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Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Rushing to the sound of gunfire

Whenever I think of the events of 9/11, the image that always comes to mind, in addition to the horrific crash of the planes into the twin towers, is that of New York’s first responders stoically filing into the burning and doomed buildings from which most would never emerge. For me, their singular devotion to duty at enormous personal risk is the light in what was otherwise a dark moment in our history.

And so it is that when thoughts turn to the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting on  December 14th and the horror that occurred that day, I will always remember the unbelievable heroism of the principal, teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary as they sought to save their children from the evil of a deranged gunman.

Of how when the shots first rang out the teachers and staff protected the children by hiding them as best they could from the gunman or leading them to relative safety. Of the staff member who used the intercom to sound the alarm and the janitor who ran down corridors shouting a warning. These acts and many more displayed a courage that placed the lives of the students before any instinct to flee for safety. Uncommon valor was, indeed, a common virtue and if those words were coined in a different place and time*, they are no less appropriate to the actions of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary on that terror-filled morning. After all, while we ask much of our children’s teachers, courage in the face of gunfire has never been part of the job description.

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice included 27-year-old Victoria Soto who hid as many of the children in her class as she could and then lied to the gunman telling him they were in the gym. She was shot standing between him and her children. Special education teacher’s aide Anne-Marie Murphy’s body was found covering those of a group of her students. And Principal Dawn Hochsprung who, along with school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, rushed to confront the gunman and, reportedly, lunging for him before being gunned down.

Some have lamented the fact that none of the staff were armed but this is insane and merely serves to trivialize the magnitude of their courage.

It seems unimaginable that any light can come from so much darkness. Yet even as the world saw us at our depressing worst with yet another unbalanced individual with access to an arsenal of lethal firepower murdering innocents, the actions of the principal and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary also showed us our best – the very best, in fact, we have to offer. And that at least is surely some comfort to a community and nation in grief.

And we as a nation, as a society can and must ensure that something worthwhile comes from this unspeakable tragedy that honors the memory of those who died at Newtown and ensures it will not be in vain. We, the sane majority, must take on the mindless fanatics who lead the NRA and their political enablers in congress, and steel the spines of our politicians to force through meaningful legislation that will ban the weapon that killed the children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary and all weapons like it, ban high capacity ammunition clips and strengthen background checks on all who want to purchase firearms, particularly semi-automatic ones. To fail in this will be to dishonor the dead of Newtown as well as the daily victims of gun violence in America, most of whom do not make the headlines, but above all, ourselves.

It won’t be easy and the NRA will rely on time and a fading memory of the horrific events of December 14th to blunt the intensity of the call for action on guns and weaken the resolve of our politicians, as they have so many times before. But if the courage of our legislators begins to falter, and they place their political future ahead of the welfare of the nation, then they should be reminded what bravery really looks like: of Victoria Soto, shielding her 1st grade students with her body, of Anne-Marie Murphy, giving comfort to her special education kids in their last moments on earth, and of Dawn Hochsprung rushing to save the children of her school and towards the sound of gunfire.

The roll call of Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School:

  1. Charlotte Bacon, 6
  2. Rachel D’avino, 29
  3. Daniel Barden, 7
  4. Dawn Hochsprung, 47
  5. Olivia Engel, 6
  6. Anne Marie Murphy, 52
  7. Josephine Gay, 7
  8. Lauren Rousseau, 30
  9. Ana-Marquez-Greene, 6
  10. Mary Sherlach, 56
  11. Madeline Hsu, 6
  12. Victoria Soto, 27
  13. Dylan Hockley, 6
  14. Catherine Hubbard, 6
  15. Chase Kowalski, 7
  16. Jesse Lewis, 6
  17. James Mattioli, 6
  18. Grace McDonnell, 7
  19. Emile Parker, 6
  20. Jack Pinto, 6
  21. Noah Pozner, 6
  22. Caroline Previdi, 6
  23. Jessica Rekos, 6
  24. Avielle Richman, 6
  25. Benjamin Wheeler, 6
  26. Allison Wyatt, 6

*By Admiral Chester B Nimitz in characterizing the sailors and marines who fought on Iwo Jima, 1944, in World War II.

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

Bitter irony in Newtown, Connecticut elementary school massacre

The indescribable agony of the people Newtown, Connecticut, in the wake of the horrible events of Friday are compounded by the knowledge that theirs is a community characterized by most as at once bucolic and safe. A place where violent crime is non-existent and criminal wrongdoing of any sort is rare.

Why then did the mother of Adam Lanza, the alleged perpetrator, have an arsenal of firearms? According to the latest reports, in addition to two semi-automatic handguns and a semi-automatic rifle recovered at the scene of the slaughter of young innocents, the police found other weapons in the Lanza home.

Which begs the question: if Newtown is as safe and secure as seems to be the case, a wonderful place to raise children in fact, why then did Lanza’s mother purchase an arsenal of firearms? Was she an avid fan of recreational shooting who visited gun ranges? Or did she simply feel safer with a bunch of handguns and rifles about the place? And how well were these weapons secured in the home – if at all?

This blog has advocated stronger gun controls in the past and believes we could benefit greatly from adopting more stringent Canadian-style regulations governing the ownership and storage of firearms.

The NRA is lying low at the moment as they always do in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. They will bide their time until emotions have cooled and then will launch their counterattack to the calls for stronger gun controls. The organization’s trained political lapdogs, mostly but not necessarily all Republicans, will be sent forth to mournfully express their sorrow at the events in Newtown but will opine that what we don’t need is more gun laws. They’ll be joined at the right moment by the NRA’s leading mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, who will yap on endlessly about how more gun laws would not have prevented this tragedy and what we really need is more armed citizens (maybe we should now lower the minimum age to five for owning a handgun?) to stop these events in their tracks. After all, if only the janitor had been packing a .357 magnum…

In this particular case, a Canadian-style requirement for firearms to be stored securely might have prevented this awful massacre. If Lanza’s mother had owned a secure safe for the storage of her weapons and if she knew that her son was struggling with anger or similar issues, she could have saved all those lives by simply locking her weapons away and hiding the key or combination from him. Best of all, of course, was if she had never purchased the guns in the first place.

And herein lays the great irony of this tragic event. The shooter’s mother had an arsenal of weapons that she clearly did not need for her safety, because Newtown is a safe community where people know one another, look out for each other. And now thanks to her son’s access to deadly weaponry, the name will be forever linked with one of the greatest, most heinous crimes in American history.

On the issue of guns, America has lost its perspective, its senses and its sanity – and now, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a precious group of its children and their courageous principal and teachers. May God give us the wisdom, the strength and the courage so that something good can still come from so much pain and anguish.