US school shooting revives gun debate
Relatives of those killed in past mass shootings reacted with outrage to Friday’s news of another massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut. The tragedy also reignited calls from gun control activists for laws restricting access to weapons.
A crowd of about 200 people gathered outside the White House on Friday evening for a candlelight vigil, many of them drawn together through social media sites. Speakers urged President Barack Obama to push for gun control and said the Connecticut shootings were just the latest in a US epidemic of gun violence.
Reflecting the difficult politics of gun control, Obama has not pushed for stricter gun laws, calling instead for better enforcement of existing laws. But Friday’s shooting once again stoked the never-ending debate.
Emotions were running high in Colorado, which was rocked by the 1999 Columbine High School and — less than six months ago — the movie theatre shooting in the Denver suburb of Aurora.
“Until we get our acts together and stop making these ... weapons available, this is going to keep happening,” said an angry Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the theatre shooting last July.
Teves was choked up as he answered a reporter’s call Friday. A work associate of his lives in Newtown, Connecticut, where 28 people were killed, including 20 children, at the elementary school. The connection chilled and angered him.
The 20-year-old killer, identified by a law enforcement official as Adam Lanza, carried out the attack with two handguns. A high-powered .223-calibre rifle was found in the back of a car. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the record about the unfolding investigation.
Reasons for Americans’ love of guns go as far back as its western frontier culture. The right to bear arms is guaranteed by the US Constitution alongside such basic rights as free speech and freedom of religion. Some Americans consider easy access to guns a fundamental right and blame shootings on such social ills as broken families, a culture of violence or bad luck.
This week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper generated a storm of debate after declaring that it was time to start debating gun control measures. And on Friday, Hickenlooper told reporters there’s no use waiting until news coverage fades.
“We can’t postpone the discussion on a national level every time there’s a shooting. They’re too often,” he said.
A visibly emotional Obama seemed willing to renew debate, calling for “meaningful action” to prevent similar shootings, but he was not specific. During Obama’s time in office, mass shootings have shaken communities in Wisconsin, Texas and Colorado.
A minister from California who was in Washington as part of a religious-based effort to speak out against gun violence called on Obama to take a stand for gun control before his State of the Union address in January, or during it.
“Platitudes and condolences do not help. We need action,” the Rev. Michael McBride said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of greater limits on guns, responded directly to the president’s remarks: “Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before.”
Also Friday, Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attack that killed six people in Tucson, Arizona, last year, said the Connecticut shooting should “sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right.”
“This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence,” Kelly said on his Facebook page, calling for “a meaningful discussion about our gun laws and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America.”
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex also died in the Colorado theatre shooting, welcomed the discussion.
“Clips that hold 50 bullets? The only animal you’re after with that is man. There is no other reason. That’s what that is used for. My question to those people is, ‘Why do you need a clip that holds 50 bullets?”‘ Sullivan said in a phone interview.
But Sullivan said mental health, not gun control, is a more pressing concern.
“We all need someone in our lives to care,” Sullivan said. “If we see a friend, a colleague, a co-worker and they’re having a hard time, we need to reach out.”
Emotional appeals didn’t come only from gun control supporters. Friday’s responses from both sides foretold a heart-wrenching debate.
“They’re going to use the bodies of dead children to push their agenda,” predicted Dudley Brown of the Denver group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.