“Thoughts and Prayers” are Fine, but Legislators Ultimately Must Enact Public Policy

“Thoughts and Prayers” are Fine, but Legislators Ultimately Must Enact Public Policy

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Over the past few days, we’ve read and heard numerous politicians issuing, essentially, boilerplate statements about how their “thoughts and prayers” are with the families of Newtown, Connecticut. That’s fine; I’m not personally religious, but I see nothing wrong with “thoughts and prayers” offered in a true spirit of compassion.

What’s not fine is when our elected representatives offer their constituents no more than “thoughts and prayers.” In short, what we expect from our legislators in a secular, non-theocratic Republic is that they propose and enact legislation, not that they attempt to assume the role of ministers, priests, rabbis, imams – something they are almost completely unsuited and unqualified to do, by the way (certainly, they’re no MORE qualified to do a minister’s, priest’s, or rabbi’s job than any of us are).

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen since news of the Newtown horror began to unfold has been plenty of “thoughts and prayers” but almost no specific – or even general, for that matter – proposals to enact legislation aimed at protecting the citizens of our country from harm at the hands of their heavily-armed fellow citizens. Take, for instance, the “personal reflection” from Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th, VA), which I’ve posted on the “flip.” It was forwarded to me by a Virginia Democrat and astute political observer who commented that they found it “a bit odd.”

In response to this person’s email, I noted that we do NOT select individuals for public office for the purpose of being our national clerics, nor is this a theocracy last I checked. To the contrary, that we elect these fine folks to do is to pass laws, including ones to make events like Newtown less likely and/or extremely improbable. In the case of Forbes’ “a bit odd” letter, and also in the case of many other politicians, it seems to me that what they’re really doing is covering up their lack of action, if not cowardice, in the face of the NRA, with their profuse, even over-the-top/purple prose (in the case of Forbes) expressions of personal dismay, “thoughts and prayers” – but nothing beyond that.

Again, let me be clear: I have ZERO problem with our elected officials, or anyone else, expressing their personal sympathies, including “thoughts and prayers,” with victims of tragedies, whether “natural” or man-made. What I DO have a problem with is when our elected officials shirk their primary duty, the one we elected them to do, which is to draft, propose, and work to pass legislation aimed at forming a more perfect union, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

In the end, “thoughts and prayers” are fine, possibly even sincere in the case of politicians (although call me cynical, but the boilerplate, cookie-cutter, utterly predictable, cut-and-paste, and essentially identical statements by these folks make me wonder how sincere they really are). Ultimately, though, that’s not what we send legislators to Washington, DC, or to Richmond, VA, to do. Last I checked, that’s what we had mosques, synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship for. As for the politicians? Time for them to come down from their pulpits, roll up their sleeves, get to work, and do their freakin’ jobs!

A personal reflection on Sandy Hook

By Congressman Randy Forbes

December 14, 2012

There are times that news shocks us. And, then, there are times that news sends adrenaline snapping in our veins and bile churning in our gut.  News that makes thoughts charge at our own brain and our hearts stiffen against the walls of our chest.

Saturday’s winter sun rose over an elementary school that just hours before had held twenty-six lifeless bodies.  America is reeling.  Twenty coffins will be cut and fashioned to fit the tiny bodies of precious children. Children yesterday pressed off to the bus stop, milk-laden cereal abandoned in sunny kitchens, beds unmade, lunches packed but never eaten.  Now ashes. Their little dreams frozen, their tiny handwritten school work crudely fashioned on straight lines savagely halted, their fingers never to drum softly on mother’s arms again or tighten around papa’s neck.  “I want to be a ballerina, and a doctor, and a singing star, Mama.”  Gone.

We hunt for words that might mirror the tumult raging in the corridors of our minds.  Tragic. Senseless. Unimaginable. But each word, once rendered on our tongue, is inept at carrying the confusion and horror and pain inside. For those that can, we pull our children close holding their little frames until they pull away and gaze up at us pleasant, but confused.  “Daddy, why are you staring at me?”

