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As many police officers do, I have certain holiday traditions that help me to shift myself from thoughts of work to more pleasant thoughts of friends and family. One of my traditions is simple: I spend one of my days off going from store to store, doing the bulk of my Christmas shopping while enjoying the holiday decorations and ever-present Christmas carols.
On Friday as I prepared to walk out the door and begin my holiday ritual, I paused. After a moment of thought, I walked back to my desk where I picked up my badge and gun, neither of which is generally a part of my holiday shopping. As I clipped on my badge and holstered my gun, it became clear how different the world was.
A few hours earlier as I logged on to my computer to take care of some long-overdue writing before I went out, I learned that a small Connecticut town had become the latest victim of a horrific mass shooting.
As a police officer in Aurora, Colorado — a city that is only just beginning to recover from one of the largest mass shootings in the history of the United States — the news stopped me in my tracks.
But I wasn’t shocked that it had happened. I wasn’t in a state of disbelief. I was outraged that it had happened again, and that many more families were now mourning the senseless loss of their loved ones. I thought back to the first such incidents in my adult life — one in Arkansas and another in Colorado — and I wondered when it was ever going to stop.
As I drove from one store to another, I realized that instead of listening to a radio station that was playing continuous holiday music, I was instead listening to a different station that was dedicating the day to live coverage of the tragedy — most of which was filled by commentators, investigative reporters, and self-proclaimed experts on one topic or another that sought to explain what had happened in some way.
I found myself just as angry at one senator who immediately called for increased gun control legislation as I was at another senator who stated that the entire incident would have been prevented if even one law-abiding citizen with a concealed carry permit had been present to stop the assailant.
I wondered to myself how devoid of any common decency these two — and so many more like them — must be to use the victims for political posturing while they likely still lay where they had been murdered.
Soon after that, I found my anger growing as an acquaintance or relative of the alleged suspect made a public statement that he suffered from autism and had not always received the help he needed, as if this somehow explained his actions.
Then I found myself at a boiling point when I heard the relative of a survivor comment that they believed their loved one had escaped death because God had a plan for them, as though they felt God had no plans whatsoever for the innocent victims who were only at the beginning of their young lives.
Morning slipped into afternoon as the stream of politicians, commentators and subject-matter experts continued their minute-by-minute coverage of the tragedy, and eventually I found that I could no longer listen to it even though I felt I needed to.
It was only then, when my anger subsided and a sense of clarity returned to me, that I realized I was angry that our world has become a place where someone can find a reason — any reason — to direct mass-violence at innocent children.
That people seek to explain, theorize or justify something that is without any possible justification. That politicians on every side seem compelled to use the deaths of innocent children to further their own political agendas. And that despite the best efforts of schools, citizens and the law enforcement community, another such horrific crime will doubtlessly occur in the near future and again after that.
On Friday, December 14, 2012, as I was enjoying a cup of morning coffee and preparing to begin my Christmas tradition, the lives of at least 27 families were changed forever by a senseless act of violence that defies explanation.
As a member of the law enforcement community — a group comprised of fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, uncles and aunts, friends and relatives — my thoughts and prayers are with the residents of Newtown, Connecticut, the students and faculty of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the victims and their families.
Just as I realize that the world has changed during my lifetime, I hope and pray that it can change once more and return to a place where no such tragedy will ever take place again.