Just a Few Miles From Newtown

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In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead a line of children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 after a shooting at the school. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

Shop owner Tamara Doherty, paces outside her store just down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

We’re spending a holiday season weekend at the home of friends in a small Connecticut town just a few miles up the road from Newtown. Returning from the local store, our friend Emily tells us that the talk there this morning is of nothing but the killings; every customer seems to know at least one of the families devastated by the volleys of gunshots. The headline on the front page of The Danbury News-Times is the single word, “Shattered,” in enormous type.

At The Atlantic website, I read a piece by Edward Small, a reporter who attended the school in Newtown when he was a kid and I remember my own elementary school in a small town in upstate New York. In those days, the only emergency drills we ever had were the duck-and-cover alerts that sent us into the hallways or under our desks during the depths of Cold War hysteria; the only violence was getting shoved from behind by a bully, books and binder flying.

An attack like this new deadly assault would have been unimaginable at my school, not unimaginable like it was in Newtown until yesterday but unimaginable, period — simply because I truly believe that back then it never would have happened. There were plenty of guns around; deer hunters abounded and as baby boomers many of our fathers had served during World War II and returned home with firearms they kept hidden away. (Mine didn’t have a gun but a small, ceremonial German dagger in a faux-ivory scabbard. He must have bought or traded for it. Dad was a pharmacist and had been a medical supply officer in the Army – that dagger certainly wasn’t acquired in hand-to-hand combat).

Yes, there were problems and issues galore but no 24-hour news cycle battering viewers with the latest fresh bloodlettings, no video games inuring the young to bullets, bombs and psychosis, no Internet. I always wonder how those two killers of In Cold Blood fame found each other; now they would have met via Facebook.

Make no mistake, I’m as big an Internet and all-news-all-the-time aficionado as the next guy and I know I sound like the cranky old curmudgeon I’m rapidly becoming but it was different then. Today, there’s almost one privately owned firearm for every person in America, more than any other nation. We have the highest rate of gun-related homicide in the developed world, almost twenty times that of 22 other “rich” countries.

There have been an estimated 31 school shootings in the United States since Columbine in 1999. As many as 100 bullets were fired in Newtown; last year, a total of 85 were fired at people by the police in all of Germany and 49 of them were warning shots. We will hear all these and other statistics in the days ahead and in a week or so they will fade until the next time. Unless this time we stand up and say no.

In his Atlantic article Edward Small wrote, “I spent all day reading the headlines and the body counts, but part of me is still waiting for the grand reveal that none of this really happened because how could any of it have really happened? How could the elementary school where I wrote my first story and got in trouble for calling Ross Perot a butthead also be the site of the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting? I can’t reconcile the memories I have of Sandy Hook School with the events of today. They simply aren’t the same place.”

I read the stories, too, and watch the never-ending TV “updates” that rarely add anything to what little we know. Then another story catches my eye from a newspaper in Michigan about two little boys in a small town, smaller than Newtown, smaller than my hometown, who went looking for crayfish in a nearby stream, the way little boys do, and found what they thought was an unusual rock. It turned out to be an ancient bone from a mastodon, some 13,000-14,000 years old.

“This has been a wonderful experience,” one of their mothers told the paper. “He’s been struggling in school and this has helped him with self-confidence and inspired him to learn more about science.”

I remember how we played and explored when we were young; how we found fossils, too, and sometimes an arrowhead, and I think of all those little kids now dead in Connecticut who will no longer have the chance to make discoveries like mine — never imagine, never explore, never be inspired, never get older. I put down the newspapers, turn off the TV and computer. Shattered.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1568582909 Rick Bauer

    When are you going to address the history of these shootings and the links to SSRIs?

  • Anonymous

    White house message phone line:

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=639805927 Wolf Braun

    Cathal Kelly, writer for the Toronto Star wrote today:… “The great proletarian mob (Americans) will already have begun turning on each other. For all their obsession with the symbols of comity – flags at hall-mast, handwritten signs hung from front yard tree branches – America doesn’t get along very well. They’re probably the most divisive semi-functioning democracy on Earth. That’s the real root of America’s mass shooting problem. Guns are the necessary instruments. Paranoia is the cause. Americans don’t trust each other, or
    their institutions. So they need guns.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/awhitewolff April White-wolff

