Opinion: Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary Unfolds

Photo Credit: Zoe Pacalin. Taken from the Official Channel of the White House.

Obama tears up when speaking about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Friday, December 14th.

On Friday, December 14 at 9 am local time, 20 year old Adam Lanza, a young caucasian male who lived with his mother and was “believed to suffer from a personality disorder,” according to The Daily Post, left his home in Newtown, Connecticut after having shot and killed his mother, and headed to Sandy Hook Elementary School armed with at least 2 handguns.

Following the deaths of 20 elementary school children aged between 5 and 10 years, and 6 faculty members, including the principal and the school psychologist, the nation mourns another school shooting, one with the second highest death toll in its history, exceeded only by that of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 which took 33 lives. With local and state law enforcement as well as FBI on the scene, authorities say they may be working their way through the school until Sunday. Although some initial reports suggested Lanza’s mother may have taught at Sandy Hook, according to the New York Times, the superintendent reportedly said that there was no record of her teaching at the school, neither as a teacher nor as a substitute. Currently it is unclear what motivated Lanza to go to the school.

A relatively affluent town in an equally so part of the state, Newtown, Connecticut was not a place that had any evident underlying tensions to cause this outburst of violence.

“Everyone’s numb…theres a real sense of security in this town that very little  can go wrong here and I think that what’s so disturbing about it all is that…a lot of people know each other” said Newtown resident Linda Lyons.

Melissa Makris, mother of a 10-year-old boy who was in gym class when the shooting began, spoke to her son about his experience. He told her that the teacher rushed them to a corner of the room away from the doors and told them to be very quiet until a police officer came in to get them out of the building. The police officer “said they needed to run and they needed to run fast to the fire station,” said Makris. Fortunately, her son’s class arrived to safety unharmed.

In his speech addressing the tragedy, President Barack Obama, personally affected as a father himself, said “These children are our children and we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

Despite overall ownership of firearms in the US today being at an all-time low, in recent years it seems that massacre shootings have only increased in magnitude and frequency. In July, it was the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado that claimed the lives of 12 and injured 58 more. In August, at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, another single gunman killed 6 and injured 4. Earlier this week, 3 more lives were lost in a shooting at a shopping mall in Oregon.

School shootings specifically are not uncommon. A study conducted by journalists from Mother Jones magazine examined mass shootings (4 people apart from the gunman himself killed in a public place) over the last 30 years. Sixty-one cases were identified, 7 in 2012 alone, making it the worst year thus far, and 12, including Friday’s tragedy, in schools. The results reveal that for the most part, the weapons in these shootings had not been obtained illegally, “and this is a very clear trend… in 80% of the cases, the weapons were obtained legally by the perpetrators” said Mark Follman, an editor from Mother Jones.

Some hope this tragic event at Sandy Hook will galvanize a substantial push for additional gun control, but others are not as confident. Some reflect on the frustrations of years past of the country’s inability to increase gun regulation.

“American politics have been overwhelmed by timidity and cowardice about taking action or even debating serious steps to curb gun violence,” said EJ Dionne of the Washington Post on NPR Friday evening.

David Brooks of the New York Times does not point immediately to gun control. “The people who do this tend to be pretty meticulous… they tend to plan. In a country with 300 million guns I think they are likely to be able to get a gun. I would focus our efforts first on earlier psychological treatment…and I do think… we should have some measures to try to keep guns out of the hands of people who have some kind of violent mental disease.” Studies have in fact shown that psychological instability is common amongst the shooters. But implementing more in-depth background checks begins to approach another obstacle–one of privacy issues.

It seems that there can be no course of action without significant sacrifice. The second amendment was originally intended to maintain the public’s ability to form a militia, but is inapplicable to today’s society. While we hesitate to surrender the rights guaranteed by this amendment, the sacrifice we choose, inadvertently, perhaps, but no less excusably, is that of the lives of the family members of fellow American citizens.

Some argue that is it not guns that kill, but instead people who kill people using guns, emphasizing the fault of the individuals to make those choices. But while perhaps once upon a time a gun’s potential wasn’t much more than that of another weapon such as a knife, today’s technology has taken it far beyond. The gun’s ability to amplify the effects of poor human decisions distinguishes it from the myriad of other weapons available. It is undeniable that the potential damage of guns is too great to be so accessible. We cannot tell the children of America that guns will help keep them safe when elementary school children are, literally, running from them for their lives.