There will be no large public commemorations in Newton, Connecticut, on Saturday, and no traffic jams of satellite lorries or reporters in hire cars. Instead, the first anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook primary school will be marked mostly by sad, private reflection.
Still traumatised by what 20-year-old Adam Lanza wrought minutes after the school opened on 14 December last year, the community 70 miles north-east of New York wanted it that way. It was expressed at a press conference on Monday by First Selectman Patricia Llodra. Stay away, she declared. “Respect our need to be alone. To be quiet and to have that personal time to continue on our journey of grief in the way that serves us.”
A sign attached to a telegraph pole in the town puts it more bluntly. “VULTURE MEDIA, YOU GOT YOUR TAPES, RU HAPPY, PLEASE LEAVE.” Never mind that any hope of the Sandy Hook slaughter altering the course of America’s gun control debate depended first on the press reporting it.
If the discussion had changed direction, then perhaps we would have at least one positive thing to say now of that day. There were early glimmers of hope. Evoking his love of his own daughters, President Barack Obama went to Newtown a few days after the massacre. He promised that Washington would take notice, that new gun restrictions would come. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he asked.
Twelve months later that is precisely what America must do. The White House did try, pushing Congress to pass a new federal law to tighten background checks for gun buyers and ban the sale of automatic assault weapons as well as large capacity clips. After killing his mother, Lanza drove to the school and fired 150 rounds with a semi-automatic she had owned, with clips holding 30 bullets at a time. In April, the bill collapsed in the US Senate.
So, there has been nothing out of Congress in the wake either of Newtown or of the killing of 12 in a Colorado cinema five months earlier.
Individual states can change gun laws, too, and have. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey all passed stricter regulations. So did Colorado, but with unexpected consequences. Two members of the state legislature who helped craft them were forced out of office in recall elections and a third resigned when it became obvious a similar fate awaited him.
Indeed, Newtown did nothing to mute the voice of the gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association, which in April issued a report on the massacre arguing that the best response would be to arm teachers. Remarkably, if you look at the total tally of gun laws passed at the state level since last December, 39 were aimed at tightening controls while 70 were designed to make it easier to own guns.
“There has been no progress. If anything, there has been a backward slide and even less courage among the spineless majority of Congress,” said John Rosenthal, of Stop Handgun Violence. Even millions of dollars from the “Mayors against Guns” organisation, funded by the New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, could not help those ousted in Colorado, including the State Senate President, John Morse. “It just appals me that we’re going to commemorate the anniversary this Saturday and have done nothing except recall a couple of state senators in Colorado,” he recently lamented.
Gun advocates seized on the profiles that emerged of Lanza and the Aurora shooter as deranged youths bearing, they say, no resemblance to the ordinary firearm owner.
“Why would it be logical to restrict access to lawful items by millions of people who own them because of the acts of a couple of deranged individuals?” asked Jim Wallace, of the Gun Owners’ Action League in Massachusetts. That Obama is President hasn’t helped either. Perpetuating the myth that he plans to swoop down and confiscate every gun from every owner has been a top priority of the NRA. Then there is the argument that to avoid being a victim of a shooting you should carry your own gun.
These are the “gun-control Darwinists,” Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut told the Daily Beast. “They really believe that the best way to get guns out of the hands of criminals is to put guns into the hands of both good guys and bad guys, and just hope that the good guys shoot the bad guys,” he said.
But today is not for all that. It’s not for politics and it’s not for the press. It’s for everyone at Sandy Hook who survived the horror and must still live with the memory of it. For the teachers who barricaded their wards in bathrooms and cupboards to protect them from Lanza. And it’s for those, including all the little ones, that he found.