America in a State of Shock: Can Latest Massacre Lead to Change?

By SPIEGEL Staff

Twenty-seven people died in the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Most of the victims were young children. For years the weapons lobby in America has prevented the passage of effective gun control legislation. Will Friday's tragic killings lead to a sea change?

A child at the site of the Newtown massacre in Connecticut on Friday Zoom
REUTERS

A child at the site of the Newtown massacre in Connecticut on Friday

When every channel on television is showing aerial images of a scene in which blue lights are flashing on the ground below, when black-and-yellow crime scene tape flutters around nondescript buildings, often in a seemingly idyllic small-town environment, most Americans know that they are about to watch yet another horrific news story. On Friday, that story came from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 young children were killed, as well as six adults, killed by a young man who had gone on a rampage and then turned one of his guns on himself.

He had come to the school shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Friday, armed with two pistols, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm, a high-powered .223-caliber, semi-automatic AR-15 Bushmaster rifle used to kill most of his victims as well as a fourth weapon that was found in his car outside the school. After his arrival, witnesses say they heard a long series of what they described as "plop-plop-plop" noises, possibly up to 100 gunshots, mixed with the sounds of screaming, crying and falling bodies.

Before going on his rampage, he had shot and killed his mother at her home, where he was living. His mother had worked at the school's kindergarten. In a hail of bullets, the gunman killed the principal, the school psychologist and 18 children mostly between the ages of six and seven, some in his mother's classroom. Two other children later died of their wounds in the hospital. The murderer, who police identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also died. He turned his gun on himself as the first emergency responders closed in on the scene. The guns had been registered in his mother's name. Lanza would have been too young to register the weapons in his own name. Indeed, the nightmarish story reads like a dark venture into the abyss.

"Heartbreaking" became the word of the day, as hardened newscasters fought to hold back their tears. In Newtown, in the eye of the hurricane and in the silence following the shots, children who had survived told the media what they had heard, seen and experienced. They talked about how they were afraid of the "loud banging noises," and about hearing someone in the auditorium who shouted: "Don't shoot." Outside the school, the small-town world of Newtown, a city of 27,000 people, was divided into groups of overjoyed parents and the devastated mothers and fathers who had just lost their children. One woman told CNN: "We live in a nice town. Sandy Hook is a nice school. This sort of thing doesn't happen here."

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Photo Gallery: Horror and Emotion in Newtown
A letter from Pope Benedict XVI, in which he expressed his condolences and sought to comfort the people of Newtown, was read out loud at a church service on Friday evening.

It was a national tragedy, especially happening as it did now, shortly before Christmas. The social networks have become blackboards of mourning, filled with prayers, expressions of shock and good wishes to the victims' families.

President Barack Obama, who had been briefed at 10:30 a.m., less than an hour after the killings, lost his voice for several seconds a number of times during a press conference on the shootings, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. It was a devastating picture.

'We Can't Accept Events Like this As Routine'

"I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do," the president said. "The majority of those who died today were children. Our hearts are broken." America has "endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," Obama continued. "These children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." It sounded as if the old American debate over tougher gun laws were about to be reopened. But commentators are skeptical.

The president followed up at a memorial service for the victims in Newtown on Sunday by again hinting he might take more assertive steps on weapons control. "No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society," he said. "But that can't be an excuse for inaction." In the coming weeks, he added, "I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens ... in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?"

Only a few minutes had passed since the gunshots were fired when Philip Gourevitch, a well-known writer for the New Yorker, vented his anger. Commenting first on Twitter and then in a longer Blog entry, he reviled American politicians as cowards for being incapable of standing up to the powerful gun lobby. "If I say our lawmakers & gun laws are killing us I'll be told now ain't the time," Gourevitch tweeted.

