Newtown two years on: More guns, more school shootings

Two years after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school shootings in the US continue at the rate of nearly one a week. Most Americans think the main problem is mental illness, not lack of gun control.

Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun/AP
Tarrah Callahan participates in a service at a North Carolinians Against Gun Violence event in Durham, N.C., Thursday. The event was in commemoration of the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

In Newtown, Conn., there’ll be no commemoration on the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14, 2012. Instead, school and town officials say, Sunday is being marked by personal reflection and remembrance for the 20 children and 6 adult staff killed by a troubled young man obsessed with guns.

The school has been torn down, and a new one is being built. The home of the shooter, Adam Lanza, who killed himself as police approached the school, has been acquired by the town, and it too is likely to be destroyed. Lanza had killed his mother there before he set out for the school. A 12-member commission, including some parents of children killed, is planning a memorial site – perhaps a park or garden as well as an indoor art exhibit.

For the 6- and 7-year old first graders who cowered or ran as they saw their classmates killed, counseling and therapy services will be available for the rest of their school years there. Some of the families of those lost are considering wrongful death lawsuits, although it’s unclear who they would sue.

While Newtown grabbed the nation's attention, school shootings remain common across the United States, Reuters reports.

Four students were shot and wounded at an alternative high school in Portland, Ore., Friday. A 22-year old man has been arrested by the police department’s gang task force.

In October, a student in Marysville, Wash., shot five students in a high school cafeteria, fatally wounding four, before taking his own life.

At least 94 incidents, including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings have taken place across 33 states since Newtown, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group created by the merger of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group founded after the attack.

“During the last three months alone, there were 16 school shootings including a single week in which there were five incidents in five separate states,” the group reports. “These school shootings resulted in 45 deaths and 78 non-fatal gunshot injuries. In 32 percent of these incidents at least one person died.”

"It's astounding," Shannon Watts, who founded the Moms group, told Reuters. "There is no other developed country that would tolerate this kind of gun violence around school age children."

In the wake of Sandy Hook, it seemed to gun control advocates that their time had finally come. And yet if anything, just the opposite has occurred.

“In the aftermath of this horror, politician after politician vowed to honor those who were killed. They said they would make our communities safer from gun violence. That no other families should have to experience what the families of Newtown did,” says former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head and nearly killed as she met with constituents in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.

“Yet today, two years later, Congress has done something remarkable: nothing,” Ms. Giffords, who heads Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly, said in a statement Sunday. “Congress remains in the gun lobby's grip. They have refused to act to make communities safer. Yet for all this dysfunction and obstruction, Americans are still calling for commonsense solutions.”

Laws mandating tougher background checks on gun purchases or limiting high-capacity magazines have not been passed.

For gun rights groups, including the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), the emphasis should be on mental health issues rather than limiting gun ownership.

There’s no doubt that mental illness played a key part in Adam Lanza’s rampage. As the Hartford Courant newspaper put it about a study of the case issued last month:

“A report released by the Office of the Child Advocate pointed to … dozens of red flags, squandered opportunities, blatant family denial, and disturbing failures by pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals to see a complete picture of Adam Lanza's ‘crippling’ social and emotional disabilities. Although the report does not draw a line between the events in Adam Lanza's young life and the massacre, it points out repeated examples in which the profound anxiety and rage simmering inside Lanza was not explored in favor of attempts to manage his symptoms.”

As for guns, the trend in public attitudes since Newtown – which initially saw more support for regulating firearm ownership – now favors gun rights over stricter gun control, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

“For the first time in more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys, there is more support for gun rights than gun control,” Pew reported this past week. “Currently, 52 percent say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46 percent say it is more important to control gun ownership…. a substantial shift in attitudes since shortly after the Newtown school shootings.”

The NRA, it seems, has done its job well.

Some family members of the children killed have formed a non-profit organization called “Sandy Hook Promise” aimed at gun violence. One of the group’s projects is a short YouTube video “Monsters Under the Bed” focusing on children’s fears.

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