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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Very Special Education


Anne Marie Murphy was 52 years old, the mother of Kelly, Colleen, Paige and Thomas, as well as the wife of Mike. Her 86-year-old mother, Alice McGowan, herself, the mother of seven, said straightforwardly: "She was a very good daughter, a good mother, a good wife."

But the reason we know her is because Annie, as she was called, was the special-education teacher in Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed in the Slaughter of the Innocents on Dec. 14, and who died with her arms protectively cradling a 6-year-old boy named Dylan Hockley.

Dylan had learning disabilities, and Annie worked with him one-on-one. His parents said in a statement: "We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy." They added: "Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day."

Six teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School died that day. The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, ran straight toward the shooter, trying to stop him, and was shot to death. The school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56, tried as well, and paid with her life.

By standing between the gunman and her 6-year-olds, Vicki Soto, 27, spared at least some of their lives while surrendering her own. Lauren Rousseau, 30, who had just been hired last month and was doing what she most wanted to do — teaching children — died from gunfire, as did 29-year-old Rachel D'Avino, who was studying for her doctorate while pursuing her passion of helping children with autism.

We will probably never know just how many children's and adult's lives were saved by the courage and selflessness of these six heroines and their surviving colleagues on the school's faculty and staff.

What we do know is that Heraclitus was right some 25 centuries ago when he wrote, "Character is destiny." The grown-ups of Sandy Hook, from everything we know, were — in those moments of maximum peril, when they confronted their own mortality — individuals of profound character.

And let us not forget that they — and the others in that building — were public school teachers, public servants and, that's right, public employees.

Eleven years earlier, 343 New York firefighters — searching for and trying to save trapped and terrified fellow human beings — had marched into the fires of Hell and the jaws of death. They, too, were public employees. They were also public servants.

Public employees, according to so much cheap-shot campaign talk and too many cable commentators, are some sort of an indolent sub-species. If they are not incompetent, the propaganda goes, they must be indifferent and surly. If they are not unthinking sloths, then they must be overzealous meddlers mindlessly regulating America's businesses right out of business.

Some of you may remember the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton, when Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, then 50, thrust himself in the line of fire to shield the president and shove him into the limousine. Reacting to his agent's training to cover and evacuate by immediately taking the position between the president and the shooter was 31-year-old agent Timothy J. McCarthy.

Protecting the president as well that fateful day was a 17-year veteran Washington, D.C., police officer Thomas K. Delahanty, who had already earned a file of commendations before he was hit by a bullet that had to be removed from his neck. All three men were proud public employees.

In his first State of the Union speech, President Kennedy proclaimed, "Let the public service be a proud and lively career." You don't hear such sentiments today from our would-be leaders. But after we reflect on the character, courage and heroism of the teachers of Newtown, the firefighters of New York, and the agents and cops of Washington, D.C., let us thank our public employees for what they do for our us.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




14 Comments | Post Comment
Hi there,

I think that the gun people should pay for the school guards they want. (we don't have enough tesachers-how the heck can we afford guards)

I totally agree there should be guards, fully paid by a dedicated tax on gun sales.

Comment: #1
Posted by: c lewton-brain
Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:45 PM
Little kids die from gun shots every day in the big cities all over this country. They die in droves in the war zones of the world, yet the average citizen, among them Mark Shields and our president, outraged by Newtown, yawn about all that.

Never seen a column by Mark on the terrorist killing of kids worldwide. Maybe he'll get on to that next, but I doubt it, although I do appreciate his occasional column about how convenient it is for most Americans to forget about war, since there is no draft, and someone other than they will take care of that..., so who why should the average American care?

I am sad to see Mark ignoring the major role, perhaps THE major role, our violence-in-entertainment worshiping culture plays in tragedies like what we saw in Newtown, and indeed see all over this nation. Are we a little chicky-chicky chicken to take on Hollywood and the video gaming industry? That's a yupper.

I don't completely write off the NRA's proposed solution to our problem here. To be sure, they need to step up to keeping machine guns, semi-automatics, and oversized magazines out of the supply chain.
But we have a war going on here, and the average citizen is not being protected by the government from crime. Newtown may now have the chance to wake up to that fact the hard way.

You don't confront an enemy by disarming. At least, last time I looked, that was not a winning formula for any government charged with protecting its citizens from war I have ever known of on this planet.

A short-term effective solution for protecting citizens may well consist of putting more arms and competence in using them in the hands of responsible citizens. Unlike the NRA, I don't think hiring more cops is realistic, but training volunteers with the will to fill the gaps with civic responsibility may well be what we need. We are at war. Once you get that and get out of the denial spiral, the game changes, and solutions like this start to appear necessary.

Longer term, we must indeed focus on getting certain kinds of firearms and ammunition out of circulation.
But in the end, the violence-worshiping culture we are feeding our kids from the moment they are able to swallow the garbage offered by the money-corrupted media is a huge beast we need to slay. Would someone please find the spine to step up to that? Target: Corporate and powerful moguls who profit off of selling fantasy violence. Mark? Hello...
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:19 PM
Since hearing you propose on News Hour that ammunition should be heavily taxed, I have been trying to imagine a scenario in my mind in which such a tax would be a deterrent for anyone who intended to use a gun to shoot someone or would otherwise prevent a shooting. I can't think of one. It seems to me that the only thing that would accomplish is to punish the guys who go to the range and target shoot round after round after round. Obviously, they're not hurting anyone. From one whose intelligence is as undeniable as yours, this just illustrates how people are so desperate to find a solution and they're not thinking this through, as if they're suspending common sense in favor of knee-jerk emotionalism
The NRA proposal that we should have schools full of cops...? I think not, we don't want that. Not right.
What puzzles some of us is why so many can't see that, insofar as these school shootings is concerned, the culprit is so obviously the "gun-free zones". These are what keeps all the adults in these situations unarmed, defenseless and unable to care for their young charges in these horrific situations. Allowing concealed carry in schools is really just treating adults like adults. Probably ought to do that anyway, we're trusting them with our kids after all.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Wayne Harpster
Fri Dec 21, 2012 10:48 PM
Thank you for recognizing the work of public employees. Teaching is not usually a dangerous job, but there can be dangerous times in the course of a career in which the first duty of a teacher is to protect the students. There are many public sector jobs that are done better and much more economically than if the jobs were bid out to the private sector, and the work of public employees is observed and audited by elected officials who are responsible to the voters.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Sat Dec 22, 2012 3:31 AM
Re: Wayne Harpster;... Ammunition is prohibitively expensive; but if people are determined, price is no object... People know who these net cases are who mass murder... At the risk of being confused with them because I am reclusived at times; why doesn't everyone know??? When your whole stinking society is failing, when people are taxed into poverty, and the rich and right are seeking enemies all over the earth, some of whom will find their way here and attack our softest targets as we attack theirs, where is the money gone that made us poor, and yet will not ever make the rich rich enough to pay taxes???
It is trite to say we have met the enemy and it be we the people... It is nonsense to say the cure for too many guns is more guns as the NRA says...The whole divide and conquer lie that has allowed the exploitation of this country unto death is rooted in the personal paranoia of millions, their parochialism, and parsimony... They do not want to share what we can only individually own by sharing... They have learned the government is the enemy, and it is- with all its onesizefitzall solutions... They abstract their fear of government police and tax powers and apply it to all national and state government authorities they then universally abhore...
If you ask where were the cops that day you will find some were in a donut shop, if not doing traffic duty...The idea that children require extra protection did not dawn on those charged with protecting them...The cure for government officials not using their heads is as elusive as the cure for people misusing their heads... But; the cost of law enforcement is prohibitive just like the cost of general defense... Those people who believe defense begins at home are right up my alley...If we cannot defend ourselves from the government that does no good and can tax us into poverty to not do it, then we will offer no invading force any threat...
We need defense against our government, and most of all we need democracy to know our government is us, and we do not know that today... As long as government is THEM, and not us... As long as it can tax us into poverty while showing us empty pockets for essential services like protection for children it will always be the enemy... In fact; government as bully for the rich, that has made the protection of wealth and capital for the rich its first priority, which has used law to threaten the domestic population while offering no one meaningful protection- is a farce...It is crazy to think anyone in the vast west should face life unarmed because some fool in the city does not want guns... It is obscene that so much of individual excess is given the protection of law that we can no longer afford to net the nuts, and house them with some measure of dignity..
When you turn your lens upon this society with so much law doing us so little good, and costing so much, and never there when needed, and always there when not; who can say a fraction of it works??? I am not suggesting informers and cops should outnumber tax payers to such an extent that the first starve out the second... I am saying laws should be minimized to the essential, and penalties should fit the crime with mercy for good measure... I am saying the NRA, and all those who believe in freedom are correct to offer their services to their communities armed or not, as militias, or police auxiliaries...
Law, and primarily, justice is each person's responsibility and law is easy; but justice is impossible... We can approach justice if it is our goal and never reach it, and we can make it possible if we do not think it absolute...The notion that another law tacked on to the myriad we have will fix anything is daft... Sooner or later we have to become one nation as we only can with democracy... Then we can cease thinking of government as them, and start seeing them as us...When the people are forced to do what is right, to think clearly and fully in the process of self government, than the expression of their will in government power will be right as they think right...
