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Adam Lanza is seen in this photo obtained and distributed by NBC News. Lanza has been identified as the gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

Adam Lanza is seen in this photo obtained and distributed by NBC News. Lanza has been identified as the gunman in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut

How do you forgive the unforgivable? Add to ...

That Marc Lépine killed himself at the end of his rampage gives Mr. Haviernick no satisfaction. Forgiveness, however, would be a step too far.

“The answer is easy for me,” he says. “It’s a straight no. I don’t think that such an action, that destroys families, that was planned all along, I don’t think we can forgive that. I’m sorry, but that’s my position. Maybe I’m a bad person.”

He is not angry any more, but he is not budging. He admits that the tragedy brought his mother and surviving three sisters closer; that it made him a more responsible father. He does not even favour gun control. But he could not forgive Marc Lépine, in part because there was no Marc Lépine left to receive it.

This is the second crime of those who take lives and then take their own – their crime against the survivors.

“Maybe if Lépine had lived, maybe there would be some answers,” Mr. Haviernick says. “Maybe he would have said something. Running around, shooting 14 people, and then kills himself. For what?” He pauses. “To forgive, it would be a bit politically correct. And I think there is too much political correctness.”

Jean-François Larivée took another route. He had been married to Maryse Laganière for four months when Mr. Lépine shot her. “And yes, it is still fresh in my mind,” he tells me.

Mr. Larivée never remarried. He still bottoms out in the weeks before the anniversary, he says; this Dec. 6, he wanted to cry at work, all day. He imagines the family of three they wanted, kids he thinks would be 22, 18 and 12 today. He thinks of her whenever he vacations in Cuba, where they honeymooned, or when he sees cats, because she loved cats – the stab of the ordinary.

He remembers the details of the day too clearly, endlessly reworking them as he tries to find the one that might have changed the outcome of that evening, when police forced him to wait outside the building even as his wife was dying inside. He cries as he recounts it, 23 years later.

“I thought about Marc Lépine many, many, many times,” Mr. Larivée says. “Bizarrely, only very, very, very few times have I felt any physical violence. I don’t see myself killing him with his own gun, or running him down in my car. I see myself stopping him from continuing the rampage, on the stairway.”

In other words, Mr. Larivée tries to forgive himself for not saving his wife, and this saves him from rage at Lépine. “The fact that I don’t have anger towards him makes me think that I did forgive him, somehow, maybe.”

Because there was no one alive to confront and hold responsible, Mr. Larivée instead threw himself into the causes of gun control and violence against women. “I wake up at 3 in the morning, asking, ‘What was the meaning of her life?’ Was that what she was supposed to do? To die at 25? What does this thing mean?

“I cannot give a meaning to the life of someone else. I can only do those things – gun control, violence against women – to give meaning to my life that lost her. To calm down the pain in myself.”

The direct result of these efforts was the federal gun registry. Today, in part as a result of the dismantling of that same gun registry by the Harper government, the Ruger Mini-14, the gun Lepine used, can be easier to purchase, which does make Mr. Larivée angry: “It’s a big slap in the face of the memory of my wife.”

Had he lived, Marc Lépine probably would have been found insane in a court of law, just as Adam Lanza probably would have. The random act of a psychotic person, paradoxically, we at least excuse, if not forgive: The law assumes that he or she is not responsible (which may or may not be a comfort to the relatives of victims).

Having a choice in how we behave increases our responsibility to others. At the heart of the act of forgiveness is the suggestion that we can do better.

What we most easily forgive is also revealing. The heavily massaged post-Sandy Hook debate is rapidly expanding beyond gun control to how mental illness ought to be monitored and policed. At least two senior Republican legislators in Washington have stated that it would be easier, and certainly more desirable, to organize mass control of the mentally ill than to insist on rules about stocking semi-automatic weapons. In other words, they would rather forgive the gun user than the lunatic.

Many people assume that forgiveness is a feeling, a pure instinct, a one-way grant (the original meaning of the word forgive) bestowed in a swoop by the forgiver.

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