Guns, Parents and Sandy Hook: Time to Take The Bullet

The National Rifle Association is a mighty thing. But it is still no match for the political power of parents in America.

RTR3BMXQ-615.jpg(Mike Segar/Reuters)

On Saturday afternoon, a grim state official, Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner Wayne Carver revealed to the world that the primary weapon used on the Sandy Hook school victims was not a handgun but rather a long gun, a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle, a formidable killing machine eschewed by most hunters, unwieldy for self-defense, similar to weapons used by our soldiers in Afghanistan and the weapon of choice of the Beltway snipers. The 26 victims inside the school, Carver announced, were dead from three to eleven wounds each.

All of the children killed, he said, were first-graders, although he cautioned reporters that the Connecticut State Police would have to confirm the age of the youngest victims. "I've been at this for a third of a century and my sensibilities may not be of the average man but this is probably the worst I have ever seen or the worst I know of any of my colleagues have ever seen," Carver said. "The bullets," he said, "are designed in a fashion that the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullet stays in."

It was all perfectly legal for Nancy Lanza, the first victim and the mother of the alleged shooter Adam Lanza, to have purchased and possessed the rifle, as it was legal for her to own the two handguns which also were found at the scene of the crime. Although Connecticut, like other states, has a regulatory gun scheme, and although it has a form of gun "control," state law does not require permits or licenses to purchase or to carry rifles or shotguns. Nancy Lanza loved guns, her friends told the Times, and would talk about her collection at local bars.

* * *

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary are first of all a tragedy of families, of the parents and grandparents who now are enduring the darkest moments of grief; of the moms and dads who brought home from the shattered school their young sons and daughters, survivors before they even understand what the word means; of the brave teachers and school administrators who saved their students, some sacrificing their own lives to do so; and of the lifeless little bodies left behind in a place of learning, a place of imagination, an elementary school.

We know now that some of the adults in that school Friday took bullets for their students and that many others were prepared to do so. This is not a unique expression of bravery and courage in the line of fire. We saw the same thing 13 years ago at Columbine High School --  the loving memory of Dave Sanders lingers on to this day. And is there a grieving parent today in Connecticut who would not in a heartbeat have traded places with his or her slain child? The possibility of that form of sacrifice is the essence of parenthood, isn't it?

Whatever else it means, Friday's tragedy is just another awful reminder of the disconnect that exists in America between the lengths to which we as parents (and teachers and school administrators) are always willing to sacrifice for our children when the bullets are flying and what we all are always unwilling to sacrifice for our children when the guns go silent. We rush to protect our kids from imminent death by gunfire but are content to allow thousands upon thousands of our children to die each year as a result of gun violence.

* * *

It would be foolish to contend that the massacre at Sandy Hook is a tipping point in America's raging debate over guns. The near-murder of a congresswoman by a raving lunatic in 2011 didn't move the needle. Neither does the fact that gun violence kills 10 times more Americans each year than died on September 11, 2001. As Elspeth Reeve wrote Friday at the Atlantic Wire, the National Rifle Association is gaining, not losing, ground even as we mark one mass shooting after another. Just ask George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin.

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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