By Victor Schoonover
One of my best experiences in high school was performing in a play written by the great American writer Shirley Jackson called The Lottery. The story takes place during the mid-19th century in a small New England village where a group of town residents gather in June for an annual event they call the lottery. The owner of the local coal plant, Mr. Summers, presides over the occasion, summoning the names of all 300 residents in the town to come take a slip of paper from a black box that has been carefully set on top of a stool for the special occasion. Jackson recounts how certain details of the event have changed over the years, and the original paraphernalia lost. At one time, wooden coins were used in place of the more disposable slips of paper, and the old black box that is splintered and broken only contains parts of the original one that was used before living memory.
As each of the families takes their turn picking a folded piece of paper from the box, they wait anxiously for Mr. Summers to grant permission before discovering who possesses the sole slip containing the dot hand drawn in pencil. When everyone realizes the paper with a dot belongs to Bill Hutchinson, his family is forced to each place their paper back into the box and redraw from the pile, which ends with his wife Tessie selecting the marked paper. Despite all Tessie’s protests and cries to her fellow citizens to start the lottery over again, she is surrounded by everyone, children and adults alike, who turn into a mob and stone Tessie to death.
In many ways, Jackson’s story is a morality play based on one of the most well-known Bible verses. In John 8:7, Jesus tells an angry mob eager to convict a woman caught in adultery, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”
As we try to make sense of how gun regulation and accessto psychological treatment are the cause of what happened in Newport, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, I would like to relate these stories to the tragedy that befell our country and how we might use them as a lens to foresee a more prosperous future.
The simple-minded townfolk in The Lottery are akin to the Pharisees in their negligence and conformity. But while both groups act as hypocrites, we can look to the words of Jesus as a means of interventions and to Shirley Jackson’s story as a cautionary tale of where we might end up if we allow gun violence to continue spiraling out of control.
Jackson portrays her small-town New Englanders as standard bearers of a tradition that is suddenly becoming more superstition. As talk goes around of another local village giving up the lottery, they are passed off as “a pack of crazy fools,” and one of the villagers reminds the rest, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”
The Pharisees acted in much the same way by attempting to expunge the evildoers, in their case, an adultress, to maintain the status quo. Unlike the Pharisees, however, Jackson’s townfolk receive no conscious awakening of their actions.
Jackson’s objective portrayal of the event that takes place reflects the complicit nature of our politicians and groups advocating the rights of gun owners. In John 8:7, we see a similar objectivity when Jesus neither acts as a liberal nor as a conservative in such matters. When challenged to judge the adultress, he simply awakens her accusers to the fact that they themselves are guilty of sin for wanting to act so judiciously instead of reformatorily.
As the nation mourns the loss of the 20 school children who lost their lives, I feel as if we have all taken part in a lottery. Innocent blood has been spilled at the cost of maintaining the illusion that the Second Amendment makes us free of tyrannical rule.
If preservation of the Constitution is the true message of groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), then they should join forces with First Amendment protection groups like WikiLeaks or other anti-government groups like the undeground association of computer hackers known simply as Anonymous.
Ultimately, what we witness with each of these groups is that none of them is truly interested in real dialogue or sharing of ideas. If this were the case, then the NRA might use their First Amendment rights in an act of responsibility and plead with gun owners to protect themselves and others by taking a course in gun safety before owning a firearm. In this manner, we might treat guns the same way we do cars — another symbol of the rite of passage into adulthood and common citizenry.
Any prior convictions, prescriptions to psychoactive drugs or record of mental illness might help determine whether a license is given to a person seeking to own a rifle or handgun. This would be a great use of the millions of dollars the NRA prefers to allocate toward placing more guns into the hands of an unstable society. And it requires the kind of compliance with government groups like the NRA are meant to dismantle.
So, we need to look at government and see where they have failed to help them succeed. In Charlie Savage’s Dec. 15 article for The New York Times titled “Justice Department Shelved Ideas to Improve Gun Background Checks,” he states that following the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, the Justice Department drew up a list of steps that would “assist the government in conducting background checks to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally ill people and criminals.” During the 2012 elections, these ideas were tabled at the time that President Barack Obama focused most heavily on his presidential campaign.
Judging from the response of Tea Party activists since Obama’s election, I can see why he has turned a blind eye toward gun control, considering how many Tea Partyers own guns. However, this is the same negligence we see among Shirley Jackson’s lottery players and among the Pharisees who seek out Jesus. It is time Barack Obama take gun control seriously and work with Republcans to deal with this issue in a manner that is real and effective. Too many mass shootings have happened in the last five years, and there appears to be no sign of change in the midst of other challenges like the fiscal cliff. We need to end our superstitious beliefs and retaliate with a call for change.
Victor Schoonover is a teacher at Lincoln Middle School who teaches the Newcomers program, working with refugees and immigrants.
From the Jan. 2-8, 2013, issue