The sorrow of Sandy Hook
After Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood, Newtown, Connecticut has joined the sorrowful litany of places whose names have become synonymous with slaughter. Even by the standard of recent mass shootings in the United States, last Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was exceptional in its horror and cruelty.
Of the 20 children murdered, 16 were six years old and the other four were just a year older. The youngest victim, Noah Pozner, celebrated his sixth birthday only last month. Images of the surviving children holding on to one another as they were led from the school, their eyes closed to avoid seeing evidence of the bloodshed, underscored the fact that this was a slaughter of the innocents. “Our hearts are broken today,” a tearful President Barack Obama told a White House press conference in the hours after the shooting. “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”
There is a grim familiarity about the response to Friday’s shooting as Americans struggle to understand how and why it happened. Much of the media focus has been on the background of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old gunman who is believed to have murdered his mother before the rampage and killed himself after leaving six adults and 20 children dead at the school. Mr Obama spoke vaguely about the need for “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics”. But his spokesman insisted now is not the time to discuss gun-control legislation . Last year, the president called for a “national conversation” after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona. No recent mass shooting has prompted anything more substantial than such platitudes from lawmakers, however, and US gun laws – already among the most liberal in the world – are becoming even less restrictive. In the days before Friday’s massacre, legislators in Michigan passed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons in schools; Ohio passed a bill allowing guns in cars in the Statehouse garage; and a federal court overturned a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois.
Popular support for gun control has fallen sharply in recent years as politicians – Democrats as well as Republicans – shy away from any confrontation with the gun lobby. Of the 12 worst mass shootings in US history, five have taken place since Mr Obama took office but the president has resisted every opportunity to take a stand on gun violence, stressing the enforcement of existing laws rather than new measures to control guns. Mr Obama must now find the political courage to take the lead on gun control before the next town follows Newtown in America’s litany of sorrow.