    Good old Canadian self righteousness and schadenfreude!!! Funny, every summer when I visit my brother based in Newfoundland, I see many more flags than here in New York, or anywhere else in the US. Often hanging at half staff, for Canadian deaths in Afghanistan. (Are you aware one of the planes grounded in Heathrow for gel/liquid bombs, was headed for Canada?) I trust other Americans. I like other Americans. I talk to people everywhere. Including in good old anti American Canada. Where you make it quite obvious you don’t like us: why tourism is going down, not the economy. My brother blames the garbage collection system on America. If Canadians are superior, I ask him, why don’t they come up with something better? As for St Fidel, all problems there are our fault. Even though Fidel admitted his system “didn’t work”, my brother thinks when we get rid of the blockade, (which will happen as soon as elderly Cubans die), then whatever happens there will be, you guessed it, America’s fault too. Makes it so easy for everything to be America’s fault. The CBC uses America for bad, the city or state for good. “Great proletarian mob”? Don’t see any proletarian mob out my window, just people. Sort of like Canadians. Please keep your filthy tar sands oil, or send it to China. And stop killing wolves. Isn’t Harper fun?

  • DougM

    “Plenty of guns around”, but not as many as now and that does make a difference. Perhaps the other time when the guns to population ratio was this high was when the Europeans where taking the land form the original peoples of america and then more death and damage was inflicted via handling mishaps and internal shootings then were caused by the natives whose land was been taken.This is the culture of violence, perpetuated forward with the right to bear arms that has its origins in the settlement of north america, the first times family’s were shattered, but on a massive scale. The issue is the media will not reflect that, it might actually reduce the sell of weapons, and that is not the american way.

  • David F., N.A.

    An attack like this new deadly assault would have been unimaginable at my school, not unimaginable like it was in Newtown until yesterday but unimaginable, period — simply because I truly believe that back then it never would have happened. There were plenty of guns around; deer hunters abounded and as baby boomers many of our fathers had served during World War II and returned home with firearms they kept hidden away.

    I agree with this completely. Even if we do legislate assault rifles, high-capacity clips and gun show loopholes, guns are not our only problem. I think we should also take a long hard look at why most of these horrific events are caused by young men and teenagers who usually dress up in fatigues, masks and long black overcoats. Are some of these extremely violent graphics in video games and movies (even bloodless PG-13’s) sending the wrong messages to these disturbed young minds? Maybe the video game and movie industries could pay to have this investigated, and then give us an unbiased report.

  • mythster

    There’s a debate about guns? What’s to debate? Automatic weapons in the hands of untrained and mostly unvetted civilians? That really is a no-brainer but the NRA needs to preserve the market for these “weapons of mass destruction” so the arms manufatcurers can sell a lot of product.
    Maybe we ought to debate about the commandments too. Is “thou shall not kill” relevant in 21st century America?

  • Lary Waldman

    People jailed for life for a third marijuana conviction. Twenty children gunned down in a rural elementary school. America has gone completely mad, and no one seems to have any idea what to do about it. Even Obama, with the world watching, has no solution, perhaps when the emotion has passed some real action will take place, but going against Wayne and his friends is a deadly serious business.

    Lary Waldman
    Bowen Island

  • Tom Bullen

    Job creation School Marshals Like Air Marshals expand Secret Service?
    Moms of gun gamers need hope.

  • Wm. Sweeney

    ‘Completely mad’ is not much of an overstatement. Our reliance on the legal system to solve social problems gives us the highest incarceration rate in the world. Prisons are filled with addicts, the mentally ill, and kids raised in poverty while they are surrounded by violence.

    Meanwhile, the richest of Americans scoop up virtually all additional income resulting from productivity gains while public services languish and the infrastructure deteriorates.

    We have allowed the few to take control of our political system under the mistaken belief that capitalism is ordained by the Almighty and an ideology that treats anyone not earning more than $150,000 a year is a loser.

    On second thought.. completely mad is not an overstatement at all…
    Wm. Sweeney

  • J

    Many of us IN America are tired of the attitude of American self-righteousness and exceptionalism. Those attitudes are NOT currently being earned or deserved, and has not been for some time. Maybe your anger and immediate defensiveness is coming from ego and guilt. Look at the aforementioned statistics and quietly think about them. Hold off on reacting until you have some time to consider the awful legacy of violence in the United States. Give it some time, and realize why many (including Americans) are sick and tired of American arrogance and failure to face our culture of violence (including our perpetual state of war).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cynthia-Faisst/754258940 Cynthia Faisst

    That’s why cowards like Regan went after drug dealers instead. They really don’t want to call attention to themselves by getting into a shooting match with anyone if it can be avoided.