Six years ago today, a twenty year old with a detailed history of mental illness walked into a first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. He was armed with a 12 gauge semiautomatic shotgun, a semiautomatic rifle, and two semiautomatic hand guns. That was only a portion of the arsenal that he had daily access to, as several more firearms were later found in his home.
He never should have had such easy access to these killing machines, as he had repeatedly chatted online about mass killing, hating fat people, and his interest in pedophelia. He also kept a spreadsheet containing intricate details about over 400 previous incidents of mass violence in America, dating back to the 18th century. This was not a well or healthy human being, yet he had instant access to military style weapons.
We all know what happened. He killed 20 first graders and six teachers. Several of the children had more than ten bullets in them.
There was six year old Charolette Bacon, who won the battle with her mom that day to wear her new pink dress and boots to school that day. She “never met an animal she didn’t love” and hoped to be a veterinarian when she grew up.
There was Josephine Gay, who went by the nickname “Boo” because of her resemblance to the character of the same name in the children’s movie “Monsters Inc.” She had just turned seven three days before she was murdered. She was well known in her neighborhood as she loved to rider her bike, and sometimes set up a lemonade stand.
There was Jesse Lewis, age six. He loved to be goofy. He would often make his family laugh by pretending to be an old man, pulling his pants up to his chin while walking around hunched over with a scowl on his face.
There are seventeen more stories of children full of potential and promise who had their futures ended that day, before they ever had a fair chance to get them started. Also murdered were the six teachers who dedicated their lives to helping kids learn and grow.
They all had families, friends, and people who knew and cherished them that have been forced to carry on in the face of monumental and daily grief. People like Arielle Ponzer, now 12 years old who was also at the school that day. She survived, but her twin brother Noah did not. There is Robbie Parker, who’s daughter Emilie was killed that day. Emilie had two sisters, who were three and four years old at the time of the massacre. Imagine the pain that Robbie Parker must feel every single time he drops his surviving children off for school.
Most of the rest of us will never forget the images of the parents waiting on the chilly December day to be reunited with their children. We will remember their group shrinking until they were called into a room to be notified by the police that those reunions would never happen. We will remember the tiny coffins.
So many said, “At least this will be a tipping point. At least America will finally do something to deal with this problem. This will be the moment of change.” We were wrong. The Center for Disease Control released a report today indicating that nearly forty thousand Americans were killed by guns in 2017. That is the highest number since the agency began tracking gun deaths in 1979. It is up by more than 10,000 since 1999.
America has repeatedly shown that when it wants to devote its energy and resources to fixing or reducing major problems, it can. In 1982, when seven people were killed because of poisoned Tylenol bottles, we made significant changes to the packaging of all pills and medicine. We even passed stringent federal legislation to ensure the safety of our medicine. Although nothing is 100 percent safe, tampering with pills has been virtually unheard of since. In 1966, there were over 50,000 automobile related deaths in America. We passed the “National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act” in 1966 that introduced safety improvements for vehicles, road markings, drivers safety courses, etc. By 2014, we had reduced the number of traffic deaths in America to just over 32,000. (Really impressive when you consider there are about twice as many drivers on the road now.) Consider the success we have had when we attacked other killers like smoking, drinking and driving, H.I.V./A.I.D.S, airplane travel etc. When we want to stop something badly enough, we usually do. At what point will we do the same with gun violence?
The kids of Sandy Hook would be seventh graders today. They would be getting ready for Christmas break, playing basketball, swimming, wrestling, singing in their choir, playing in their band, and doing all the other things seventh graders are supposed to do. Most importantly, they would be alive.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but is surely not doing more of the same. Continuing to do next to nothing is an insult to the victims of Sandy Hook, their families, and all the future children destined to join them. This will not be fixed with tweets, bumper stickers or memes. It is a complex and difficult problem, but one we all should be trying harder to answer. We owe it to them.
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