Sandy Hook: When Are We Going to Protect Our Children and Act on Gun Control?

5 years ago

I’m going to talk about the epidemic of gun violence in this country and my outrage as a parent. So if you're going to protest "it's too soon" or "it's inappropriate now" or that it's "offensive," you can just move on. If you’re going to tell me that semi-automatic rifles and Glocks are not the problem, that guns don’t kill people, people do, save your breath.

Or as Scott Ostrosky, owner of a gun range in Newton where he and his friends regularly shoot automatic weapons, put it after the massacre at Sandy Hook:

"Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” Ostrosky told the NY Times. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.”

Tell that to Emilie Parker’s dad, Robbie, who bravely faced the cameras to eulogize his sweet little girl. Or to to Noah Pozner’s mom. She buried her son Monday afternoon. Or to any of the other 18 parents whose children were slaughtered with weapons more commonly used in war.

Credit Image: © Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal/

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday was the second-worst school shooting in American history. This time they were babies, six- and seven-year-olds who were wiggling in their classrooms on a bright winter morning before Christmas when a shooter in combat mode and armed to the teeth burst in and slaughtered them. (A word here: I’m not going to mention the shooter’s name.)

We know now, among other horrifying details, that some children were shot point-blank, some as many as 11 times. That one six-year-old girl had the staggering presence of mind in the face of such terror to play dead. When it was over she ran from her classroom covered in blood. My friends are all dead, she said.

My friends are all dead. What that little girl saw and heard as she lay among her little classmates we will never know. Will she ever be OK?

Another random fact from the Newton shooting: The AR-15 used by the killer is apparently so popular it is called the “barbie doll of firearms." It was also the weapon the shooter used in Aurora. And it was also the weapon used by the "nice" young Oregon man who yelled "I am the shooter" as people were Christmas shopping at Clackamas Town Center in Portland, before he killed two people, including a hospice nurse.

Some idiot in Congress actually suggested that if only principal Dawn Hochsprung had had an AK-47 she could have taken the shooter out. She could have saved all those children. She’d probably be alive now herself. Instead, she tried to stop the killer with only the force of her body and a ferocious instinct to protect the children in her school.

She paid with her life.

So now Dawn Hochsprung is to blame for Sandy Hook. That is obscene.

What happened on Friday morning in Sandy Hook is not a national nightmare. It is not an outlier, as much as we’d like to tell ourselves. What it is is a national horror and a disgrace. Never again, we said after the slaughter at a movie theater in Aurora. Or did we?

Sandy Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter Jessica Ghawi was slain that night in the movie theater, who had narrowly escaped another shooting in Toronto only weeks before, follows me on Twitter. Today she and her husband are on their way to Washington to deliver a petition to Congress and the NRA demanding stricter gun control laws. Last night she was on Piers Morgan on CNN talking with other Aurora families whose loved ones were killed about Sandy Hook.

When I realized Sandy followed me a few days ago, I sent her a question. Here's our exchange:

What is wrong with us? Why do we tolerate much less even defend such heinous attacks on our loved ones? On our children? Why is it OK for Americans to arm themselves—because, let’s be blunt, that is what we are talking about here--with semi-automatic rifles and Glocks that have the power to inflict mass murder. Why is that considered normal or acceptable? What is it about our culture that we feel we need weapons of war to protect ourselves?

Because of our tolerance, cowardice and intractable inaction, we live now in a country where the unthinkable has become routine. You can almost write the script for these shootings. First, there’s the shock and sorrow, the outrage, the funerals, then the utter silence over gun control. If we behaved in such a reckless manner about driving—you don’t need to spend hours taking driving lessons, you don’t need to pass a drivers’ test, you don’t need to have a license, you can text and drink and drive all you like---millions more teenagers would be dead.

As much as we’re searching for “answers,” for explanations as to why a 20- year-old alleged to have Asperger’s or some mental disorder could have committed such a horror, however mentally ill he might have been, he could not have inflicted such violence without those weapons. Weapons that were legal and that he stole from his now-dead mother. Whom he also shot several times.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert Wright at The Atlantic argues:

Imagine the following world, which it's within our power to create: It's illegal to sell or possess a firearm--rifle or pistol--that can hold more than six bullets. And it's illegal to sell or possess a firearm with a detachable magazine. In other words, once a shooter exhausted the six rounds, he couldn't just snap in another six-round magazine; he'd have to put six more bullets in the gun one by one.