Government doing only as it does because it can do it is no different than that mad man in the school...Our government ungoverned kills many children in our names ,but usually, abroad...We cannot stop it from killing our own except by an exertion of our common will... So; not law, not government, and not guns is the answer that the people and self government is... The idea that we should fear our government or our government should fear us are both signs of a fatal disconnect of the brain from the body of this land...
Comment: #5
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Dec 22, 2012 6:53 AM
I doubt we can ever feel an intimate connection to the federal government, Sweeney. That is why it must be kept relatively small, powerless and out of our lives as much as possible and the big decisions made as nearly locally as possible where we can at least feel as if we have some possibility of having an influence.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Wayne Harpster
Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:19 AM
Re: Wayne Harpster... Sir; small is not the right size for a government, and large is not the right size for a government... The right size is the right size for government, and that will always be changing according to changing circumstances; and given the propensity of people in non productive positions to multiply their necessity while minimizing their effort, it is unlikely to ever be as small as it could be...
One of those extra constitutional changes that has resulted in less good government at greater expense is the civil service... In Lincoln's day, you could change the bureaucracy with a change of presidents, and presidents had to answer for the quality of the civil service... Yet; there will always be some jobs which will be a net drain on society, that to think of ourselves as human we must pay... Mental health and public health in general we must pay for and encourage because we see just one example before us of the effects of neglected mental health, and the public health could be a breeding ground of life, and world changing diseases...
Law -which really addresses mental conditions in many respects cannot be ignored, and in this county, it is the largest item on the budget by far... If those with guns were forced to act as police, as jail guards, and the like as the price of the right, many would not do it... But long before gun ownership was considered a right, or a privilage as now it seems; it was always an obligation of every free member of society...No escaped serf in Feudal times could ever be considered the citizen of any city if he could not keep himself free for a year and a day, and be capable of bearing arms...
I do not want to minimize the pain of those people who lost children because I absolutely know no pain is worse in this world...The allocation of police resources, and if short of money, of all available personal resources was badly managed... It is hard to tell the good guys from the bad, but government so inclined to distrust able bodied old farts with guns left the target of that school as soft as pudding... These are children, and no one wants to expose them to guns or see them frightened with the thought of violence... Ok; then throw a net over the nuts and tell some armed and ready individual to do his duty for one day a week... They will learn too soon about violence...Is that in some way worse than them learning about death or bleak terror???
To tell you a personal story; two years ago, New Year Eve day, I was outside with a shovel picking up dog bombs and three armed robbers ran through my yard... Thinking it was kids I tried to stop them and they scattered, and a police man showed up, and I helped him run one of them down... It just so happened that I was working on my house, and because of that, my hand guns usually inaccessible were close by... If I had went for them I would have missed the fun... If I had listened to the cop I would have stayed back... I said: You got a gun.. What are you worried about... I was an able guide, and fit to boot; but my guns which I had not laid eyes on for close to ten years might well have stayed hidden... Responsible gun ownership is a responsibility of freedom, but the thought of taking a human life if seriously entertained -is madness...
The fear, the paranoia and distrust of government and fellow human beings is rubbed raw into the right of this land, and the left is right to reject it for the most part... If you cannot trust your government, then change it, which is our right, and really, our obligation... Do not think you will have better for the effort, and look to make certain you are on the right side of change, because it would be a significant change to make government do what it was made to do as written in the preamble... But many hate government for the good it would do because of the cost of it... If you do not like the cost, then do good at a better price...No one in this world needs a licence to do good unless that be a licence to carry a gun, and it ought to come with the obligation to do public service and safe storage...
Comment: #7
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Dec 22, 2012 1:52 PM
Dear Mr. Shields...
I am writing from Australia. I am a USA born teacher [dual national] who is now retired after several years in the education system in the state of Victoria.
Along with many, I was grieved beyond tears at the Newtown tragedy. The mindless NRA suggestion to make schools a fortress with armed guards will not engender peace and security. It will only foster fear.
There is evil in the world and it will sometimes manifest as in this recent tragedy. The higher and nobler stance is reflected in the support and community embracing of one another amidst the horror and the support of people across the country for the folk affected.
On the policy level, reasoned common sense will be required of civic leaders from Congress to Main Street. It would be good for leadership to reflect on what scripture notes..
James 4:1-3
4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
