A HK USP 9mm handgun | AP photo
Updated: January 26, 2013 6:14AM
In the NRA’s America, Santa would have left a gun under the tree this Christmas morning for every boy and girl, along with a note:
“Watch out for the baddies, kid. Ho, ho, ho.”
But we believe — and we are confident most Americans believe — that we owe our children a better gift. We owe them a country that is safer and saner to begin with, healthier from the roots up. We owe them a better life and a better chance. We owe them things that can’t be gotten by the barrel of a gun.
But we are moving in the opposite direction.
Every day we are told we must cut government spending, and it’s true. We must. Our nation and our state face massive deficits. Something has to give. But if we cut too deeply, so ghastly afraid to instead increase taxes on the wealthy, we will do deep damage to those most basic ways in which an enlightened society looks after its children.
Specifically, if Congressional Republicans refuse to raise new tax revenue and allow the nation to fall over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 2, children — especially those who are sick or disabled or come from poor homes — will be among those who pay the heaviest price.
Funding for all domestic programs, from home heating assistance to health care, will be chopped 8 percent. That means hospital payments through Medicare will be cut by nearly $6 billion a year and nutrition programs for women and children will lose $543 million. Long-term unemployment insurance, the only thing keeping a roof over the head of many families, will be ended.
Early childhood education — by far the smartest, most cost-effective investment a society can make in its children — will be denied to some 100,000 children, including 4,000 in Illinois, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin tells us.
The cost of higher education, already out of the price range for many young Americans, will jump another $5,000 a year for middle- and low-income students, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon tells us.
And there’s more. Federal grants for K-12 schools, money meant to give poor kids a leg up and to support for special education, also would be slashed.
This will come at a time when, on a state level, funding for social services, health care and education already has been slashed in recent years because of the recession and the ballooning costs of public employee pensions. Yet if the Illinois General Assembly does nothing in early January, when it next it meets, to rein in those pension costs, those earlier cuts will look modest in hindsight.
The higher the state’s pension bill, the less there is to spend on anything else.
But here, too, we must move with caution. Cut too much from the pensions of teachers, home-care workers and university employees, and the strong middle-class that undergirds our free economy will take another hard hit.
We can give our children the gift of greater safety the NRA way — start packing, everybody — but it won’t work. We need greater gun control, not less.
Or we can give our children the gift of a society that is fairer and more compassionate, our frankincense and myrrh. We can create a nation that works against violence from the ground up.
On TV the other day, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, was at least half right when he said he wasn’t sure what anybody can do to stop “somebody that’s hell-bent on doing crazy things.”
But we can at least try to build a society in which fewer people are hell-bent on doing crazy things to begin with, whether at a school in Newtown or on a street on Chicago’s West Side.