In this world, a significant number of those 20 Newtown first graders would almost certainly be alive. Lanza reportedly fired six bullets from his AR-15 just to get inside the locked school. So, in the alternative universe I just described, he would then have to more or less exhaust one of his two pistols to kill the principal and school psychologist he encountered after entering. At that point, as he headed for the classrooms, he'd have six more rapid-fire bullets left, after which he'd have to reload his guns bullet by bullet.

In April Jill Lepore of The New Yorker wrote a chilling account of America's gun laws. According to Lepore, we now have nearly 300 million guns in this country--nearly one for every person. Recently the distinguished medical journal The Lancetlooked at gun violence in America and concluded::

We in the USA live in an era that has seen an unprecedented proliferation of gun crimes, and indeed of guns. Yet this proliferation has gone hand-in-hand with a narrowing of the lexicon through which American culture can, or is allowed to, talk about the problem. Ironically, the question of whether “the insane” should be allowed to “bear arms” becomes the only publicly permissible way to talk about questions of gun control. Meanwhile a host of other narratives, such as the mass psychology of needing so many guns in the first place or the anxieties created by being surrounded by them, remain oft-unspoken.

The shooting in Portland has already passed from the headlines. Even in his emotional but pointed speech Friday night at the interfaith service in Newton, President Obama recited the names of Columbine, of Gabby Giffords, of Aurora, of Virginia Tech but failed to mention Portland. Was it because there were only two victims, and not enough? Or have there been so many shootings he just forgot?

I haven’t forgotten. I haven’t forgotten because the moment I saw on Twitter that a shooting had occurred at Clackamas Center Mall in Portland I was terrified. I tried to control my terror. I tried to think.

Where is Kate? Where is my baby girl?

My 20-year-old daughter was in Portland. But I did not know where she was. She had just finished her finals at the University of Oregon. She had driven to Portland with her boyfriend to visit his mother. But I could not remember where in Portland she lived. As a parent I am not usually given to panic or hysteria or obsessive thoughts about my children. But when I couldn’t remember where my daughter was, couldn’t mentally place her, I began to sweat with fear.

Was it Clackamas? Woodburn? God, what was the damn name of that suburb and why hadn’t I written it down? Why had I been so blasé about not getting the mom’s address and number? Why did I assume that because she was 20, and was happy and healthy and independent that somehow she was out of the woods and safe? In Los Angeles my daughter knew to avoid certain neighborhoods where there was gun violence. This did not stop me from worrying about her.

You think you have raised them, sent them off into the world. You’re done, you think. But the harsh truth is you’re never done. No matter how old they are. You never let go.

Why had I let her go off to school in Oregon?

What if she were at that mall?

Please don’t let her be one of them, I begged.


And then I waited. And waited. It must have been 10 minutes before she called. But it seemed like hours.

“Hi, mom,” she said cheerfully when I answered the phone.

She was not at the mall. She was not shot. I wanted to weep.

I probably sounded crazy. “Where are you?” I said stupidly. “I read about that shooting in the shopping mall in Clackamas. And I was worried about you because I couldn’t remember where Brandon’s mother lived.”

“Oh, mom,” she said sweetly, realizing how scared I was. “I’m not in Clackamas. I’m not shopping. I don’t even have any money to go shopping. We’re sitting here at Brandon’s mom’s house watching “Boardwalk Empire.””

"I know. I figured you were OK,” I said. “But I just needed to hear your voice.”

“I love you, mom,” she said.

“I love you too, Katie boo,” I said, using her childhood name.

I am grieving for those parents in Newton. But I’m also furious that we’ve done nothing about gun control. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has pledged to introduce the expired assault weapons ban when Congress returns in January. But it is not enough. And it is too late.

We could have prevented the deaths of those small children in Sandy Hook, the agony of their little sisters and big brothers and their shattered parents and the other collateral damage their murders will inflict. We didn’t. We shut our eyes. In a sense that makes us just as much to blame for their nightmare as anyone. Will we open them now?

Credit Image: © Bryan Smith/

Lonnie Phillips and Sandy Phillips at a press conference with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to demand a federal plan to reduce gun violence

If you'd like to protect our children from gun violence, you can sign this petition from to the NRA.

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