I was not planning about Sandy Hook. However, the more I read the news reporting about what happened at the elementary school in Connecticut, and the more I see people forward emails and images purported to be from children at the school or celebrities, the more I feel the need to add my own two cents.
Sandy Hook was, without a doubt, an awful tragedy that placed a small Connecticut town previously known primarily for having the most dangerous intersection in the State, thanks to a large flag pole in the middle of an intersection, on the world map. Sandy Hook was a town where “such things don’t happen”, a place of safety only fifty miles from the big city (New York City).
In the wake of this tragedy, people are asking themselves many things. They ask how this could have happened and how we can ensure this will never happen again.
There is only one correct answer for how this happened and it has nothing to do with a loner, or violent video games, or shooting sports, or a disturbed mind. It happened because some people carry evil and they do evil things. And this is the best and only explanation anyone will ever be able to give.
The question of how we can ensure that this will never happen again is a much more difficult question. Many, reeling from the reporting of the last two days, want something to be done now and immediate – something like stricter gun laws that will keep firearms out of the hands of evil; things such as banning violent computer games; things such as restricting violent movies and TV programs; things such as zero tolerance policies. People want to see their politicians and elected officials do something, anything at all.
What people do not want to do is understand how this could have happened.
Like in modern medicine, we are often too focused on treating a symptom – in this case what inspired (for lack of a better term) the killer and what tools were available to him – instead of treating the disease. This was not a normal, healthy, happy kid. With no exceptions, anyone the news media has spoken to has described him as a quiet kid without any friends who kept to himself and was very uncomfortable being called on in class. He sat in the last row. He had no photo in the yearbook. Some people described him as having a personality disorder while others described him as having Asperger’s Symptom, a type of high-functioning autism. Some Asperger’s children are very violent. But even with the things that are known about him, it’s difficult for people to understand what may have caused him to commit this horrible crime. One can speculate, of course – many types of medications are linked to suicidal or even homicidal thoughts, for example. It’s possible he was on some of them. It’s possible something else was going on that nobody knew about it. I’m sure as the case will be dissected ad nauseam, more details will emerge.
Unlike information about the killer, one thing has very clearly emerged in the wake of this tragedy: that the media cares little about reporting facts once they have been verified and cares everything about being the first, the fastest, to report the breaking news as it happens second by second, regardless of whether the information is correct.
Directly in the aftermath of the shooting, the media, most notably CNN, reported that the killer was 24-year-old accountant Ryan Lanza from New Jersey, plastering photographs taken from his personal Facebook all over the news pages, even causing Facebook to delete the profile. Ryan’s crime? He wasn’t the shooter – he was being targeted by a media so intent on getting the latest information they didn’t check to make sure they had the right man. Ryan is the killer’s elder brother.
As most people get their information from the news media, and more commonly these days from the social media, a lot of people have reacted directly to what’s been written and posted – whether that information is factual or not. Ryan, who lives away from home and has nothing to do with his brother’s crime, has received death threats, has had his picture plastered across the Internet as the killer.
But, more importantly, there’s a segment of the population who is using the false or inaccurate reporting of this case, and similar ones, to immediately push an agenda against legal gun ownership.
To those people I have to say this: you are despicable to exploit such a tragedy to further your political agenda. You are especially despicable for relying on the shoddy media coverage to cite a horrific crime that would have not at all been prevented by tougher gun laws.
I will tell you why.
People have been saying that this killer would not have been able to commit these crimes if a couple of different safeguards had been in place: I have seen them asking on websites to have tougher background checks, a longer process to own handguns, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on any high-powered rifles, and a variety of other things.
The thing that should stand out most for anyone who has actually read the reporting, is that no tougher gun laws would have prevented this crime from happening. Period. Full stop.
The reason it would have made no difference is that the killer did not own or purchase any of the weapons he carried with him into this school. No system of background checks or permit process had failed.
As a matter of fact, the killer attempted to purchase a rifle several days prior to the shooting but was denied. He was denied because he did not want to wait the required 14-day period. Many people may be surprised about the 14-day waiting period. What people do not realize is that Connecticut is among the states that have the toughest gun laws in the US. Not only is there a waiting period to purchase any firearm, including a rifle, that extends beyond the time it ordinarily takes to complete and submit a background check to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), but there are additional requirements, such as extensive bans on certain types of weapons, and local permits that are obtained through, most commonly, the Chief of Police. In Connecticut, you can’t just go to the store and buy a gun.
All of the firearms that were used in this crime were legally owned, registered firearms. They belonged to the killer’s mother, Nancy Lanza, a shooting sports enthusiast who took her sons to the range and enjoyed “the art of shooting.” This may seem like an unusual thing to many people who have not grown up with firearms, but shooting sports are enjoyed by a huge amount of the population and are brought to youngsters across the country at local rod & gun clubs, in 4-H Shooting Sports, the Boy Scouts of America, and the American Legion Junior Shooting Sports Program, among many others. I wish I still had the link – maybe someone else can post it for me? – but studies have actually found that children involved in organized shooting sports have little to no involvement in crime, whether that be gangs, drugs, etc. (where guns are usually glorified).
I guess what it comes down to is this – people can, do, and will use a horrible tragedy such as this to use it for their own political gain, whether that’s to ban firearms or restrict their use. This case is an awful example because there were no firearms here that were illegal. No system had failed to pick up the killer’s mental instability. No background checks were too lax. No loop-holes needed to be closed.
An evil young man in Connecticut took firearms belonging to his mother and turned them on other people – first on his mother (who was still in bed), then on innocent people in an elementary school, and finally on himself. Whether he understood his actions or whether we can understand his reasoning is unlikely. Evil cannot be understood, nor can it be legislated.
Most people who truly mean well instead of pushing an agenda just want a difference to be made, but that difference doesn’t begin or end at gun control, banning violent games, or censoring television. That difference begins with parental responsibility and access to mental health care.
We live in a country where children routinely are drugged from everything from the common cold to being unable to sit still, from having headaches to being badly behaved brats. We, as a society, seek to diagnose and medicate instead of looking for a true fix. Nowhere is this more true than in the mental health field where there’s a stigma associated with any kind of treatment sought or requested – people seeking help for depression are painted as “sad” and “unhappy” when it’s much deeper than that. Soldiers seeking treatment for PTSD are seen as “weak” and “damaged” by their superiors at best, a “danger” to themselves or others at worst. When attitudes about mental health change and people receive the treatment they need, rather than the drug of the day, maybe then we’ll have set into effect useful, helpful change.
There is no quick fix for Sandy Hook. But what fixes there come and are built upon must start with mental health care, and with parental responsibility, which includes the responsibility to ensure that they receive the necessary care. (Something Nancy Lanza did not due, according to friend Dan Holmes.) They do not start with banning firearms.
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