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History > 2012 > USA > Gun violence (IV)




American tragedy

Petar Pismestrovic


15 December 2012


Petar Pismestrovic

is one of the founding members

of the Croatian Cartoonists Association (HDK),

and works for Kleine Zeitung in Austria.















Body of Connecticut Gunman

Has Been Claimed for Burial


December 30, 2012
The New York Times


The body of Adam Lanza, who fatally shot 26 people, including 20 children, at an elementary school this month, has been claimed for burial, according to the Connecticut chief medical examiner’s office.

A spokeswoman for the office declined on Sunday to say who had claimed Mr. Lanza’s body or to elaborate.

Calls and messages to family members and a family spokesman were not immediately returned on Sunday night.

A funeral service for Mr. Lanza’s mother, Nancy, whom he shot to death in their home before embarking on the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, took place a few days after the shootings.

The authorities have not given a motive for Mr. Lanza’s actions. Researchers at the University of Connecticut have said they planned to study his DNA.

The attack has reopened debates over stricter regulation of the kind of semiautomatic rifle that Mr. Lanza, 20, used in the rampage, and over school safety.

In another development, a lawyer, Irving J. Pinsky, said Sunday that he filed last week for permission to sue the state for $100 million on behalf of a 6-year-old survivor of the attack. Mr. Pinsky said education officials had failed to protect his client, whom he declined to identify.

But the claim said the child had suffered “emotional and psychological trauma and injury.”

Mr. Pinsky said the claim was “about improving school security, not about money.”

    Body of Connecticut Gunman Has Been Claimed for Burial, NYT, 30.12.2012,






Babes in Arms


December 30, 2012
The New York Times


From: David Keene, president

To: Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president

Re: “Good Guys With Guns” Campaign, Phase Two

Dear Wayne,

Phase One of our plan to defuse that P.R. disaster in Newtown has had great results. Your performance at the news conference and on the weekend talk shows was masterly. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” It gave me goose bumps! We have answered the old bleeding-heart fallacy (guns are the problem) with a bold Second-Amendment response (guns are the solution). “Good guys with guns” (cc’ing Legal to see if we can TM) is undoubtedly the best slogan we’ve come up with since “Guns don’t kill people ...” and “If guns are outlawed ...” While the old slogans simply changed the subject, the new approach is positive and proactive. We’re actually for something now.

The polling team and psych consultants love that we have made “more guns in schools” a serious subject of mainstream discussion. We’re particularly proud of the idea that advertising a “gun-free school” is an open invitation to homicidal crazies. Take THAT Michael Bloomberg! For years we have owned the issue of freedom. Now we stand a good chance of owning the issue of safety.

And it should not go unmentioned that this whole project has been greeted with appreciation by our friends in the manufacturing and sales community. First, by reviving the fear of confiscation, we helped generate a nice little just-in-case pre-Christmas bump in firearm sales. And of course more guns in schools will mean a significant boost in demand. I have the Development team stepping up its outreach to a grateful industry.

Still, the issue has not receded as quickly as we anticipated. As you know, Research estimates that the mean lapsed time from a high-body-count firearm event to baseline apathy is nine days. Yet this particular event has continued to receive media attention through the Christmas season, the clamor on the pro-disarmament editorial pages continues, and the polling metrics continue to be unfavorable. A few of our friends on the Hill are wobbly.

Therefore I think we need to gear up for Phase Two, with the option of executing early in the new year if the public fails to return to its standard level of indifference.

To recap, Phase Two is tentatively called Arm Our Kids — A.O.K. — and its objective is a comprehensive K-12 carry program. If an armed guard in every school is prudent, how much more secure will we feel to have a Smith & Wesson in every cubby? We all know (as the media scolds keep pointing out) there was an armed sheriff’s deputy on duty at Columbine High School the day Harris and Klebold committed their mayhem; but he was eating lunch. So let’s up the ante to full coverage, from toddler to teen, from assembly to dismissal. Even the most deranged killer will think twice about entering a classroom knowing any of those adorable youngsters could be a licensed, trained, locked and loaded, Glock-packing Good Guy.

I know a few board members have expressed concern that this campaign could encounter significant backlash, and not just from the nanny-state brigade. But it is the logical evolution of our safety argument, and it appeals to a core American value, individual responsibility. I anticipate that with our usual combination of messaging and political muscle, we can enroll a significant number of school districts. But even if we fall short on penetration, A.O.K. will give the chatterers something to chatter about besides ammo clips and the gun-show loophole.

Research has promised data by next week on how many jobs would be created by a comprehensive program, including not only ramped-up firearms and accessories production but also new demand for trainers, shooting-range operators, and engineers to develop new lines of weapons for little fingers.

Here are a few other issues for consideration:

Spokesman. There will never be a frontman to match Charlton Heston, God rest his soul. Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, as the head of our National School Shield Program, has struck just the right note of smooth, always-on-message reasonableness. The man could sell snake oil to snakes. But for the next phase we need mom appeal. Is Sarah Palin too obvious? Maybe one of the doctor-moms on “Grey’s Anatomy” — Hey! The pregnant one!

Curriculum. We will be presenting this as not just a safety program but an educational opportunity, with training to improve situational awareness and quick judgment. (Can we get that “Blink” guy to do a testimonial?) Also, I am sure Rick Perry would happily tell the Texas State Board of Education to work with us on a line of animated textbooks that restores firearms to their proper place in American history and integrates issues like caliber and muzzle velocity into the math curriculum.

Merchandising. Marketing is confident that we will have no problem migrating the boy market from toy guns and video arcades to live fire. The Cub Scouts already promote BB-gun skills. We’re checking to see whether they’re willing to expand into pistols and rifles, perhaps with a Good Guy merit badge. But much remains to be done on the girl front. I’m attaching the early test-market results from the “My Little Colt” product (comes in a rainbow of colors, but pink is still the clear winner). We’ve been in touch with half a dozen makers of bulletproof backpacks, including one with a Disney Princess line. We’ve also scheduled meetings with a few more companies to propose branding opportunities. How about a “Little House on the Prairie” holster line? Or, from the makers of the Easy-Bake Oven, a line of Easy-Cast home bullet-making kits?

Military tie-in. The Pentagon has not been terribly responsive to our proposal to embrace this as a boon to the volunteer military, but we will continue to work that angle. Meanwhile, I’ve had a strange call from someplace in Africa — is there a country called Sergio Leone? — where they claim to have had a whole ARMY of kids who really did the job. We need to check that out.

Endorsements. A board member suggested we align ourselves with Mike Huckabee, who, as you know, linked the Newtown killings to the abolition of prayer in schools. The idea would be to add a little First Amendment kick to our Second Amendment campaign — first they get rid of God, then they get rid of guns, or something like that. Worth exploring. Although, between us, personally I find these religious zealots a little creepy.

Happy New Year!


    Babes in Arms, NYT, 30.12.2012,






A Broken System for Tracking Guns


December 30, 2012
The New York Times


As President Obama looks to reduce gun violence after the Connecticut massacre through reforms like reinstating the assault weapons ban, he and supporters of sane gun laws in Congress need to be equally serious about strengthening the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the beleaguered agency charged with enforcing federal firearm regulations.

Ending the bureau’s leadership vacuum is the first challenge. The bureau, which has been mired in a scandal over Operation Fast and Furious, the botched scheme to investigate gun trafficking across the Mexican border, has been without a permanent full-time director for six years — ever since the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress that the position should require Senate confirmation. Mr. Obama’s 2010 nomination of Andrew Traver, now head of the bureau’s Denver division, has stalled for no good reason, except for N.R.A. opposition and White House reluctance to wage a battle to fill the post.

It is a fight worth having. The current acting director, B. Todd Jones, who also serves as the United States attorney in Minnesota, is the fifth acting director since 2006. Mr. Obama has called on the Senate to make confirming a permanent director “a priority.” But it will take a lot more than a polite request to break the logjam.

One immediate task for Vice President Joseph Biden Jr., who is heading the new White House group on gun violence that will report recommendations in January, is to focus on dismantling the senseless obstacles impeding the bureau’s day-to-day functioning.

The bureau — which should have a lead role in protecting the nation from gun crimes — has been severely hindered by an array of N.R.A.-backed legislative restrictions. For example, a 1986 law prohibits A.T.F. agents from making more than one unannounced inspection a year on a gun dealer, a rule that serves no purpose other than protecting unscrupulous dealers. (As it is, a lack of agents means that a gun shop can go years between inspections.)

The same law makes it extremely difficult to pull the licenses of rogue gun dealers. The government must show not just that the conduct was intentional but that the violator knew it was illegal.

Language included in every A.T.F. appropriations bill since 1979 has prohibited the bureau from putting gun sales records into a central computer database. That means workers at the bureau’s tracing center often must call gun makers and sellers and go through paper files to identify the buyer of a gun linked to a crime.

Finally, the so-called Tiahrt amendments, attached to federal spending bills, require the federal government to destroy the background check records of gun buyers within 24 hours of approval. That makes it very hard to identify dealers who falsify sales records.

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, President Obama reiterated his commitment to lay out a package of gun reforms quickly and put his “full weight behind it.” In addition to a tough assault weapons ban, he should be pushing to bar sales of high-capacity ammunition clips and to close the loophole that allows felons and other buyers to evade background checks at gun shows. Empowering the A.T.F. is another step that clearly needs to be part of his agenda.

This is part of a continuing series on the epidemic of gun violence

and possible solutions. Other editorials are at nytimes.com/gunchallenge.

    A Broken System for Tracking Guns, NYT, 30.12.2012,






Guns and Mental Illness


December 28, 2012
The New York Times


Many years ago, when I was a young reporter at Texas Monthly magazine, I spent the better part of six months in the company of a man who suffered from schizophrenia. His name was Fred Thomas; he was 23 years old; and he had been steadily deteriorating since high school, which is when most men first show symptoms of the disease.

I watched Fred as he was shuttled in and out of the state hospital in Austin, Tex. — one of the few that had not been closed down by the mid-1980s — where he was wildly overmedicated, and then released to either his mother’s home, which was invariably disastrous, or a halfway house ill equipped to help someone as delusional as he was.

I learned about the group homes that had sprung up after the closure of the mental hospitals. They were so gruesome that one outplacement worker told me she had never been to one “because I don’t want to know where I am sending them.” I spent time at a homeless shelter that had become, in effect, a mental institution without doctors or aides. Ultimately, the article I wrote was about how the “deinstitutionalization movement” of the 1960s and early 1970s — a movement prompted by the same liberal impulses that gave us civil rights and women’s rights — had become a national disgrace.

What spurs this recollection are two things. The first is Nina Bernstein’s powerful report in The Times this week about the plight of the mentally ill in New York. Although the article was pegged to the loss of services after Hurricane Sandy, in truth, Sandy only exacerbated a situation that was already terrible. With the mentally ill rarely institutionalized for any length of time — on the theory that their lives will be better if they are not confined in a hospital — other institutions have sprung up to take their place.

Prisons, for instance. According to E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center, a staggering 20 percent of the prison population is seriously mentally ill. Around a third of the homeless are mentally ill.

And one more statistic: “Ten percent of homicides are committed by seriously mentally ill people who are not being treated,” says Torrey.

In the wake of the massacres in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., there have been essentially two central arguments about the cause. Liberals have stressed the need for new gun regulations that would make it more difficult for the likes of James Holmes and Adam Lanza to get ahold of killing machines like semiautomatics. There is no lack of sensible ideas: background checks for all gun purchasers, a national registry that would allow guns to be traced, an assault weapons ban, controls on ammunition, and so on. Nouriel Roubini, the economist, wrote in a Twitter message that gun owners should be required to have liability insurance, an intriguing idea. Some legislators who once blindly followed the bidding of the National Rifle Association are now saying they are reconsidering in the wake of Newtown.

Many conservatives, however, have placed the blame for the recent rash of mass shootings not on the proliferation of guns but on the fact that James Holmes and Adam Lanza were allowed to go about their business unfettered, despite their obvious mental illness. The editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal recently wrote that changing the way we treat the mentally ill “strikes us as a more promising path” for reducing mass killings than a fight over gun control.

