The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in the bucolic town of Newtown, Conn., has shaken the nation, and brought Americans to search for logic in the inexplicable, for a solution that will allow us to say: Never again.
And yet we’ve been here before. At the 1999 massacre at Columbine, when 12 students and one teacher were killed and 24 injured, In 2007 at Virginia Tech, when 32 were shot dead. In 2008 at Northern Illinois University when six were killed. In 2009 at a Binghamton, N.Y., immigration center where 13 died. In 2011 outside a Tucson supermarket where a gunman killed six and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In July, at a massacre in a theater in Colorado, that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
And so we are now at Sandy Hook, a tipping point for a nation under siege. Six educators and 20 children, between the ages of 6 and 7, were killed by one gunman with an arsenal so large — hundreds of rounds — that authorities say the killer, Adam Lanza, 20, could have shot at every child, teacher and staff at the school had he not taken his own life when he heard police closing in.
The reasons Lanza went on a shooting spree on Friday — after killing his mother in her bed and taking several of her guns, including what’s believed to be a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, a civilian version of the military M-16 — remain unclear. But it’s clear that our nation cannot continue to ignore a culture of violence that permeates our social order.
Nor can we look the other way when mental illness looms, as so often happens in such incidents.
Nor can we ignore that gun violence affects children riding the school bus, as happened right here in Miami-Dade County at a charter school when a boy showing off his gun accidentally shot a student and killed her. In 2010, 180 children, up to age 11, were killed by a firearm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Something has to give.
President Obama has called for “meaningful action” to stop future tragedies. Several members of Congress are calling for restoring the 1994 assault weapons ban and creating a national commission. These are all good ideas, but there’s no quick fix.
There are almost as many weapons in the United States as there are people. The Second Amendment allows people to own guns, but the Supreme Court has never said that the government can’t conduct background checks or that assault weapons can’t be banned. Indeed, the Second Amendment does not allow people to own machine guns.
Some gun rights’ supporters like state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, have gone so far as to argue that had the Sandy Hook principal been armed the killer would not have reached the children, but that’s a Band-Aid for a gaping societal wound.
Having a police officer at schools, as many urban counties like Miami-Dade already have, can help but that doesn’t get to the easy access to weapons or our society’s love affair with violence. Having one school official trained and licensed to keep a weapon locked in the office might help, but if that’s the only “fix” it surely does a disservice to those 20 little angels killed at Sandy Hook.
Truth is, gun control laws can only go so far. We should look at everything from Hollywood’s penchant for ever-more-violent movies to video games. We should focus on mental health budgets that never seem to make the priority list from Washington to Miami. We have to look at how we interact in our families and the society at large. For the sake of our children, we must not retreat this time.