


Gun control doesn't adversely impact hunters, collectors, target shooters or other hobbyists any more than carrying a driver's license stops people from enjoying cars, in a variety of ways, from collecting old ones to racing fast new ones. Guns and cars used improperly are both very dangerous, but numerous people use and enjoy them responsibly every day. When a society institutes a means of oversight for potentially dangerous instruments, they are trying to distinguish between the responsible and the irresponsible among us for the betterment of all of us. That's a prime function of good government.


After the assassination of President Kennedy with a mail order rifle, I was amazed that Robert Kennedy, then the U.S. Attorney General and, later, a U.S. Senator, didn't have the power to obtain a ban on selling firearms through the mail. The whole country was prostrate with grief over JFK, countless locations were renamed for him, powerful people delivered endless eulogies, but, in the end, nothing was done to prevent such a thing from happening again.


The Wakefield tragedy is already part of an ever growing lexicon of massacres staged in unexpected locations, but should we really consider any location so safe, today, that someone couldn't lose their wits and make other people suffer for it? The national news has long since left Wakefield and has since reported on similar catastrophes in other, equally pretty locales. Every time it happens, the news stuns us with electronic images of grief and dismay set against a winning landscape and all it ever proves is that the greatest tragedy is to do nothing at all.


Co-owner of a media/communications firm; ProseWorks(tm) Associates since 1992, Toni Seger has been a professional writer for four decades. Seger is the author of "The Telefax Box", the first in a satiric trilogy about our overly mechanized lives available at She has produced and directed original plays for stage and television and is an award winning film maker with endorsements from Maine Public Broadcasting. Her film, "The Force of Poetry" is available at