In truth, both are necessary. If conservatives need to face the need for gun regulations — controls that will make guns less ubiquitous while still staying on the right side of the Second Amendment — liberals need to acknowledge that untreated mental illness is also an important part of the reason mass killings take place. Yes, it is true, as has been noted in recent weeks, that most mentally ill people don’t commit crimes. But it is equally true that anyone who goes into a school with a semiautomatic and kills 20 children and six adults is, by definition, mentally ill.

The state and federal rules around mental illness are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us should always be in control of their own treatment, and that deinstitutionalization is the more humane route. That is not always the case. Torrey told me that Connecticut’s laws are so restrictive in terms of the proof required to get someone committed that Adam Lanza’s mother would probably not have been able to get him help even if she had tried.

“Mentally ill street people shame the society that lets them live as they do,” I wrote toward the end of that article in Texas Monthly. It has been 50 years since deinstitutionalization became the way we dealt with the mentally ill.

How much more proof do we need that it hasn’t worked?

    Guns and Mental Illness, NYT, 28.12.2012,






The Deadly Fantasy of Assault Weapons


December 28, 2012
The New York Times


Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., using a semiautomatic, military-style assault rifle made by Bushmaster. William Spengler Jr. used the same type of Bushmaster rifle to kill two firefighters last week in Webster, N.Y. The Washington snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, also used a Bushmaster in a spree that killed 10 people in 2002.

Bushmasters are by no means the only assault weapons of choice among mass killers (the Aurora shooter used a Smith & Wesson), but the brand’s repeated presence in murderous incidents reflects Bushmaster’s enormous popularity in the gun world, the result of a successful marketing campaign aimed at putting military firepower and machismo in the hands of civilians. Gun owners once talked about the need for personal protection and sport hunting, but out-of-control ad campaigns like Bushmaster’s have replaced revolvers and shotguns with highly lethal paramilitary fantasies.

The guns, some of which come in camouflage and desert khaki, bristle with features useful only to an infantry soldier or a special-forces operative. A flash suppressor on the end of a barrel makes it possible to shoot at night without a blinding flare. Quick-change magazines let troops reload easily. Barrel shrouds allow precise control without fear of burns from a muzzle that grows hot after multiple rounds are fired. But now anyone can own these guns, and millions are in civilian hands.

“There is an allure to this weapon that makes it unusually attractive,” Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee, told USA Today, speaking of the Bushmaster rifles. “The way it looks, the way it handles — it screams assault weapon.”

The company’s catalog and ads show soldiers moving on patrol through jungles, Bushmasters at the ready. “When you need to perform under pressure, Bushmaster delivers,” says the advertising copy, superimposed over the silhouette of a soldier holding his helmet against the backdrop of an American flag. “Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered,” said a 2010 catalog, peddling an assault rifle billed as “the ultimate military combat weapons system.” (Available to anyone for $2,500.)

In case that message was too subtle, the company appealed directly to the male egos of its most likely customers. “Consider your man card reissued,” said one Bushmaster campaign (pulled off the Web after the Newtown shooting), next to a photo of a carbine. “If it’s good enough for the professional, it’s good enough for you.”

The effect of these marketing campaigns on fragile minds is all too obvious, allowing deadly power in the wrong hands. But given their financial success, gun makers have apparently decided that the risk of an occasional massacre is part of the cost of doing business.

    The Deadly Fantasy of Assault Weapons, NYT, 28.12.2012,






The N.R.A. at the Bench


December 26, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times
Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web


There has been plenty written about the National Rifle Association in recent days. But nothing that I've seen has focused on the gun lobby's increasingly pernicious role in judicial confirmations. So here's a little story.

Back in 2009, when President Obama chose Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his first Supreme Court nominee, the White House expected that her compelling personal story, sterling credentials, and experience both as a prosecutor and, for 17 years, as a federal judge would win broad bipartisan support for her nomination. There was, in fact, no plausible reason for any senator to vote against her.

The president's hope was Senator Mitch McConnell's fear. In order to shore up his caucus, the Senate Republican leader asked a favor of his friends at the National Rifle Association: oppose the Sotomayor nomination and, furthermore, "score" the confirmation vote. An interest group "scores" a vote when it adds the vote on a particular issue to the legislative scorecard it gives each member of Congress at the end of the session. In many states, an N.R.A. score of less than 100 for an incumbent facing re-election is big trouble.

