Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre: Making Sense of the Senseless

It is with a heavy heart and shock that I write this today, mere hours after an unspeakable tragedy. I normally don't write on issues like this, but felt it was necessary for a variety of reasons, chief among them: all the children who died today were under the age of 10, just babies.   

Can you picture your elementary/grammar school? Bright colors, crayons all over the place, glue stuck to your desk, the smell of the pencil sharpener mixed with the restless anticipation for snack time and recess? Can you picture your textbooks and construction paper and runny noses?  

As of this post, 20 children will never experience that again. Everyone can agree, their thoughts and prayers are with the parents of Newtown.  

Gun ownership, use, and laws have inevitably become the topic of discussion since this morning. Gun control laws are the focus and a source of division, something beyond comprehension to friends and colleagues abroad who wonder why this keeps happening here without any drastic legal change. Here are some tweets of today to illustrate the various reactions: 

Social media has just heightened the emotion and speculating of an already divided public on the issue of gun control. In this era of immediate information; please remember the following, verify your sources before jumping to conclusions about the victims, circumstance, shooters, etc. The last thing the story of any tragedy needs is confusion piled on top of emotion.  

For those who think this isn't the time to have the lengthy, legal discussion: it's too late.  Too late to be proactive, but not too late to prevent another mass shooting. Gun control laws will likely be at the top of the Obama administration's agenda from here on out, or at least the public outcry seems to say that it should be.  

With so many very young children involved, it is difficult as a public, and for me personally, not to demonize gun owners. There are responsible gun owners, even I as a "liberal" feel that way despite what I feel today. Vilifying the NRA will not make them change their position. It hasn't worked for 30 years and an astonishing amount of mass shootings since Columbine in 1999. It will not be an effective tool against decision makers using the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Technically, if you are a strict interpreter of the document, we do have the right to bear arms. But, as later Amendments and the very existence of the Supreme Court prove, the Constitution is a living, breathing document meant to grow with the country not hold it back from growth.  

There are other, bigger issues to focus energy on as well. As Anant Raut, a Washington, D.C., lawyer says: "The point is not that criminals would still find a way to obtain automatic weapons illegally. The point is that no one needs to obtain an automatic weapon legally."  

There is also and oft-ignored, but still crucial, component to this and other mass shootings. As Public Defender Mary Katherine Burke puts it so accurately, "mental health is also a huge factor in these shootings. The mass murderers tend to be young males, typically white, who had long standing mental health issues that went untreated. These shootings will continue while people can gain access to guns lawfully. The shooters weren't [necessarily] violent criminals before...[not your  typical] rap sheet or arrest record, but all had deep depression, untreated mood disorders and families who didn't know how to intervene or thought of mental health problems as an embarrassing family matter. Health care for [the] mentally ill needs to be addressed with expanded healthcare options. Is it constitutional to include mental health in background checks? That would be highly controversial, but as these tragedies consistently show, should be necessary." It is a difficult realization to come to, but the Sandy Hook shooting was not only a tragedy for the loved ones of those innocent victims, but also for shooter's family. Mental illness led to choosing an easy to acquire weapon of choice. In this case unfortunately they were guns. 

The logic that guns are used for protection is circular at best. If no one had guns, no one would need one to protect themselves against them. There are tragedies of war in Syria where children die everyday in more anonymous strikes of bombs and missiles. There is the story of a horrific knife attack at a school in China. Perhaps owning firearms in those situations may have helped as a defense, but no child should have to face that possibility, not in this country. Or at least, that's the sentiment I keep hearing. It hurts more when it hits close to home in a place not unlike the very schools we have all attended.  

Just one day before this tragedy, the state of Michigan passed a law allowing "highly trained gun owners" to carry concealed weapons in schools and day care centers.  The institutions can "opt-out" of the new law, but the larger issue at hand is, why was it even considered necessary to allow guns into schools? What actually defines a "highly trained gun owner?" More importantly, what kind of compromise can we come to in the hopefully very near future where gun owners and those opposed to it feel safe and free?  

I leave you with an interesting video from Colin Goddard, a student who was shot four times at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. This is not to say that what happens here is a common occurrence but it is something even responsible owners of guns should think about: