, Salem, MA

December 18, 2012

Our view: School shooting defies understanding

The Salem News

---- — It is difficult to comprehend the scope of the tragedy that has struck Newtown, Conn., where a gunman Friday killed 26 people at an elementary school, 20 of them children.

Police say Adam Lanza, 20, also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home then drove to the school where he opened fire on school personnel and the children. Lanza killed himself at the scene, bringing the total number of dead to 28.

It is heart-rending to think of the loss suffered by the families of these children. We extend our deepest sympathy to the families of the victims, their friends and loved ones.

It’s impossible to determine at this point what might have motivated Adam Lanza to commit such a horrible act. In the end, there rarely is an understandable motivation behind the actions of mass murderers. They are not rational and their “reasons” are known only to themselves.

In the wake of such tragedies, the same questions arise. What must we do?

Former Hamilton-Wenham Schools Superintendent Marinel McGrath, who now holds the same position in Andover, has some helpful suggestions. We must talk to our children, she said in a letter to the community.

First, parents are encouraged to “protect your young children from repeated viewings and auditory exposure to news accounts” of the school shooting. Provide only as much information and reassurance as the child seems to want or need. Children often may not be interested in a lengthy conversation about this, and will be satisfied with a brief reassurance.

Emphasize that they are safe and that they are loved.

McGrath also had words of hope and optimism for those touched by this tragedy.

“We are all in this together; loving and caring for the children of this community,” she wrote. “For all of us as adults, I trust we will find a way to draw reassurance and comfort from each other and the affirming messages of this holiday season. The bad news is not all of the news, and we have so much to be thankful for.”

These are encouraging thoughts, and we thank McGrath for them.

Inevitably, in the wake of mass shootings come the calls for more restrictive gun control, even for banning possessions of guns altogether. This is a debate that will rage in the coming days and weeks, and it is a debate we as a country must have. In speaking at a vigil in Newtown Sunday night, President Obama noted it was the fourth time in his administration that he had traveled to a community devastated by a mass shooting.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday she will introduce legislation next year to ban new assault weapons, as well as big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets. Police say Lanza was carrying an arsenal of ammunition big enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time.

We cannot, however, simply rely on further restrictions on gun ownership. Connecticut’s gun laws already are quite restrictive. And it is already illegal in Connecticut to possess a gun on school property, without the direct permission of the school. Reports thus far indicate the school had followed the proper procedures regarding security.

Laws couldn’t stop the Newtown school shooter. The country needs an equally aggressive debate over access to care for and treatment of mental illness.

There have been more than 20 incidents of gunmen causing mass casualties in the United States in the past year. This is something that can’t be legislated away. We are foolish to think that laws alone provide solutions. It is a problem that will require far more involvement on the part of our society — neighbors, friends, family.

The president closed his remarks Sunday night by reading the first names of the children killed Friday: “Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.”

Said Obama of the girls and boys who died: “God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”