20 small children, first graders, and 7 adults, were slaughtered by a 20 year old young man with an apparent history of mental illness—a 20 year old young man living with his mother, the first victim, a “gun enthusiast” who was popular in an upper class Connecticut community of “gun enthusiasts.”
The weapons and ammunition which were used in the massacre all belonged to the mother, Nancy Lanza, who , according to reliable press reports, lived comfortably on the annual $325,000 dollars she received from her former husband, Peter Lanza, a General Electric executive, whom she divorced in 2008.
As more and more information is released, most of it human interest material that does little but magnify to the public the shock and sense of depression and sadness, it appears that the issue of semi-automatic weapons, weapons of war, had become an important local issue in this upper class conservative Republican community before the massacre.
Homeowner complaints to the police about the sound of gunfire from these weapons near their homes had touchéd off heated debates between the local officials and representatives of various anti-gun control groups.
I am also told by a friend whose adult daughter lives in a nearby upper income Connecticut community, that this is not a new issue---in these communities there are significant numbers of upper income individuals who hold positions in finance capital, in Wall Street and banking, that enable them to live the “country life” working from their estates away from neighbors and police stations. A great many arm themselves with military grade weapons ready to spray bullets on any potential intruder. They believe that this is essential to their security and point to murderous home invasions in the past to justify their position
And there are also here is in many places on this issue the usual “useful idiots” of the National Rifle Association and similar groups, those who twist the second amendment to the constitution out of all historical context (and for that matter original intent) to proclaim the right of citizens today to “bear arms” which can fire more rounds in a few seconds than a regiment of George Washington’s troops could fire in minutes.
The media coverage seems to me almost schizophrenic. First, there is the emphasis on the psychological suffering of the victims’ families and the larger community. Then there is a focus on the children of the school, the community and the nation. How parents can explain what has happened to them, allay their fears, help them cope and heal? And there is much prayer and condolences.
But then there is a great emptiness where politics and policy should be. The question of gun control is both broached and buried in general media commentary and interviews. That the U.S. is the only “stable” as a friend of mine said, developed and civilized as I would say, nation, without strict national weapons control legislation, is invisible from the discussion.
For example, Juan Cole, a veteran journalist and commentator, recently made two very important but largely unreported points in criticizing media’s handling of the massacre which should be at the forefront of the debate if there is a debate.
The first compared the United Kingdom, Great Britain, which has strict national gun control legislation, with the U.S. which has no such legislation. Last year in the UK, gunshot deaths were 9. Last year in the U.S., gunshot deaths were 9,000!
I would add that Britain today has a rising rate of crime connected to the increase in poverty that the austerity policies of its conservative led government has produced. And that conservative led government is to the right of the Obama administration in its general policies. But, the UK with strict national gun control last year still had 9 gunshot deaths and the U.S. without any serious national gun control policy had 9,000 gunshot deaths.
Of course, once the media drops this story and goes to the next one, it will be business as usual for the NRA and its coalition of “vested interest” gun lobbies. They will repeat the “big lie” over and over again that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” The “useful idiots” will, as they already have begun to (and as they do after every massacre) proclaim that if the teachers had been armed (in this case they can’t say the small children) the tragedy would have been either prevented or reduced in scope.
The other point Juan Cole made was that in 1994, a Democratic Congress passed and President Clinton signed a ban (which was to last for ten years before it was to be renewed) on semi-automatic assault rifles. In 2004, a Republican Congress and President George W. Bush ended that ban. According to press reports, a semi-automatic assault rifle, a weapon especially popular with “gun enthusiasts” and their backers, was the murder weapon in the Newtown massacre.
If the press reports are correct, one can’t expect serious local gun control policy in Newtown or similar communities. Certainly one can’t expect in many states serious gun control policies. And, even where such policies are in existence at the city and state level, here in New Jersey for example and in New York City, individuals can easily purchase these weapons out of state and use them anywhere.
National gun control legislation is the only policy that has worked anywhere and it is the only policy here which can work in the U.S.
A first small step would be for the Obama administration to use its Senate majority and challenge the Republican house to revive the semi assault weapon ban. A second step would be to draft and prepare to educate the electorate around the need for comprehensive national gun control legislation, especially the various machine pistols and machine rifles which in reality are military “weapons of mass destruction.” The third step would be to develop a national policy to administer the return of millions of these weapons which are already in circulation, similar perhaps to the “buy back” policies that some cities have launched to get these weapons off the street, along with hefty fines for those who refuse to comply.
Mourning the dead is certainly necessary. Helping the families and friends of the massacred children and adults cope with the horror is also necessary. And both are admirable a civilized society.
But in a civilized society, the first priority is to address the conditions that produced the horror, to do everything to insure that we will not be mourning the dead and helping their families cope with horrific events, next year, and the year after and the year after that.