“WE were in the gym and heard loud bangs”, said a nine-year old boy after the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, where at least 26 were killed, including 20 children. The shooter, who was dressed in battle fatigues, was 20-year-old Adam Lanza, whose mother may have been a teacher at Sandy Hook. His mother was found dead at her home. Lanza was declared dead at the scene.Before the school went on lockdown, children reportedly heard screams over the school’s intercom system. Around 9:40 this morning, not long after the start of the school day, police received word they were needed at the school. As part of a newly implemented security programme, emergency texts were sent to parents. Fighting tears, an ashen-faced and unusually emotional Barack Obama, in an address to the nation said, “Our hearts are broken today.”
And so they are. The stories of heroic teachers who protected their young charges by ushering them into bathrooms and closets are only just beginning to emerge. The images of the surviving children being led out of the school, visibly frightened or dazed, while holding hands are chilling. Parents reunited with their children at a nearby firehouse. 20 sets of parents waited in vain.
Even in a country as accustomed to gun violence (and, increasingly, mass shootings) as America, the murder of 20 children in their elementary-school classroom is uniquely shocking. Earlier this week, a masked gunman killed two people at a shopping centre in Oregon. Over the summer, there were murderous gun rampages at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at a cinema in Colorado. In September, a gunman killed five former colleagues at a manufacturing plant in Minnesota. That same month Mother Jones published a piece showing that of the 139 guns possessed by the shooters, more than 75% were obtained legally.
A tearful President Obama noted that the nation has “endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years” and said that meaningful action is needed to prevent any more from happening, “regardless of the politics”. Unfortunately, other gun-related incidents, such as the one which left Gaby Giffords, an Arizona congresswoman, severely injured and killed six others, did little to push politicians to fight for gun control.
Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor, urged Mr Obama to send a gun bill to Congress. Because of gun violence, he said, “not even kindergarteners learning their A, B, Cs are safe”. Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s defence Fund, wondered what it will take for politicians to stand up and put sensible gun laws in place. Every three hours, said Ms Edelman, a child or teenager is killed by a gun.
America is not alone in suffering mass shootings. In 1996, a gun massacre in a Scottish school in Dunblane killed 16 children and one teacher. The political impact was significant. The next year the Firearms Amendment, which prohibited private ownership of cartridge handguns, was passed. Security in British schools quickly improved, too.
As it happens, halfway around the world, on the same day, a deranged man attacked primary-school students at a school in China’s Henan province. He had a knife. 20-two students were wounded. None died. Adam Lanza had a pair of handguns, and a .223 semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle, which looks like this.
Eleven days ago—since when two mass shootings have taken place, this one in Newtown and another earlier this week at a shopping mall in Oregon—the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) president, referring to yet another shooting, bemoaned the media “[seizing] on the back of this national tragedy to try to piggyback their anti-Second Amendment national agenda right on top of the back of the national tragedy and try to force it on Americans all over the country.” Mr LaPierre, like the NRA’s Twitter page, has been silent today.
Read on: The gun control that works: no guns
(Photo credit: AFP)
Click here to subscribe to The Economist
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.