Friday 14 December 2012

Connecticut School Shooting

It's heartbreaking. At least 27 people, including 18 children between the ages of five and ten have fallen victim, yet again, to a lone gunman. Reportedly, the young survivors were told to keep their eyes shut as they were led from Sandy Hook Elementary School (pictured), in the quintessential suburban American community of Newtown, Connecticut. You do not want to imagine the grim vision visited upon its corridors and classrooms surviving children had to escape from. I'm sure everyone, everywhere with a decent, compassionate bone in their body stand in solidarity and sympathy with the victims, parents, staff and anyone connected to the tragedy.

But it's not a tragedy that was inevitable. Radical filmmaker Michael Moore has suggested at least 31 school shootings have happened time and again since the awful watershed moment of the Columbine School shooting in 1999. According to this report by the US children's charity, Children's Defense Fund, 5,740 kids were killed by guns between 2008 and 2009. Sadly, there's no reason to believe this quiet, unreported and unnecessary waste of life has not lessened over time.

The Whitehouse was quick to suggest that "now" is not the time to begin discussing gun control. But when is there a more appropriate time? This isn't an "academic", sanitised debate like many political questions. As has been demonstrated with depressing regularity, gun control in America is a matter of life and death. The longer the prevarication, the longer Second Amendment fundamentalists like the US National Rifle Association frustrate and obstruct a clear public addressing of the issues, the greater the number of young lives are cruelly cut short. And the obfuscation doesn't lessen when a tragedy like this occurs. If anything, the smokescreen gets thicker.

The gunman, named in local media as 20 year old Adam Lanza, who lived nearby. He apparently murdered his father at home, before travelling to Sandy Hook where his mother worked as a teacher, and then went on his subsequent rampage. His life and motivations are sure to be unravelled over the coming days, but it is very likely the familiar pattern of why men (particularly) murder in this way will be established. It must be remembered that appalling crimes like this are not unfathomable, or unexplainable. They have triggers and causes that have long been established by psychologists and sociologists of crime.

Gun control isn't a magic catch-all that can prevent future Sandy Hooks. If our collective wisdom readily understands how and why individuals like Lanza commit mass murder, it's not beyond our collective capacity as societies to address the endemic violence that suffuses our culture, nor provide free-at-the-point-of-need mental health services. A holistic preventative strategy would require a significant cultural and policy shift in America. It's difficult and much easier said than done, but the memory of the victims deserve nothing less.

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