The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman opened fire on students and staff members, killing 20 children and six adults. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters
“Guns magnify impulses. Assault weapons and high-capacity clips multiply victims exponentially.”
– Jeffrey Jampel, New York Times website commenter
By Emily Theroux
Two days after the horrific slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults by a suicidal rampage killer armed with a semi-automatic rifle, witless Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert had the basic lack of human decency to use the gunman’s monstrous act for political gain.
Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, died in a hail of bullets while trying to tackle shooter Adam Lanza, during a brave but futile attempt to save more of the nascent lives in her care. On Faux News, the wingnut congressman projectile-vomited obscene National Rifle Association propaganda:
“I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids.”
Oh, really, Louie? And exactly how would that fantasy scenario have gone down? By the time the principal “heard gunfire,” most of those children would already have been mowed down. By the time she unlocked the cabinet, Lanza would have shot her in the back. (And in the hellhole of that darkened Colorado movie theater back in July, armed vigilantes probably would have shot themselves, each other, and many of the people they were trying to protect.)
The Newtown shooter held all the cards: premeditation, deadly intent, the “magical thinking” of mental aberration, the power burst of adrenaline, and the perennial advantage of surprise. He also had a green light (even though it only inadvertently lit the pathway for a maniac looking for easy firepower) from elected politicians and National Rifle Association lobbyists.
Gun apologists like to defer responsibility for shooting rampages in America onto happenstance, or God’s anger at secular humanists for “kicking prayer out of the public schools,” or individual lunatics who would surely have resorted to bombs if they had been prevented by gun-control laws from acquiring firearms.
Among mainstays of the far-right firearms rationale:
1) If more people carried guns, these incidents could be thwarted.
2) Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. If people didn’t have access to guns, they would just use something else.
3) Such mass shootings always happen in states with gun control laws, which are strict enough as it is.
4) The guns Lanza used were legally registered to his mother, so his apparent mental issues wouldn’t have prevented the rampage weapons from falling into his hands.
5) “We need 30-round magazines for target shooting.”
6) The Second Amendment guarantees the absolute right of all American citizens to own as many guns as they want (according to a controversial 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority).
7) “We have the right to defend ourselves.
Targeting NRA talking points with rapier of reason:
1) People who keep guns in their homes or cars for purposes of protection from intruders, muggers, or murderers (including Nancy Lanza) are more likely to injure or kill a family member or loved one” (or themselves) than to use a gun against a threatening outsider, according to Washington Cease Fire, a Seattle gun-control organization that ran a campaign of bus ads urging people “to think twice about owning guns,” after a series of gun accidents killed or wounded three young children (two of them after being momentarily left by their parents in cars with loaded handguns “hidden” under the seats.
A 2011 survey by the Harvard School of Public Health indicated that the health risk of keeping guns in the home is greater than the benefit. “The presence of a gun makes quarrels, disputes, assaults, and robberies more deadly. Many murders are committed in a moment of rage,” wrote Dr. David Hemenway. “For example, a large percentage of homicides – and especially homicides in the home – occur during altercations over matters such as love, money, and domestic problems.” The survey presented no credible evidence that guns reduce injury during a home invasion.
2) Adam Lanza’s attack wouldn’t have ever occurred (or to have been as lethal to so many victims) if he hadn’t had access to semi-automatic guns, and it wouldn’t have taken place “in the blink of an eye” without a 30-round ammunition clip. (By contrast, on the same day as the Sandy Hook school massacre, a deranged man in China attacked 22 elementary school students with the deadliest weapon he could get his hands on in a country with strict gun laws: a knife. Death toll? Zero.)
3) Connecticut does prohibit assault weapons, but the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used by Lanza is exempt from the ban. Republican legislators riddled the 1994 federal ban as well as similar state bans with numerous loopholes that limited the definition of a banned “assault weapon” to include fully automatic firearms (already banned since 1934) and only certain semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines with at least two of five features: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher, and/or a flash suppressor. Most NRA supporters claim the definition is bogus anyway, because even though the high-capacity magazine allows you to shoot much faster than a non-automatic gun would, you still have to pull the trigger each time you fire a semi-automatic.
This point may soon become moot, since the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced plans to “immediately” sell the Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster – after the California teachers’ pension plan suggested it might reconsider its $750 million investment with Cerberus in the wake of the elementary school tragedy. (Making this move even more imperative was the fact that Martin Feinberg, the father of the firm’s owner, billionaire financier Stephen A. Feinberg, happens to live in Newtown, Connecticut and pronounced the shooting “horrendous, truly horrendous.”)
4) You could easily argue that Nancy Lanza was just as disturbed as her son. Described by her own sister as an adherent of a doomsday survivalist cult, she was an avid gun collector and knew her son was mentally unbalanced. Nevertheless, she taught Adam and his brother how to fire guns at shooting ranges. Should she have been able to legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle and multiple-round magazines?
5) The grave danger to our children from semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines far outweighs the fleeting pleasure of pretending to mow down “bad guys” (or federal agents, depending on the imaginative and ideological bent of the individual target shooter). The 30-round magazine used by Lanza was designed to allow soldiers to fire as many rounds as possible (and at a lightning-fast clip) at enemy troops or insurgents, with an optimal goal of killing them while surviving the encounter.
As Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey pointed out on The Ed Show, semi-automatic rifles equipped with high-capacity magazines were designed for use by the military, not for hunting or target shooting. (An Olympic marksman doesn’t use an assault weapon to hit a bullseye, as my husband pointed out. “It’s a power weapon, not a precision weapon,” Lance explained.”You don’t shoot assault weapons to take precise aim but to cut your target in half.” After I heard him out, I rather wished I hadn’t.)
6) Until four years ago, most federal judges agreed with the historic interpretation of the Second Amendment, whose purpose was “to ensure that the ‘state armies’ – ‘the militia’ – would be maintained for the defense of the state,” according to Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court. The amendment, as Cass Sunstein recalled the justice saying in 1991, “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
The D.C. vs. Heller decision in 2008 may have granted a right to bear arms to individuals for the first time, but it didn’t obviate many forms of gun control, Sunstein observed.“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” wrote none other than Antonin Scalia, arguably the court’s most radical member.
7) The truly fanatic gun-rights fringe (folks far to the right of the NRA – like Larry Pratt, executive director for the past 30 years of Gun Owners of America) wants access to assault weapons for what 2010 Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle called “Second Amendment remedies.” Far-right conspiracy theorists have been stockpiling guns and ammo since the president’s first term – not to be used by “a well-regulated militia” to defend “the security of a free state,” but to shore their movement up against the federal government, in case Obama should suddenly ban all gun sales, and proclaim the dreaded “One World Order” – which is considered a very real threat by survivalists.
Others, however, are beginning to disagree. Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan just vetoed a bill, passed the night before the shooting, that would have allowed concealed pistol license holders to carry concealed pistols in churches, schools, and day-care centers. And lifetime NRA member Joe Manchin, the junior senator from West Virginia, uttered words that would have been considered heresy a week ago: “I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in the clip to go hunting.”
With the number of gun deaths expected to exceed traffic fatalities for the first time by 2015, reasonable people need to start paying attention.
Emily Theroux can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.