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Sandy Hook school shooting: Few easy answers for a violent culture (+video)

Adam Lanza, a troubled 'genius,' reportedly shot and killed 20 elementary school pupils and seven adults, including his mother, before killing himself in Newtown, Conn., on Friday. The national tragedy has sparked a search for ways to stop a senseless streak of mass killings.

By Staff writer / December 15, 2012

New Jersey resident Steve Wruble, who was moved to drive out to Connecticut to support local residents, grieves for victims of an elementary school mass shooting at the entrance to Sandy Hook village in Newtown, Connecticut, Saturday.

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New details in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre suggest that the alleged shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, may have suffered from autism or a personality disorder and also had easy access to high-powered weapons – a combination of unique circumstances that may complicate President Obama's call for broad "meaningful action" in the wake of a national tragedy.

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The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday pose many difficult questions about American views toward mental health problems among disaffected young men as well as possible impacts of a violent media and gun culture.

But the tragic events, experts say, also offer a unique opportunity for America to reassess its values and culture without getting bogged down by politics – a development that could yield possible solutions to a streak of mass shootings this year that have ended with a total of 65 Americans – including, now, 20 school children – losing their lives in swirls of high-powered gun fire, primarily with young, intelligent and disinhibited men behind the triggers.

"Clearly, this is a young man who was very, very angry and willing to express his anger in almost unthinkable ways," says James Cassidy, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven. "But I think we do also have to look at ourselves here. Yes, it's unclear … what factors were the most prevalent, but certainly the fact that we have a mental health system that is failing right now plays a role. We're also coming to understand that while violence on TV, in movies and in lyrics haven't led to more crime, it does appear that a certain faction of society is vulnerable to such violence, that it disinhibits them in some way."

The Monitor's View: Newtown shootings: What to say to ourselves

Police say Mr. Lanza, a former honor roll student known to carry a black briefcase to class, killed his mother and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he forced his way into the school.

Once inside, he killed 20 children, six adults, and finally himself in a hail of rapid gun fire that took place, police say, in two separate areas of the school, including a classroom. The three guns found by police – two semiautomatic pistols, a Glock and a Sig Sauer and an assault-style Bushmaster rifle – were registered to Lanza's mother.

Coming 10 days before Christmas and becoming the seventh major mass shooting of the year, the coldblooded and senseless brutality of the Sandy Hook massacre shook Americans to their core. President Obama wiped away tears and had to collect himself as he addressed the nation Friday afternoon, saying Americans have to take "meaningful action" to thwart such senseless violence.

It won't be an easy task, given the country's fiscal situation and reticence to tinker with hard-fought gun rights.

Bottom line: It's difficult to "figure [mass shootings] out and try to predict [them] without trampling on the Constitution and certain inalienable rights guaranteed when this country was developed," says Scott Belshaw, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Texas, in Denton.

To be sure, gun control advocates, having largely lost the legal arguments in the wake of major court decisions affirming Second Amendment rights to own and carry guns for self-defense, are now primed to push forward new gun control legislation. Since the sun-setting of the assault weapons ban in 2004, Congress has shored up state reporting of gun purchases, but has not passed any major gun control law.

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