Requiem for Sandy Hook

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Here it was a few days before we celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace. So what does the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre say about the killings the previous week of 20 first-graders and six staff members by 20-year-old Adam Lanza with an assault rifle? LaPierre proposes putting an armed police officer in every school, all 140,000 of them.

No ban on high capacity magazines.
No ban on military-style assault weapons.
No background checks at gun shows.

None of these modest steps or other proposals to reduce gun violence in America will work. Forget it. At least that’s the gospel according to the NRA. Never mind that the country hasn’t attempted serious gun control in years. Never mind that the NRA has repeatedly blocked proposals in Congress to fund research on gun violence.

You have to understand that the firearms industry gave nearly $4 million to the National Rifle Association in the past few years. Controls on what kinds of guns and to whom they’re sold cuts into the industry’s profits. You want to know why there are so many guns in the hands of people who have no business with them? Follow the money.

Most people probably think it’s all about the Second Amendment. Here’s how most constitutional experts see that issue. In the language of the amendment, America’s “well-regulated militia,” is the national guard in every state. The history of the adoption of that amendment shows what the Framers were worried about. It wasn’t to protect our right to overthrow or protect us from the government. That was Charlton Heston’s rendering. Yet that doesn’t make any sense since that would destroy the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Rather, the Second Amendment guarantees that citizens have to means to put down rebellion. Which is what the Supreme Court understood until recently. Still, despite one recent decision, the conservative majority on the current U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t ruled out certain laws to regulate firearms.

You’d think if guns offer so much personal protection highly trained and armed police officers would rarely be killed. But in this country, over a recent 10-year period, 1,320 officers were killed by firearms. What about Nancy, Adam Lanza’s mother? He killed her with her own gun before he headed to Sandy Hook Elementary to kill children. (Most gun deaths, homicide and suicide, occur in people’s homes.)

To be sure, lots of schools have resource officers. But it’s hard to say these officers have prevent shootings. I couldn’t fine research to answer the question. Besides, school shootings are simply so rare. In Columbine High School, where two boys’ rampage left 13 dead in 1999, a sheriff’s deputy did get off several shots at the boys. That didn’t stop the carnage.

In theory, an officer’s presence should deter somebody with a gun who is intent on shooting students. But that assumes such a person is rational. That’s quite a leap. It also assumes the person’s real purpose isn’t to commit suicide.

My wife, a retired school principal, doubts a police officer offers protection against an school intruder. At her first school in a suburb, there were five outside doors. At her last school, in a densely populated urban neighborhood, there were seven. Lots of ways, then, for an intruder to enter a school and the officer might not be aware of the entry. Anyway, I’m not sure an officer is the best judge of who might pose a danger to students or staff.

We do know schools are about the safest place for a child anywhere. The chance a child would be killed from a gun assault in a school is about a million in one. Which of course is small comfort to the parents, family and friends who lost 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary. But let’s get some perspective on this.

Since 9/11, the country not only has moved to replace the twin towers. It has erected all kinds of memorials. It has launched two wars. It has spent billions upon billions of dollars to prevent another such attack. What’s the matter with us? Are we so impotent as a country, so lacking in political will, that we can’t reduce gun violence? Other advanced countries have figured it out. They experience a tiny fraction of our gun violence.

Tears won’t bring back those 20 first-graders. Or their principal. Or the other staff members. Letters of condolence to the surviving students and staff of Sandy Hook offer only painful reminders. Bouquets of flowers left at the school and throughout Newtown, Connecticut, fade and wither. The rest of us will read the pretty poems and sing the touching songs about Sandy Hook. In time, we’ll forget those. What about a lasting memorial?

A fitting one isn’t to attack the mentally ill, though lack of resources remains a national disgrace. It’s not to ban violent video games, though we could do without those. It’s not to put armed officers in all schools. That seems so inadequate and probably pointless.

We owe those beautiful first-graders and those caring adults something better. We owe them new, tough laws on firearms that protect school children. We can name it all the Sandy Hook gun safety legislation of 2013. Then for sure we’ll remember the kids.

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