An Issue that Can Decide Elections

In fact, words like Gourevitch's are often American politicians' first reaction to yet another bloodbath. Little is as sacred in America as the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which many Americans believe establishes the right to bear arms. Even the Connecticut State Constitution clearly states: "Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state." Connecticut is so generous in its interpretation of the Second Amendment that guns are almost as accessible as tennis rackets. The laws are written in precisely the way the National Rifle Association (NRA) wants them to be.

The NRA has about 4.3 million members and an annual budget of about $250 million (€190 million) -- enough to pay for plenty of lobbying activity. The organization and its supporters have managed to turn gun ownership into a symbol of the state of freedom in America. So far, hardly any US president has dared to fundamentally challenge this position.

Former Democratic President John F. Kennedy was an NRA member, as was former Republican President Ronald Reagan. It wasn't until 1993 that significant gun-control legislation was passed, when then President Bill Clinton signed the so-called Brady Bill, which required gun buyers to submit to an FBI background check. But some of the bill's provisions were watered down only five years later.

Politicians know that the issue of gun ownership can decide elections in key states like Ohio or Pennsylvania. "I'm not going to take away your guns," then presidential candidate Obama said in 2008. Although he cautiously advocated tighter restrictions on gun buyers and a ban on especially dangerous assault weapons, Obama also gave gun owners more freedom when he signed laws that allowed people to carry them on trains. Just a few days before the Newtown massacre, the Republican-controlled state legislature in Michigan enacted a new law that allows guns in classrooms.

This helps to explain why the White House's initial reaction to the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday was so predictable. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that it was a day of mourning and not "a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates" on gun control.

The New Yorker wrote these disillusioned words about the response to the Connecticut shootings: "This is the way that we deal with such incidents in the U.S. -- we acknowledge them; we are briefly shocked by them; then we term it impolite to discuss their implications, and to argue about them. At some point, we will have to stop putting it off, stop pretending that doing so is the proper, respectful thing. It's not either. It's cowardice."