Why?  Because our minds are at work painting the faces of our own children, their sweet clear eyes, on the students of Sandy Hook. Because the hollow sounds of gunshots echo in our souls, just as they blasted through the intercom down a hallway in Newtown, CT yesterday morning.  Because we feel the deep chasm between what was once a warm school filled with the high-pitched, off-key singing of gradeschoolers…. now, whose icy stillness is interrupted only by the sobs of grown men and women who have stared directly into the eyes of evil.  

The shoulders of our nation are bent under the weight of such heaviness.  Our raw, blistering grief is center stage for the world.  There will be a day for the what-ifs, and the should-haves, and the if-onlys and the we-musts.   Yes, there will be.

But today we are left seeking a balm to cover our wounds. Each of us will search differently as we are free to do.  Perhaps some hands will cease feverishly wrapping gifts and tacking up Christmas lights and might instead rest in laps, heavy with the realization that we have little power to wipe away these hot and sticky tears.  Such deep horrible groans of grief we cannot silence.  Such evil we cannot undo. “Help us,” we might whisper. “Please.”

As we teeter on the edge of such sadness, though, there is a tug in many of our hearts.  A pull that reminds us that there is good, and that this good is far surpassing in portion to the evil we now confront.  Our minds are forced back to a God often forgotten in the times of prosperity.  A God swept aside even in our times of great challenge as we have stiffened our backs and trusted our hands to do work of fixing what must be fixed.  But now, here, in our pain, we see our own fragility in fresh light.  Here we sit, shaking and inadequate.  We cry not to some moth-eaten relic, but to an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, all-healing God whose handprint can be traced across the pages of our national triumphs and tragedies.  We’ll trust you.  We must.  “Help us,” we whisper.  “Please.”

  • glennbear

    I agree lowkell, politicians are too busy worrying about keeping the NRA happy to work towards passing commonsense legislation which will reduce the risk of gun violence. Forbes is apparently just interested in showing off what he perceives (wrongly) his skill as a writer.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    According to the Children’s Defense Fund, in 2008, 2,947 children and teens died from guns in the United States and 2,793 died in 2009. That means the death toll is one child or teen dying every three hours, eight every day. Put in perspective by the latest gun horror in Connecticut, the equivalent of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre occurs in this country every four days.

    Randy Forbes’ statement is verbal junk, ramblings of a politician in the pocket of the gun lobby and its most vocal mouthpiece, the NRA. He is not alone. Where are the politicians speaking for those other children?

  • http://www.bluevirginia.us lowkell

  • http://www.bluevirginia.us lowkell

  • Another Scott

    I created a Petition at the White House.  Here’s the text:

    We petition the Obama administration to:

    Immediately create compelling voluntary incentives to reduce the number of guns in homes and enhance their safety.

    People respond best to positive incentives.

    Changing national and state laws, especially related to Constitutional rights, is a long and difficult process.

    We need action Now to reduce the gun violence due to guns in the home.

    Immediately work to create compelling voluntary incentives to reduce the number and increase the safety of guns in homes.

    For example:

    1) Immediately survey successful Gun Buy-Back Programs that have worked in several US cities. Scale up the program nation-wide and provide significant Federal funding so that localities can quickly implement compelling programs to get guns (and ammunition) out of homes.

    2) Create and fund a national Free Gun Trigger Lock program to allow localities to give them out.

    Etc.

    Don’t wait for new regulations for ownership, etc

    To be clear – I think new laws are needed.  But it’s a difficult and very time consuming process.  We can take meaningful action even without new laws.  There may be better things we can do, and there are details that need to be worked out in my suggestions, but let’s start talking about them and not focus exclusively on federal legislation.

    I welcome your comments (and signatures there – http://wh.gov/RFTH ).

    Thanks.

    Cheers,

    Scott.

  • Quizzical

    One problem for our Virginia politicians in the wake of this tragedy is that if people wake up and look at what our legislators have been doing in the area of gun safety laws, they will find that they have been busily passing laws to weaken gun safety.  The NRA has been having things all its way in Virginia for quite some time.

    http://www.nraila.org/gun-laws

    And it looks really ugly right now.

  • Venu

    we shouldn’t be addressing gun-control at all. Anyone recall McAuliffe’s “gun-control” warning where Democrats should never, ever address gun-control because it’s politically toxic?