Friday, December 21, 2012


A few days after the Newtown school shooting, I saw a group of elementary students being led by their teacher down a New Orleans street. They walked in a single file line and held hands. They were joyful. The stark and obvious contrast struck me as I thought of the now iconic photo (right) of the 6-year-olds in Newtown being led away from their school after the carnage.  We are told those children had been instructed to close their eyes as they walked through the hallway inside the school building. But you and I both know that the most curious among them managed a glimpse of whatever it was they were not supposed to see.  Six year olds are curious beings. And of course, many of us know how traumatized they will be by what they saw in that clandestine glance at the unthinkable horror.

I believe many of us would agree that we who are way beyond six years old are somewhat responsible for their trauma. We allowed a society that was once more orderly to become anything but. We allowed and even enabled cultural shifts to happen all around us that resulted in a widespread disrespect for life.  We allowed dangerously disturbed human beings like the Newtown shooter to walk freely among us, without any type of therapeutic intervention. It is not our fault that the shooter planned and carried out the executions of young children. But it is incumbent upon all of us to realize that our coveted freedoms all come with a price.
The freedom to commit crimes in our society with uneven judicial consequences has resulted in more people committing violent crimes. 
If we mark mass murder in America starting with Columbine in 1999 (left), there have been 31 mass shootings since.  Thirty-one times one or more deranged Americans has planned and carried out violent shootings sprees. Only one week before Sandy Elementary, another mass shooting took place in a shopping mall near Portland, OR, at the height of Christmas shopping season. Shopping malls, schools, churches, movie theatres – it can, and does, happen anywhere in America at any time. And now it has happened in a kindergarten classroom in a town that seems like Anytown, USA.
Newtown’s population doesn’t even crack 30,000 people. The entire town occupies less than 60 square miles.  It was the hometown of James Thurber. Film director Elia Kazan (Splendor in the Grass, On The Waterfront) also hailed from Newtown. Bruce Jenner went to high school there. The images of the town we have seen on television suggest a sort of Bedford Falls quality from the classic holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Parents of the slain children who have granted television interviews appear articulate, family-centered and noticeably all white. The town is, according to census figures, about 95 percent white.  Additional census figures tell us that the median household income in Newtown is over $100,000. So it would seem the last possible place in America for 20 school children and six adults to be savagely gunned down in an elementary school.

Therein is the possible explanation for the fully unwanted attention the town has received. That attention is doing the residents of Newtown more harm than good, and there is no sign that the national focus on the town will abate anytime soon.  Therefore, the first takeaway from this event is that we who do not live in Newtown need to be more respectful of those who do.  Specifically, media companies need to
back off – way off.  Why are reporters like Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric (right) working so hard to land TV interviews with parents of dead children who have not even been buried yet? Why are the networks and major cable companies not forming a smaller media pool to cover Newtown, rather than sending in hundreds of reporters from multiple companies?
ABC News producer Nadine Shubailat actually tweeted people she thought might be parents or friends of Sandy Hook elementary students, in her misguided efforts to land interviews. FOX News, in its overly-competitive zeal, misidentified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, who, it turns out is actually the brother of the shooter. Multiple news organizations reported that the shooter’s mother worked at Sandy Hook Elementary as a kindergarten teacher.  She did not. None other than the esteemed NY Times reported wrong information about the type of gun used in the shootings. The NY Times also jumped on the above-mentioned claim that the mother worked at the school.  I could go on, but just know that CBS, CNN, NY Times, NPR and Associated Press each reported inaccurate, unverified information about the shootings. Shame on every one of them, and especially on newly installed NY Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who was quoted (in the Times): “I am proud of every aspect of our coverage and beyond thankful to the people who reported and edited this horrific story. Our approach is always accuracy over speed.” Disingenuous?  You be the judge.

The second takeaway from this tragedy is, of course, the national debate about gun laws. Today a new Bloomberg study was released with a startling projection: By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time ever.  So here I will employ simple logic,
rather than politics: Gun advocates have been quite vocal since the Sandy Hook shootings about the need for more guns, rather than fewer guns. Many have gone so far as to say teachers and school administrators should be armed while at work.  I have been a teacher for several years and I can tell you that some teachers I have known should definitely not be armed. The argument to arm teachers assumes that teachers will routinely be more responsible gun owners/users than the general public. It should be noted that teachers are simply a microcosm of the public at large, which means the teacher population may include just as many murderous lunatics as the general population. That’s logic, not politics. Here’s some more logic: If the shooter at Sandy Hook had been unable to enter the building, the shootings would not have happened as they did. So, it would seem school building security should be the focus here, not adding more firearms to the general population.

Firearm advocates who have appeared in media interviews in these past several days seem more hell bent on protecting their Second Amendment freedom than they do on protecting 6-year-olds in kindergarten classrooms. What they never acknowledge is that the Second Amendment was written at a time when there were no such things as AR-15 automatic assault rifles (right)
capable of firing 800 rounds per minute, and originally intended for use by the military only. By the way, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms that Americans can have and use.  It does not say anything at all about prohibiting restrictions on the types or number of firearms. I do not see how any thinking individual reads that into the Second Amendment. Here are the exact words:  “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The bottom line has everything to do with moderation. No one is proposing taking away all Americans’ guns.  That will not happen, but let’s employ reason and caution. And no one is trying to prohibit the media from covering the Sandy Hook tragedy or any tragedies yet to come. But let’s employ discretion in the way stories are covered, and let’s get the story right before it is put out to the public. And when mistakes are made like the NY Times printed errors, let’s not have editors like Jill Abramson praise their publications’ efforts. And above all, let’s quit giving so much TV time, online exposure and print coverage to the shooters. Let’s ignore them so that potential future assassins will not expect to be lionized in media.

No comments: