The Connecticut Elementary School Shooting: Something Has To Change

And so we’re here again. It hasn’t even been five full months since we last met under these circumstances. When a gunman walked into a Colorado movie theater, shot and killed 12 people and injured many more.

We haven’t even had a chance to convene and commiserate since another seemingly safe space was terrorized post-Aurora. It was just this past Tuesday that another gunman opened fire inside an Oregon mall, shot a 15-year-old girl in the chest and ended two other lives in the blink of an eye.

We’ve lost mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers in 61 mass shootings over the last two decades. All the lives were precious, all were lost in unimaginable violence. And with the alarming, increasing frequency of these senseless acts, we’ve stopped taking the time to talk about each one. They’re happening so often, so fast, we pause in horror and then quickly move on. It’s not because we’re insensitive or cruel. It’s just paralyzing to dwell in despair.

But something different happened today. Twenty of the victims in this morning’s Connecticut shooting were children. And many of us who couldn’t tear ourselves away from ongoing news coverage heard many a reporter repeat the gut-wrenching reality that these children were taken from their families during a season of celebration. They were murdered in a small town elementary school. None of the facts align with our sense of reason or logic.

But tragedies seldom do. And your Facebook feed might already be flooded with friends reminding you that children die every day. Young lives are lost all around the world, wars rage on, violence is ubiquitous. And they’re right. But do we mourn this tragedy any less because of those realities? Hardly. The agony we’re experiencing isn’t because the twenty children killed don’t demographically fit our concept of violence victims. It’s because they were human beings assaulted in what was one of the last remaining safe havens. And because this. Keeps. Happening.

It’s been unbelievably devastating to watch supposedly secure spaces desecrated by violence, one by one. High schools, movie theaters, malls, workplaces, temples, college campuses. And now we add elementary schools trimmed in holiday cheer to the list. It’s unreal. And it conjures up the familiar feelings of helplessness.

But something different did happen today. Fewer people seemed to fall into despair-induced paralysis. We all felt unimaginable sadness, of course. But the hopeless sorrow seemed quickly overshadowed by overwhelming outrage. Anger. Action. This can’t keep happening. And it shouldn’t.

Gun control is a taboo topic in this country. It’s at the center of a polarizing debate that no one has managed to settle. And this isn’t the place to argue over the issue or tear anyone apart based on their beliefs. But we’re all dumbfounded and angry and want to point fingers. We want someone and something to blame.

And yet no matter who or what we hold accountable for this and all the other travesties we’ve seen, we have to acknowledge one undeniable, apolitical truth: whatever we’re doing isn’t working.

Do we need better access to mental health care? Absolutely. But it’s not an either/or issue—improved psychological services and reassessed gun regulations are in no way mutually exclusive. Maybe we need both and a host of other things to keep this from happening again.

Without collapsing into cliches or playing on already-exhausted emotions, I just have to share what I witnessed earlier this evening. Walking through a popular tourist spot, crowded with locals and out-of-towners admiring the twinkling lights and cheerful ornaments adorning city streets, I saw dozens of elementary school-aged children. They were running, screaming, laughing, being alternately adorable and annoying, as little kids excel at being. But above all, they were somehow still innocent. They were blissfully unaware of the day’s gruesome details. They felt safe. And until we figure out how to agree on what to change in this country (because something has to change), those kids will quickly grow detached and jaded and childhood innocence really will be just another cliche. So once we’ve grieved this horrific outcome, let’s go back and fix the problem. And let’s hope we don’t meet here again soon.

To find out how you can help those affected by the tragedy, please visit HuffPost Impact.

Image via The Huffington Post (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images).

  • Melanie McBride

    “And yet no matter who or what we hold accountable for this and all the other travesties we’ve seen, we have to acknowledge one undeniable, apolitical truth: whatever we’re doing isn’t working.” – Very very true. Something needs to be done. Great article.

  • Rebecca Lake

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  • Jose Silva

    This is sad i just saw the little kids crying and feel so awful !!!

  • Duane Hansen Fernandez

    Well done, Michelle.

  • Audrey Grace Speicher

    The issue is less about gun control and mental health systems and more about security in schools. Why was just anyone (let alone a man in full fatigues carrying three guns) allowed to enter this school? At the very low income school I went to, the doors were always locked and each visitor had to be buzzed-in by a large window at the front office. If mass killings are going to happen for the sake of causing the most sensation, of course they are going to occur at places where people are rendered defenseless by age and innocence or law. It is a terrible tragedy, and as a teacher, I hope schools take necessary precautions to prevent more mass killings like yesterday’s shooting in Connecticut and the stabbing of 22 elementary students in China.

    • Leah Babbage

      He wasn’t ‘allowed’ to enter the school, the doors to the school were locked so he smashed his way in…

  • Jimmy Greene

    The following are not my ideas; I’ve gathered most of them scouring the internet, but I agree with them. Ban the manufacture and importation of all guns for 30 years. Enforce strict regulation on transfer of gun ownership. Force owners to register all guns and set-up a new national database and require any change in ownership status (Lost, stolen, sold, broken, etc.) to be reported promptly and in detail with penalties for negligence and dereliction. Offer cash rewards to CATCH those who have guns illegally. These steps will cause responsible gun owners to take even better care of their guns. Increase gun buy-backs with federal subsidies. Eventually the average criminal and those we don’t want to have guns will lose theirs to arrest, lack of maintenance or general carelessness. It will also be more difficult for these individuals to purchase guns b/c the black market price will skyrocket. Once the manufacturing of guns is resumed, place a ban on the manufacture for civilian use of all semi-automatic weapons, pump action shotguns, extended clips and ridiculously powerful ammo. Also require more stringent background checks for mental stability of those seeking to own guns. Centralize where guns can be purchased like the NH liquor store. Place more restriction on Ammo purchase. Repeal Stand Your Ground laws. Guns should be for hunting and self-defense. You don’t need a banana clip to hunt deer or a Mac 10 to keep burglars out of your house. This is a compromise; if it were up to me, I’d wipe all guns from the face of this nation, if it would bring those children back.

  • Art Garfield

    China loves producing guns. They sell to gun runners in Mexico who smuggle them into our country. You can ban every gun in the states, round up gun owners and collect their guns, and perform house by house inspections and you wouldn’t even touch the number of guns that could find their way into the country. Sure, law abiding citizens wouldn’t have them, the criminals and crazies would. Heck, the people bent on mass killing wouldn’t need to bother with guns. Ask you Army pals just how much damage those inventive insurgents can do with stuff you can buy at your local hardware or sporting goods stores. And let me ask you this… Would we be having a different discussion if someone used a really sharp ninja sword and managed to be just as evil?

    Eyes are gonna roll, but, the real problem, as I see it, is the complete acceptance of ultra-realistic fantasy violence in our society. Say what you want about the erosion of values in our society, but, I find it insane that we assign an R rating to a movie with smoking or drinking but guns and violence are perfectly acceptable. Heck, we have a show on TNT where human zombies are routinely, violently destroyed. Network TV murder mysteries have forensic consultants to help keep the corpses true to life. One episode of your sister’s hit show, Bones, offered perhaps the most graphic depiction of a human being being blown up that I could ever imagine.

    I was raised on movies about drinking and partying. Everyone smoked and we all tried really hard to get laid but it never quite happened. I think that basically describes the 70’s and 80’s. Ya know what we didn’t have? We didn’t have gratuitous violence. Sure, they were out there but they were all R movies and the kids wanted to see Star Wars or the latest John Hughes film. I didn’t see Dirty Harry until I was an adult.

    Nowadays, death is everywhere. Ever remember anyone from Scooby Doo actually dying? Me neither. Yet, even cartoons with Y7 deal with the subject of death. Remember when guns shot laser beams, everyone lived, and the pilots all had parachutes? We used to respect life. Especially where children were involved. Now, we fill our kids heads full of violent thoughts from the time they are old enough to turn on the set. Sure, blame the parents who both have to work just to make ends meet in this horrible economy. Either way, decapitations, explosions, aliens disintegrating humans, and torture are in your children’s not too distant futures. And really, who needs TV when you can play an ultra-realistic, 3D video game where you can stab a guy in the throat or shoot him in the head and watch his face explode. If you think these don’t have an impact, your fooling yourself. Kids mimic what they see in TV, Movies, and Games. Thankfully, most of them do it with toy guns, role-playing, paintball, lazer tag, sports, etc, but, what about the others who can’t separate fantasy from reality?

    I would love to see a time when any type of gun violence on a movie earned it an instant R. Graphic acts of violence such as Saw and the like or vivid reenactments of violent deaths resulted in an X. A minor caught playing an adult rated game or watching a restricted movie would be subject to the same laws as if they were drinking underage or driving without a license.

    Sure, make guns harder to get, i don’t care. If that makes you sleep better at night, but, if you want to fix the problem, cure the disease. Children should never be permitted to see glorified violence. The world is a scary and ugly enough place. Children should grow up fearing violence, not seeking to be entertained by it.

    • Josh Poulain

      Right, we’ll just make more movies R rated and that’ll solve everything… are you serious?

      • Art Garfield

        Yes. Completely serious, Josh. Violence breeds violence. Sure, get rid of guns in the process but punish the people who have commercialized violence. While people can disagree on what is and is not in good taste, I think we can all agree that humans being decapitated, blown up, set on fire, impaled, drawn and quartered, vivisected, boiled, etc.. is violent and we must protect our kids from this the same way we protect them from other harm.

        The facts are there – children are affected by the stuff they see on TV, Movies, and video games. Comprehensive reform can not stop with gun control. We need violence control. We need to criminalize gratuitous violence in media that is accessible to children. Penalties need to be the same as providing cigarettes or alcohol to minors.

        The need for self defense stems from the violence epidemic. Cure the epidemic. Outlaw violence – real and fantasy.

  • Hans Johan Svensson

    This is a tragedy!

    Violance is being used as a form of communication. And, as someone said before me, the pen is mightier than the sword.
    Regarding selfdefence; Someone will shoot or hit first. If it is not going to be me then I might aswell be unarmed. If I am the one shoots or hits first then I´m probably the one who will go to jail. There is no point in pulling a gun out if someone is allready aiming at me.
    Emotionally; Being angry appears to be a dangerous prospect when you find yourself infront of or behind a gun. I belive this is also a danger to democracy. Can there ever be a conversation if normal emotions are not allowed?
    To feel the need of selfdefence you must also belive that there is a real threat. I think that it is a better idea to deal with the problems at hand than to allow such a high level of selfdefence with no requirement to accually explain why the extra security is needed.
    Call the cops – they are better trained for it than you are.

  • Ivan Remtoula

    Love the article. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint

  • Colleen Sweeney

    I think there should be a more in-depth mental health test you must complete to be able to purchase a gun. No, it won’t help if you know or live with someone who has a bevy of weapons (like the CT shooter), but it might detect some sort of mental disorder. I am all for gun control, but also realistic to know that it won’t stop people from finding some way to access a deadly weapon.

  • Michael Lee Elmendorf II

    Interactive map of school shootings around the world:

    Note there are no school related shootings in Asia. This is just school shootings. There was a shooting at a mall in Portland Oregon, just a couple days ago. Of course there was the mass shooting at the Colorado movie theater just a few months ago. Also, that shooting at that east religion worship center also a couple months back. Why is this happening mostly here in the U.S? Is mass murder the new american national pastime? Something is terribly wrong with us, and no “government” talk or shallow “presidential” speeches, will not make a difference? The past has proven theirs and the media’s talk/coverage only seem to perpetuate rather than cure? We do not want a totalitarian state, watching every move we make. We do not want our civil liberties to be jeopardized even more. We are an ill/violent culture? Look in the mirror for a cure?

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