Family members of gun violence embrace each other as they hold a vigil for victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and other victims of gun violence, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, at the National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence at the National Cathedral in Washington. The one year anniversary of the Newtown, Conn. shootings is December 14. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) ORG XMIT: DCCD103
Updated: January 14, 2014 12:33PM
We have failed.
One year ago Saturday, 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and everybody with a conscience vowed to do something — anything — to make this country less violent.
Something about seeing kids lying dead on a classroom floor gets people talking.
“This is a moment that should shake America to its core,” President Obama said on the day of the massacre. “This is the moment to commit to ending America’s horrific gun violence.”
Yeah, well, so much for that.
We accomplished almost nothing. None of us. Except, we suppose, for the National Rifle Association, whose peculiar solution to the problem of gun violence is to encourage more guns. The NRA did a terrific job.
One year after Newtown — and almost a year after Chicago’s own 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot dead in a South Side park — gun laws in the United States, including Illinois, are looser than they were before. The one hopeful development is that the Newtown massacre has stirred the fury of America’s grassroots, with a reported doubling of the number of gun control groups nationwide. An anti-gun rally, led by parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, was held Thursday at the Washington National Cathedral.
President Obama and Congress failed.
The president called last January for a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and for more background checks for gun buyers. Congress, jerked around by the NRA, refused to enact into law any of these proposals.
Most pathetically, the Senate refused to approve a bipartisan bill to require criminal and mental health background checks on people buying guns on the Internet, at gun shows and other places that don’t involve a licensed gun dealer. That was an obviously sensible idea, favored by Americans overwhelmingly. But though our own Sen. Mark Kirk broke with his Republican colleagues and voted for the measure, to his credit, it never stood a fighting chance.
The president, reflecting an understanding that an easy access to guns is not the only explanation for violence in America, also called for new efforts to bolster school safety and student mental health, according to the publication Education Week. He proposed spending $270 million, in all, for more and better school social workers, better school emergency-preparedness plans and to train teachers in “mental-health first aid.” But Congress failed us again, doing nothing, more interesting in reining in spending.
State legislatures failed. They passed 39 laws tightening controls on guns — including 15 measures to keep guns from the mentally ill — but adopted 70 laws easing restrictions, according to the New York Times. In Arkansas, Georgia and North Carolina, for instance, it is now legal to carry a gun into a bar.
In Illinois in August, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law requiring background checks for all guns purchases, as well as the immediately reporting of all lost and stolen guns — an excellent way to discourage so-called “straw purchases” where somebody who legally can buy a gun does so and then sells it secretly to somebody who legally can’t.
But Illinois lawmakers failed us when they approved a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Some sort of concealed carry bill was inevitable, given a deadline imposed by a federal court, but the Illinois law — enacted over Quinn’s veto — went further than necessary.
And we — this editorial page — and other voices of common-sense gun laws failed, though the fight continues. We can pretend to have made a difference for the better, citing this or that gun-control measure we pushed, but the muck rose in the basement faster than anybody bailed it out.
In the meantime, guns continue to kill children. Since the Newtown massacre, according to an analysis by Mother Jones magazine, at least 194 more children under the age of 12 have been killed by guns accidentally or intentionally. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, the gun death rate for children and teens in the United States is four times greater than in Canada and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain.
In the year after Newtown, we failed our children. We did little or nothing to prevent another massacre. And each day somewhere, another child or two or three is killed with a gun.