We should all pray that Wisdom guide the policy debate and reach sensible safeguards...
Martin Horrigan
Warrnambool, Victoria Australia
Comment: #8
Posted by: martin horrigan
Sat Dec 22, 2012 5:51 PM
Re: martin horrigan....Evil is an infinite moral form that cannot be defined and will not add to this discussion no matter how many example of horrors humanity has produced... We are suffering from the reality of wide spread insanity untreated because the mental health system and the governments are broke... We are suffering from a wide spread fear held by the people of their government that they correctly see as dispossessing them for the benefit of the few and the support of the many unworking, unambitious, immoral of the cities...
Violence is human... Violence is ingrained in America, in our history, and we believe, in our future... It does not matter that arms are all but useless against government, or dangerous criminals, and that possessing them offers an opportunity to criminals who gain possession of them... People take the medicine they feel they need, and if they were honest about their fears and about their personal potential and power, they would realize how strong they are and how worthless are their puny guns...People fear their government and justly so, but the best defense against the government is a new government created out of a common will...
The last stand mentality of the right best reserved for a bumper sticker adds nothing to the protection of children or the conversation before us... The problem is not evil, but insanity, as thinking of violence as any sort of solution is, and this we have always done...
We have many who believe illness, injury, and even insanity result from some moral fault... I grew up with disease and the result of disease, and I think the thought that the maimed in some sense deserve the cross they bear is daft...I never turn my eyes away from the insane or the injured because I am hurt too... The sympathy missing from so many lives is curse, but not one I put aside; but if we as a society do put sympathy aside, if we accept violence, but never take that time to heal, to bind up the wounds of the hurt, and help them to their feet, then we have been destroyed by our society and are only marking time before we die...There are contradictions in our society and in our constitution that are being played out to the last hand... We are doing over and over what only worked when this land was fairly owned and resources were plentiful and unspoiled...We cannot continue as we are and afford justice, law, police, roads, bridges, physical health, mental health, or moral health...
A broke and busted people on the virge of losing their homes and property and businesses will not surrender their guns to a government they do not trust in the least... The realization that for the sake of a revolution not one of the armed wants- that not one gun is needed- is at the moment beyond the armed...The little injury we can do to each other is no impediment to the greater injury the economy does to us that few with guns will challenge... They want the disease... They reject the cure of understanding... They treat the disease with their own traditional medicine...
For the sake of this subject let me offer an opinion: Violence is badly and incorrectly defined by the speed of the action when it should be defined by the intent of the violent... So often, the intent and the result of our actions is violent, great change and injury result; but because it is played out in slow motion, it is not considered violent without the slightest difference of results...We do not as a society put justice before peace as some societies do... The result of this is that we have no lasting peace and no justice... Justice is at its core peace... Injustice is at its core violence because it leaves in the end no alternative but violence...
Comment: #9
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Dec 23, 2012 7:12 AM
The NRA may believe that the solution for way too many guns is more guns. (Are they serious? Do you hear them proposing how we are going to pay for these guards, their training, and their guns without firing teachers? Would they back an immediate increase in taxes to pay for this program?) As the mouthpiece of the gun industry, it is their job to promote sales, but it is stupid public policy. (Columbine had armed guards. Perhaps they needed 5? 10? Automatic weapons?) Should we send assault rifle toting guards with every fire truck? How many? At every day care center? Every playground? Public beach? The NRA says that the gun is just a tool and is therefore the wrong place to look. Aren't fully automatic assault rifles and RPGs “just tools”? Why not extend 2nd amendment protections to them? It is finally time for the grownups to take charge. The challenge is for us as citizens to give this a lot of careful thought and discussion and then ACT.
My list:
1. No more big clips. No gun sold should even except a large clip. Within a few decades the existing ones would wear out, ect. The more effective position would be to have a mandatory government buyback/exchange to get the big clips off the street NOW, but realistically that is not likely to happen.
2. Free the ATF to release the data on the use of guns in crime. Due to the absurd tiahrt amendments, even CONGRESS could not get some of the data that the ATF had collected in the “Fast and Furious” investigation. They had to get it from the MEXICAN government. The NRA does not want you to know the truth in the data on which firearms are typically used for which crimes. They can't handle the truth. But, in order to make grown-up decisions about this matter, we need the data.
3. Free the CDC to research the problem. Task them with the study of the issue instead of blocking them.
Why does the gun industry think that we should arm everybody with assault weapons? Perhaps because the interest in more ordinary use of firearms in hunting has declined and assault weapons are the only area of sales growth? Why do we prop up their bottom line with our citizen's blood?
The kids in Canada and Great Britain watch the same videos and play the same games, yet they somehow avoid gunning down their first graders. While I hate the violence, that probably isn't the key item that the gun lobby would like us to believe that it is.
