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NEIL STEINBERG: The ugliest truth about Sandy Hook

Connecticut State Police lead children from Sandy Hook Elementary School Newtown Conn. after shooting there Dec. 14 2012. A gunman

Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after a shooting there on Dec. 14, 2012. A gunman killed 20 students and six adults. | Shannon Hicks~Newtown Bee via AP

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Updated: March 2, 2013 12:02PM



You would think, at this point, after six weeks of national catharsis and rapt horror, that no aspect of the Sandy Hook massacre has gone unremarked upon. We’ve had the shock of the event, the carnage that flying bullets did to innocent children, the endless soul-shredding agony of the parents, the lingering grief of police officers and first responders, the pall of sorrow over the community, echoing out across the nation which, in its shame and confusion, now stumbles and bumbles to Do Something.

And yet. There is one aspect of the crime so awful it hasn’t even been whispered in the media. Somebody should come out and say it. And I will, here, after some necessary throat-clearing, once I screw up the courage.

First, we need to grasp why this reality has been overlooked, in our determination to act, or feel like we’re acting. We are a dynamic people, or so we tell ourselves. When something awful occurs, we do not sigh, chalk it to fate, or to the gods, then return to our plows. That’s the Old World peasant way.

No, we are Americans, we the people, a people of action. We address our problems, boldly, or at least pretend to. So if a disturbed young man can take a military assault rifle and walk into a school and slaughter kids, then we need to do something about it.

Or so we tell ourselves.

So we talk about restricting assault rifles — that’s the gun Adam Lanza used! — assuming we can define what an assault rifle is. And high-capacity clips that let shooters fire 30 rounds into children without reloading! And the mentally ill! The shooter was mentally ill, clearly — let’s not forget them. Suddenly we care about the mentally ill, who otherwise can be safely ignored during our hacking away at government programs.

At least some people suddenly care. Others, well, just the prospect of gun control sends them racing to gun stores to strip their shelves. Which, when you think about it, is counterintuitive. You would imagine that the outline of Sandy Hook — a woman purchases all this weaponry, supposedly to protect herself; instead she is shot in the face by her disturbed son, who then goes to slaughter two dozen others, plus, thankfully, himself — would not inspire a rational person to rush out and ape Nancy Lanza’s gun-buying behavior.

But alas — and this isn’t the terrible unsaid thing, but we’re getting there — we are not dealing with rational people. Guns are part of the right-wing lunatic fringe of fear, the Obama-loathing, government-hating, minority-despising, science-scoffing quarter of Americans existing in a shadowy permanent grief state over the 1950s, over a white-bread America where they were king that never was and never will be. Guns are the talismans that ward off change in the world, that protect them from all their stalking fears, the wand of hope that someday society will indeed break down — isn’t it fracturing already, with gay marriage? — and they will assume their rightful place as unquestioned kings once more, with their AK-47s set proudly on their kingly hips and their freeze-dried meals nourishing them through the long night of the tardy Mayan zombie apocalypse.

What statistics are going to crack that nut? What numbers are going to change those minds? When they say gun control never works, and you point to the rest of the civilized world, where guns are restricted and gun deaths a trickle, they blink. What rest of the world? Oh, you mean Europe? Where European-style socialism rules? There is no fact that will cut this knot.

Sharing blame, the Democrats, in their cowardice, have offered change so scant that even if it works — a long shot — we’ve hardly done anything. We’ve framed the issue so narrowly that success means scratching the surface. Assault rifles? High-capacity clips? Gun checks? Mass shootings? Slaughters like Newtown catch our fleeting attention, but they are only the daily gun death toll concentrated in one spot at one time. The problem is handguns. The horrible truth you don’t hear whispered is that one Newtown is just the start — it will take many more Newtowns before we ever get serious about handgun control. Even then, the NRA revenge fantasy — arm everybody and let them shoot it out in the streets — would win first. A quarter of the country could wash their faces every morning in the blood of freshly slain children before they considered the idea that guns are dangerous, that having them in every corner of their homes leads to endless tragedy. I started this column thinking the ugly truth is that one Newtown isn’t enough to spark real change. But the actual ugly truth is even uglier: A dozen Newtowns won’t do it. They’ll just become the accepted toll, like the millions who die horribly from cigarettes. Perhaps, as the decades roll on, people will become dimly aware that guns are the problem. Perhaps not. Half a century of medical fact and still 20 percent of Americans smoke.



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