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1. Nope
fcjman12 12/17/2012
No it will not. But don't point the finger at us. We are proud Americans and love our freedoms including the right to own arms. Yes it was a tragedy, but it happens everywhere even in countries who banned gun ownership. feel terrible specially for the kids. I wish that the coward didn't took his own life to face punishment. Look at yourselves first. Nazism is growing in your country. Solve your problem first before you criticize us
2. No easy solutions
mischa.mark 12/17/2012
Empty forum! How come? A similar article in the German section of Spiegel online provoked a massive flood of contributions. I read most of the entries and should I be asked: what was the gist of it? it would be difficult to give a clear answer, so divergent were the single entries. What was clearly visible though, is the abyssal divide between mainstream American opinion and its German counterpart. Many persons in the German forum voiced the somewhat blue eyed opinion that a total ban of weapons for the ordinary citizen would be a panacea against this kind of outrage. Others (among them Germans living in the U.S.) said that wouldn’t make much difference anyway and the proposition was unrealistic and stupid. Some rather ineptly described cars and even things like bed-pillows as potential weapons. It's kind of weird to see that for the average American all evil seems to stem from too much state control, whereas especially for left-wing Germans it's exactly the opposite. There were some, including myself, who pointed their finger at aggressive computer gaming and the effect on people who could be described as "loners". That provoked some fairly straightforward comments from gaming enthusiasts, who snapped back that they played those games all the time, but didn't go on the rampage every other day killing innocent people. Then there was speculation about the effects of the autistic condition the perpetrator appeared to suffer from, with some attacking the American healthcare system, arguing people with similar conditions were just being fed drugs and weren’t properly attended to. Promptly some sufferers of autism came forward and said that condition doesn't automatically make you a killer. Somebody cleverly asked, why it appears only males are doing this kind of thing. In my opinion even a total ban on fire arms would not have stopped people like the Unibomber in the U.S. or Breivik in Norway. People who carefully plan a massacre and have the resources, guts and wits to carry it through cannot be stopped. On the other hand, a youngster who just blew his lid completely, and is just stark raving mad at anybody cannot easily perform a mass killing like the one here without the proper tools. That said, does a ban solve the problem that person has in it's psyche? Certainly not. It’s also appears those acts are typically not carried out by the average bully terrorising all the kids in the neighbourhood, but by youngsters who don't make much kind of an impact. So what's going on in the heads of those persons? Shooting your mother and other kids in the face, that is monstrous! Even battle-hardened fighters avoid that kind of thing. There definitely is an influence of "killer" gaming to be seen here, in my opinion. Norwegian mass-murderer Breivik stated he had to "harden" himself with endless gaming sessions in order to be able to kill routinely without emotion for his "purpose". I believe only a careful analysis of the perpetrators psyche can bring out parallels in their respective cases and those insights should tell politicians to change things in modern society that facilitate this kind of monstrous doings.
3. Politicizing tragedy
dhawpe 12/18/2012
Many people are encouraging the country not to politicize this tragedy. But why shouldn't we? It needs to be politicized. Not to point at fingers at anyone, but to force change. Especially a change of mindset within the stubborn gun lobby, cowardly Congress, the greedy entertainment industry and in our homes and schools. Most of us cannot imagine getting in a car without buckling up these days, although seat belts were once ridiculed as an assault on our freedom. Drinking and driving used to be cool until we understood the carnage it leads to. The horrible school bus tragedy in Carrolton KY not only raised the issue of drunk driving , it also led to improved school bus safety. For centuries African-Americans were spit on, harassed, jailed, thrown out of restaurants, tortured and killed until Lyndon Johnson politicized the Alabama State Police's bloody assault on civil rights marchers in Selma in March of 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 began to change the country's attitude. Like it or not, in a country where there is no homogenous culture and no national social conscious, oftentimes the only way to address issues is through the political process. Politicians possess the tools to shift attitudes towards gun violence. Let's pray they can muster the courage and the will...
4. "Will Friday's tragic killings lead to a sea change?"
vokietukai 12/20/2012
"Will Friday's tragic killings lead to a sea change?" If the Gramscians have their way, yes (in the form of more gun control). Not to mention that "change" has already been underway: the U.S. didn't start having this sort of killings until AFTER the Gramscians (aka Red Diaper Doper Babies and their minions) took over all the organs of influence: educational system, TV, radio, publishing houses, newspapers, mainline churches, professional associations (AMA, APA, MLA, etc.), judiciary. EVERY venue they get their hands on becomes a pulpit for their stealth religion...which cleverly disguises its own agenda by constantly accusing non-Gramscians of trying to foist a "theocracy" on the U.S. Don't make me laugh: their projections on their opponents reveal your ***OWN*** actions/attitudes. A major case of collective Borderline Personality Disorder transference.
5. gun sales are up
nevermind 12/29/2012
Zitat von fcjman12No it will not. But don't point the finger at us. We are proud Americans and love our freedoms including the right to own arms. Yes it was a tragedy, but it happens everywhere even in countries who banned gun ownership. feel terrible specially for the kids. I wish that the coward didn't took his own life to face punishment. Look at yourselves first. Nazism is growing in your country. Solve your problem first before you criticize us
The only reaction from the NRA was that gun sales are up and that their solution is to place more guns into schools. Fighting the devil with a little Beelzebub,eh, Automatic weapon sales have emptied the shelves of gun shops everywhere and the NRA buoyed by this, has decided to big it up some more and oppose international arms trade restrictions to dubious rogue states in a clear and flagrant breach of their responsibilities. The NRA has is not a supra national organisation and their big mouth tactics and arm twisting which might work on 50 US senators has no relevance in the wider world. Arming guards and militarising soft targets and talking all tough, when you can't discount for people's anger, sense of injustices, economic frustration and much more emotive reasons, is not intelligent. And, you, proud fcjman12, can stop trying to justify your barbaric excesses with extolling your rights, berating us as to whether we can discuss your current drive towards defending your stupid priorities. We talk about it, because we do not want such proliferation here, you are not an example, but the pits.
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