As a nation, Americans are mourning in the aftermath of tragedy that erupted yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. 20-year-old Adam Lanza, armed with firearms, forced his way into the elementary school and opened fire, killing 26 victims and injuring others. In such an obvious time of trial, especially for those families affected by this senseless violence, I would first like to offer sincerest thoughts and prayers to those who mourn personal losses on this day.

The gunman was said to have been autistic by family members, and while described as “brilliant” by some, others who knew him also described him as “gothic,” or as someone who had behaved in a manner described as “socially awkward.” Lanza was found dead at the scene along with the weapons  he used; two handguns, a rifle, and another firearm, which were recovered nearby.

In the wake of this horror, all persons of good heart and sound mind have been left to contemplate the senselessness of this tragedy. What kinds of things could possibly lead any human being to take the lives of others, let alone those of innocent children? And furthermore, what what kind of elements within our culture have precipitated and influenced the obvious rise in violent acts in our society today?

Teachers and Staff were Heroes

As the information continues to be released by authorities and investigators, we know that the great majority of the victims had, sadly, been children between the ages of five and ten. The school’s principal, along with the school psychologist, who had been with the principal in a meeting when the shots began fire, were among the adult victims. Rushing into the hallway as commotion ensued, both were targeted by the gunman.

Speaking with journalists this morning, Mary Ann Jacobs, a library clerk at the school, described running across the hall, and alerting the classroom nearest hers that a shooting was underway. Both rooms locked their doors, with Jacobs locking her children into a storage closet, creating a barricade with cabinets and furniture. Once police finally arrived, Jacobs and the others in her classroom were too terrified to open the doors.

“We wouldn’t let them in at first,” she said, noting that policemen had passed an official badge and other identification beneath the door to aid in proving that they were in fact authorities.

Victoria Soto, a first grade teacher at the school, hid her students in cabinets and closets. When Lanza appeared, reports say that she told him they were in the school’s gymnasium, at which time she was shot and killed. Following the murderous rampage, Lanza turned his weapons on himself and claimed his own life. His body was recovered within the school.

Apparently identification recovered from the body of Adam Lanza had actually belonged to his brother Ryan, who had been at work at the time. Ryan Lanza claimed he hadn’t spoken to his younger brother in close to two years, and authorities feel that the shooter may have been carrying his brother’s identification in order to confuse authorities. Lanza’s mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was also killed that morning prior to the massacre.

President Barack Obama, himself a father of two, had displayed obvious difficulty as he discussed the matter.”The majority of those who died today were children,” the President said before pausing and gathering his words. “They had their entire lives ahead of them.”

Troubling Questions

In the aftermath of this tragedy, described as the second-worst school shooting in American history, we are left to ponder what kinds of circumstances could lead to the behavior that allowed a twenty-year-old man to behave in such a way. Mirroring President Obama’s words from the day before, when he noted that “As a country, we have been through this too many times,” the startling prevalence of violent shootings like this have indeed become all too common in America today. 

Thus, this will very likely become the event remembered as a game-changer, in terms of the ways our lawmakers and politicians will treat the issue of gun ownership. In the hours following the shooting, while opinions were varied, a large number of individuals commenting on the attack through various social media seemed to wish to avoid discussion about gun control and regulation altogether, focusing instead on mourning and showing genuine compassion.

While the move toward compassion being expressed by so many is indeed promising, this is also a time where many are unsure how to cope with such terrible news; words are often not enough when the grief within is so complicated and troubling. The majority of the parents among us reflect on relationships with their children, while of course, people’s faith, values, and politics certainly do color the range of opinions that surface just as well.

But in terms of expressing genuine care and compassion toward those whose families are now suffering as a result of this shooting,  though the events that transpired on Friday are indeed heartbreaking, we as Americans also have a solemn obligation to weigh the circumstances very carefully, and to consider fully the implications of a weaponized society. While there are indeed obvious dangers with having handguns available on our streets, I am reminded of laws in most states designed to prevent the carry of such weapons onto school grounds, and can’t help but think that, while these laws are designed to keep guns away from certain areas, those with criminal intent will not observe those in the first place. Adam Lanza, whose goal was to kill innocent strangers–and children at that–obviously did not obey those laws, and as more details regarding the shooting come forth, we have now learned that he was not permitted into the school willingly, but may have broken into the building through a window.

So if laws only act as a deterrent primarily against those whom society would not view as dangerous anyway, how far must we go to prevent the senseless acts of this sort that lead to the killing of innocents? Should guns be removed entirely from the streets, and thus remove any and all potential that harm will arise from gun violence?

A lesser-reported incident that, ironically, also occurred yesterday, involved a man armed with a knife who entered a school and attacked and injured close to twenty children. While the fact that this was a “knife attack” may have helped somewhat reduce the impact this story would have, the incident also occurred in China, where an entirely different set of cultural beliefs and, thus, potential motives might have been underlying this sort of an act. While it is indeed odd that a similar attack to what occurred in America would also transpire halfway across the world on the same day, this incident also shows that, in the absence of handguns and other firearms, other weapons can indeed be used to inflict bodily injury, and perhaps even death, when the intention of the attacker is to do so. In fact, the only mass killing in American history that outranks the number of deaths reported in Connecticut yesterday occurred in the 1920s, as a result of a bomb blast.

Meanwhile, there were a number of lesser-reported gun-related crimes that took place yesterday as well. Fox News reported earlier today that a student at Bartlesville High School in Oklahoma is now in custody, pending charges he “plotted to bomb and shoot students at the campus auditorium.” Had the plot transpired, it would have taken place on the same day as the fatal shooting in Connecticut. Additionally, the same day a gunman was killed by responding police at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, after wounding two hospital employees and an officer.

Many individuals who take a hard-line stance on the issue of gun control (and whether they are “for” or “against” it) will indeed seek to politicize the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. But events of this magnitude, and carrying the devastating emotional impact of those transpiring yesterday, must be accepted in stages. An inevitable debate about the control of firearm possession and use will no doubt be taking place soon in America, and perhaps with greater rigor and conviction than ever before. But as we still find ourselves coping with the tragedy on a personal level, we may do best to allow our emotions to subside first, and learn to deal with the heartache that ensues in the healthiest, most compassionate ways possible, before moving forward and allowing emotion to fuel a debate that will, in truth, have much further reaching implications than most others we deal with in our time.


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