The Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre happened 5 years ago December 14 in Newtown, CT. Adam Lanza shot his mother dead and then went to the Sandy Hook school where he killed 20 small children (all between the ages of 6 and 7) and 6 adults with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, a military grade weapon. The massacre ended with his suicide.
These mass shootings, growing in number and increasingly deadly and outrageous since the Columbine Massacre of 1999, have drastically altered daily life in the USA. Now public schools are becoming fortified with bullet-proof glass, reinforced concrete walls, and regular “shooter drills.” Such measures were unimaginable back when I was 6 years old, in my relatively affluent school district or even in other less advantaged ones. Such school massacres as Columbine and Sandy Hook were simply too indecent and insane to even imagine fifty years ago. These mass shooting events are becoming gradually “normal.” It seems to me that the sudden mass murder of innocent people is becoming normalized, that we are being conditioned to accept such outrages as somehow an acceptable price we all must pay so that some other people can protect a privilege to own a military grade weapon that they call “freedom.” This is certainly not the case in the rest of the developed world, not even in countries that have large rates of gun ownership such as Norway, Germany, or Australia. The cult of firearms as a kind of talisman of liberty, autonomy, and manliness remains unique to the USA. The 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Australia cost 35 lives and caused a conservative government to ban the sale of military grade weapons to the public. The legislation passed in parliament with little protest, even from gun owners. Australia has not had another gun massacre since. The USA has had dozens of such massacres since Columbine in 1999.
In the wake of the Sand Hook Massacre, the USA decided that the mass murder of small children was bearable as a price to pay for the privilege of owning and keeping military grade weapons in private homes. By making such a decision, the American public crossed a bright hard line that separates civilized society from what is not civilized. After 5 years, this massacre looks like a momentous turning point in our history, the beginning of a rapid and ugly descent into tribalism, corruption, cynicism, violence, and nihilism. As democratic institutions disintegrate, then so does the social fabric, and so do ties of trust. A society of neighbors turns into an atomized collection of frightened lonely killers whose only law is mutual assured destruction.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”