I feel compelled, more than usual, to write about Friday’s massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. To begin with, I grew up in southern Connecticut, though in the once-industrial center of Bridgeport, not in the much tonier community that is Newtown. No matter, Newtown yet has a ring for me made grimly relevant by the massacre: my mother used to say, when we kids were driving her nuts, “I’ll end up in Newtown.” That’s because its claim to fame in those days was a state mental hospital, known as Fairfield State Hospital, which operated from 1933 to 1995 when it was shut down. It housed 4,000 patients at its peak, encompassed many many buildings, and used to do sweet things like shock therapy, electroshock therapy, and frontal lobotomy.
Today, the site has been taken over by the town, most buildings razed, and new municipal and sports complexes erected on the grounds, but its legacy remains—most grimly when I heard about Friday’s shootings, and was thus already prepared for my conclusion: yet another nut case with access to America’s favorite weapons.
As it turned out, that wasn’t a bad guess. The shooter’s name was Adam Lanza, and so far we know that his mother, whom he apparently killed first, at home, was somehow connected to the school—not as a teacher, as initially reported, but perhaps as a classroom aide. Adam, around 20 years old, fit the typical mass murderer profile: not very sociable, nor competent at anything useful, but quite bright. According to most reports, on Friday he dressed himself up in combat gear—black fatigues, bulletproof vest—and, after shooting his mother in the face, drove her car to the Sandy Hills Elementary School and burst in firing. He had the weapons we’re all familiar with by now: a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol (probably with extended 30-round magazine), a Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol (also with extended magazine) and, either with him or in his car, a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle. All were said to have been registered in the name of his mother, which makes one wonder whether she was a gun fan too, or whether she did the craziest thing of all and purchased the guns for her son. I heard one analyst last night speculate on what may have been the motive: Adam, a son living in a home absent of a divorced father, may have been jealous of his mother’s attention to her little students, and so killed her, and then as many of them as he could to magnify his statement.
But, in truth, the latest reports cannot find any school connection for Nancy Lanza, so this could be nonsense. More important, this speculation about motive misses the real point—one I’ve made several times before. It’s not what prompted yet another American kid to murder. It’s the fact that someone in this chaotic mental state had easy access to the most lethal weapons on the planet. Police speculated that he probably fired 100 rounds or more. Imagine. Hundreds of bullets spraying everywhere in a school, or a classroom (one gets ill thinking of what may have gone on in a single classroom) filled with little kids, in seconds. Minutes. And in their wake, six or seven adults, mostly teachers protecting their charges, lying dead (including the school principal); and no less than twenty children, mostly kindergarteners, their worst nightmares having come true. My first reaction was “who could slaughter children like this?” “What species of monstrosity could do such a thing?” (Again, recent coroner’s reports say that most victims were shot at close range—very intentionally) But again, that’s not the key here—though the emotional impact of babies being willfully snuffed out like this might have some effect in the main debate. The key is the weapons. Insane people (and, in my view, anyone who keeps such weapons in a home is insane) can buy weapons like these, and even more lethal ones, with little more than a credit card. Gun shows proudly display these and other high-firepower wares for the great “sportsmen” of America; for the legions of paranoid assholes who argue that the only way to stop violence is to be armed to the teeth oneself. There have been photos online today of Israeli teachers with assault rifles over their shoulders watching over their kids. And one idiot commented that American teachers and schools should do the same: every teacher in every classroom should have a weapon in her desk or closet and be prepared to use it. Christ Jesus (the great unwashed no doubt would argue that even Christ would use a gun if he were an American).
So get ready to hear the whole weary song being repeated in the coming days. It’s already started. We need more gun control. We need to have stricter licensing. We need a prohibition on assault weapons (pistols, like the Glock, are just fine; as are hunting rifles, in this view). But then the counter-attack: what about our Constitutional right to bear arms? What about our need to protect ourselves from all the criminals out there? all the terrorists out there? all the dark malcontents who plot daily to rob us blind out there?
And the whole history of America will come into play once again. The nation, these United States, and before that these thirteen colonies, were born in violence. Guns were viewed as the prime necessity in a land that was being occupied, brazenly stolen, from its original inhabitants. Because these ‘savages’ had a nasty way of resisting their dispossession; so the only ‘good’ one was a ‘dead’ one. Guns were also the prime necessity where human beings were shipped in chains from Africa and sold as chattel laborers—because these slaves had the nasty habit of resisting the ‘natural law’ of their enslavement and tended to run away. So the only way to keep one’s ‘property’ from disappearing, or worse, turning on its owner, was to keep it sighted down the barrel of a gun—and to lynch a few every now and then for didactic purposes. What’s sad is that the very same arguments are used now—updated for popular modern consumption, but essentially the same. Property must be protected. Rights must be protected. No true American can depend on the government. So the best protection, the only way to protect what you have, is a good gun. Or several.
We all know what comes next. The pusillanimous pieces of excrement we elect to the United States Congress, some of them, will make a few noises about this latest tragedy, and wring their hands over the challenge of balancing American freedoms against the safety of our children, and give heartfelt interviews on news programs and talk shows. And then every proposal will be talked out and delayed and the deaths lamented and regretted until finally the whole issue will die of neglect, and fear. Fear not of the hundreds of thousands of shootings, the deaths of innocents. But fear of the National Rifle Association and its ability to mount phone and letter-writing campaigns threatening to vote against the ‘traitorous bastards’ who would strip red-blooded Americans of their gun-toting rights.
And we will all wait for the next massacre, and wonder, ‘now how did a nut case like that get his hands on weapons of mass destruction like that?’
And the deaths of innocents will continue.
Unless—and one barely has the temerity to hope—this time is different. Unless..we remember the opening line of John Milton’s most famous sonnet:
“Avenge, O Lord, they slaughtered saints…”
And avenging takes the form, at long last, of a gun-control law that can begin to remove, if not the occurrence, at least some of the probability that a crazy person can so easily, so quickly, slaughter so many innocents.