“At least, last time I looked, that was not a winning formula for any government charged with protecting its citizens from war I have ever known of on this planet.” Visit Costa Rica some time. No army, just a police force. It is also the most stable and peaceful corner of that neighborhood.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Mark
Tue Dec 25, 2012 1:20 AM
Re: Mark;... It would be impossible for us to be ruled as we are with so little to show for our labor and less every day, without expectation of world peace or justice, without hope for the future or promise of a better humanity if fear of each other and fear of the government were not ingrained into us almost from birth... The question of who you can trust is last answered by the government, and if we had government that actually functioned as democracy people would be at once left alone and connected with all who share their problem... A man with a gun is democracy...Who will tell such a man that his vote does not count for nothing??? When we try to export democracy to places where all people are waving a gun what we are trying to export is democracy that leaves the population powerless, and without defense... If you admit that the people must fear technology so mastered by the government that they might touch you from space, listen to your conversations or interrupt your picnics with a personal missle, just your size, from drones on high; then you see your guns are little threat or defense... But little threat and defense from a corrupt and failing government is not no defense... The notion that at heart, the trust of the few and armed is not with the people, not with the majority that is wrong as usual, but is with their communities and denominations is not a happy thought...
The tyranny of the minority is not better than a tyranny of a majority, but tyranny of any sort is dangerous and damned... Consensus is the heart of democracy, and apart from that, for people to be left alone...Self government has nothing in common with majority rule... Majority rule is too easily spoiled by the power of disinterested people... If I have no interest in a subject; then why would I have a vote, and having a vote I do not need, why can I not trade it for some promise of gain??? You see; it is for interested parties to resolve their own issues that the whole people can demand some measure of peace and justice from each... I believe in armed people because democracy as a defensive form of social organization is impossible without the willingness of the people to defend themselves...Still; that government that cannot receive the support of even a sizable minority should fall... Unity should be produced by justice, and justice has gone from this land...It is division that allows our rule, and we cannot expect our government to remove the discord that makes possible their power...The congressional districts cut from the whole to make them rotten bouroughs has worked to radicalize, and to stalemate government...The cure for ineffective government is the same as for stalemated government, but problems do not fix themselves, and until the government crashes the people will have no chance to right their situation..
Comment: #11
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Dec 25, 2012 8:34 AM
As happens from time to time, you lost me somewhere in there, but this line jumped out at me:
"I believe in armed people because democracy as a defensive form of social organization is impossible without the willingness of the people to defend themselves..."
The question is what they should be armed with. That is an important question that the grownups must address.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Mark
Tue Dec 25, 2012 10:50 AM
One more for my list: Close the gun show loophole. ALL gun sales should require the instant check, especially those at gun shows. There is little point to having the check if it is so easily bypassed as it is now.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Mark
Tue Dec 25, 2012 9:20 PM
Re: Mark... Sir, we must address the great fear and disconnect between this people and their government that borders on paranoia; but to truly address this issue is revolution itself... Democracy is the cure for that disconnect; and we will not have democracy without revolution; but those people who are armed represent the greatest fear of the people, actual hatred of the masses who are powerless, property-less, and from the point of view of the country folks: Pointless... Even the mental health care that might have hobbled that blood thirsty nut would likely have been classed with welfare by most of the armed men of this land... I do not think those gun nuts are good Christians or particularly good Americans... The thought that violence is some sort of solution is primitive and degenerate, and common...
Violence and arms are not essential to revolution, but with such people armed, revolution will never be certain because these nuts are usually, if not always the most reactionary and irrational of people... And they fear change... What would be the problem with reasonable limits on clips??? Clearly, the NRA insisting on no change is all but advertizing for change, but time makes memories rust...Emotions at a fever fade... People find other causes for discord, and life moves on... But I promise you this: Life was stopped in its progress for those people killed, and for their families, and all their memories will forever return that moment and every what if...
A society that does not put the protection of its children at a high priority is done; but we have sacrificed our children in many respects... We do not demand justice for ourselves which is the only opportunity we will ever have to give it as a legacy for our young... Now, their blood cries out for justice, and who can we blame but ourselves. and where shall we begin??? I am a red neck with a gun... Johnathan Swift was talking about me when he said: we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another...In guns we trust...
Comment: #14
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:49 PM
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