“The mutilated face of the victim was left untouched by morticians at the mother’s request. She said she wanted ‘all the world’ to witness the atrocity.” Jet Magazine, Sept. 15, 1955, on the open-casket funeral of 14-year-old Emmett Till. The wounds were “very devastating,” said Connecticut’s chief medical examiner at the press conference following the Sandy Hook shootings. The worst he had seen.
Pictures of the facial features of the dead children were shown to the families rather than allowing them to see their children right away. First responders were traumatised, which leaves one imagining the grisly scene that could so unravel those trained to work in traumatic scenes. In the contentious debate over the banning of assault-style rifles, I think about what we have seen – pictures of the smiling faces of the Sandy Hook schoolchildren when they were alive and well; and what we have not seen – what a Bushmaster .223-calibre rifle does to the bodies of first-graders.
Finding descriptions of what a Bushmaster rifle does to the human body is a challenge. There was, however, this from the Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine – a 2006 study, the “Pathology of Gunshot Wounds”: “Exit wounds from high-powered rifles may be large because of the high velocity and kinetic energy of rifle ammunition (Figure 5). Stellate-shaped exit wounds, which in rifle wounds occur over soft tissue as well as over bony surfaces, are common and may resemble contact entrance wounds.”
We hear of their power and their destructive capabilities. Although I have imagined the trembling fear in the eyes and hearts of the young victims, and while I am moved by President Barack Obama’s hanging a painting from one of the victims in the private study of the Oval Office as a reminder in the fight for a ban against this particular weapon – I just don’t think it’s enough. It’s not enough when the National Rifle Association and its supporters quickly shift from the shootings at Sandy Hook to their Second Amendment rights. It’s not enough because the further in time we move from that slaughter, the more the faces of the victims will slowly fade for the public.
Already, the NRA and its supporters have moved on beyond the slaughter as if it were just another of the daily shootings in America. For the gun control advocates, it will be remembered with diminishing flickers. Yes, Sandy Hook was a turning point moment in the fight for some sensible gun control. But what is needed is for some parent to step forward as Mamie Till did nearly 60 years ago when her 14-year-old son Emmett was brutally murdered in Mississippi.
She refused to let the nation regard it as another murder. She refused to let the picture of a smiling boy taken the previous Christmas serve as the sole reminder. She held an open-casket funeral and allowed no make-up to cover what was done. She said she wanted the world to see just exactly the type of violence that was done.
The picture shocked the nation and galvanised a movement. As the rhetoric over banning assault-style rifles revs up, it is important to show exactly what these weapons do. What we have not seen needs to be seen because sometimes the imagination is just not enough.