Instead of spurring the nation to action on gun control, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre appears to have had an unexpected consequence – removing the issue of gun control for the foreseeable future from the national policy agenda.
That has become distressingly clear in the week since yet another massacre, this time at the Washington Navy Yard just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
As a result, the response to the Navy Yard killings has been depressingly tepid, a reflection of the political reality that if a gun massacre of 6- and 7-year-olds sitting at their classroom desks could not mobilize the political classes to action, that calling for gun regulation after a massacre of 12 adults would be equally futile – and for some suicidal politically.
Yesterday at a memorial for the Navy Yard victims, President Obama, in one of his most moving speeches, said the killings “ought to be a shock to all of us” and should spur Americans to demand “a common sense” balance between gun rights and gun control.” Instead, he said, he sensed a “creeping resignation” that these repeated killings are “somehow the new normal.”
But underscoring his own resignation, he conceded “the change we need will not come from Washington.” Even as he said “our tears are not enough,” he did not propose any legislation that might have stopped the deranged Aaron Alexis from buying a shotgun two days before the killings with the intent to kill and maim.
While some states did respond legislatively to the Newtown killings – most notably New York and Colorado – the National Rifle Association and its supporters were able to squelch any coordinated national attack on weapons circulating in neighborhoods, in the hands of people whose only intent is to use them for an evil purpose.
Perhaps the most memorable response to Newtown was NRA Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre’s declaration that “the only thing that can stop a a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” — followed by a call for more guns. Its National School Shield initiative called for “a selected school staff member to be designated, trained and armed on school property” in every school in the nation.
LaPierre was at least consistent yesterday when he repeated that mantra on NBC’s Meet the Press, saying that the problem at the Navy Yard was that “there weren’t enough good guys with guns” to prevent the attack, and that only “when the good guys with guns got there, it stopped.”
With perfect timing to further squelch any serious effort to revive the gun regulation debate, just days before, two Colorado legislators – one of them the president of the State Senate – were thrown out of office in a recall election inspired by their support for one of the few meaningful state gun laws to have been passed in response to the Newtown killings.
Meanwhile, the killings of children in neighborhoods across the nation continue in tragedies that aren’t reported beyond one or two nights on local broadcast news. Last month in Oakland, where EdSource’s offices are located, Drew Jackson – just 1-year-old – was shot and killed while sleeping alongside his father by a gunman shooting through a bedroom window. A month before, 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine was killed when someone fired shots through the door of the apartment where she had gone for a sleepover with her friends – two of whom were also shot but survived.
An EdSource survey showed that many state’s largest school districts did in fact respond to the Newtown killings. Nineteen districts made changes to their school safety plans, including Los Angeles Unified, which set up a plan to have police officers and other law enforcement personnel to visit every elementary school or middle school every day. Montebello Unified added resource officers at all of its high schools, and installed camera systems at school facilities throughout the district. Corona-Norco Unified required all its approximately 5,000 employees to wear identification badges at all times. And so on.
But these efforts won’t do anything to reduce the gun violence on the streets surrounding our schools. They don’t inspire confidence that another Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook or Washington Navy Yard massacre won’t happen again, at any moment.
States acting on their own can’t do the job. As I wrote last December, California is ranked ahead of every other state on the gun regulation scorecard, including a ban on some of the most deadly assault rifles. Yet the state is still flooded with guns. Nearly 10 million weapons were sold in the state over the past two decades, and over 600,000 in 2011, the last year we have figures on. And those were just the legal, registered sales.
So here we are, post-Sandy Hook. The killings there, which should have moved us to do something meaningful to make sure that children don’t become victims of random gun violence in their schools or neighborhoods, has had just the reverse effect: frightening our political leaders into doing nothing at all.
Louis Freedberg is executive director of EdSource in Oakland.