Note that the N.R.A. had never before scored a judicial confirmation vote. Note also that Sonia Sotomayor had no record on the N.R.A.'s issues. (True, she voted with an appeals court panel to uphold New York State's ban on nunchucks, a martial-arts weapon consisting of two sticks held together with a chain or rope, commonly used by gang members and muggers. The appeals court didn't even reach the interesting issue of whether the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to keep and bear nunchucks, ruling instead that the amendment didn't apply to the states - which, before the Supreme Court later ruled otherwise by a vote of 5 to 4, it didn't.)

Never mind. The N.R.A. had all the reason it needed to oppose Sonia Sotomayor: maintenance of its symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party. Once it announced its opposition and its intention to score the vote, Republican support for the nominee melted away. Only seven Republicans voted for confirmation.

One senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said by way of explaining her "no" vote that her constituents had expressed "overwhelming concern" about Judge Sotomayor's views on the Second Amendment. However, Senator Murkowski told the National Journal at the time, "I am a bit concerned that the N.R.A. weighed in and said they were going to score this." She added, "I don't think that was appropriate."

The following year, after the N.R.A. opposed Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court and announced that "this vote matters and will be part of future candidate evaluations," Republican support for another nominee without a record on gun issues shrank to five senators.

At least Supreme Court confirmation debates take place in the light of day. Members of the public can tune in and decide whether they are persuaded that Elena Kagan represents "a clear a present danger to the right to keep and bear arms," to quote the N.R.A.'s statement of opposition to her nomination. (Justice Kagan had never owned or shot a gun, but since joining the court has taken lessons and gone hunting with Justice Antonin Scalia, pronouncing the experience "kind of fun.")

But the N.R.A. has begun to involve itself in lower court nominations as well, where it can work its will in the shadows. It has effectively blocked President Obama's nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that has been vacant since September 2005, when John G. Roberts Jr. moved to a courthouse up the street. The president has submitted the name of the superbly qualified Ms. Halligan to the Senate three times.

When the Democrats' effort to break a Republican filibuster failed last year, Senator Murkowski was the only Republican to vote for cloture, perhaps liberated by the fact that she won her last election as a write-in candidate, thus freeing herself of party discipline - which in the Republicans' case effectively means discipline by the N.R.A. In this year's Republican Senate primary in Indiana, the N.R.A. spent $200,000 toward the successful effort to defeat the incumbent, Richard Lugar, attacking the six-term senator for, among other sins, having voted to confirm "both of Barack Obama's anti-gun nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court."

When I wrote a year ago about the fate of Caitlin Halligan's appeals court nomination, I tried to puzzle out the basis for the opposition. Silly me, I thought it had something to do with Republicans not wanting a young (she had just turned 45), highly qualified judge sitting in the D.C. Circuit's famous launch position (hello, John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Warren Burger . . .)

Now I realize it's not about anything so sophisticated. It's about the N.R.A., which announced its opposition days before the cloture vote last December. It was only the second time in the organization's history that it had opposed a nomination at the non-Supreme Court level. (The first was Abner Mikva in 1979, a former member of Congress from Chicago who won confirmation and who later served as President Bill Clinton's White House counsel.) In a previous job as New York State's solicitor general, Ms. Halligan, a former Supreme Court law clerk who is now general counsel to the Manhattan district attorney, had represented the state in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. So much for her.

So that's my N.R.A. story. The question is what anyone can do about it. The N.R.A. has embedded itself so deeply into the culture of Republican politics that it would take a cataclysm to break the bonds of money and fear that keep Republican office holders captive to the gun lobby's agenda.

Well, a cataclysm just occurred, a few dozen miles from my office at Yale Law School. (My late father-in-law was born on a farm in the Sandy Hook neighborhood of Newtown.) There will be legislative proposals, and members of the Senate and House will debate them, maybe even enact a few, and people back home can decide what they think. How to get a handle on the gun problem is not my point. Rather, I want to offer the judicial nomination story as a canary in the mine, a warning about the depths to which the power of the gun lobby has brought the political system.

My point is this: It is totally unacceptable for the N.R.A., desperate to hang on to its mission and its members after achieving its Second Amendment triumph at the Supreme Court four years ago, to be calling the tune on judicial nominations for an entire political party. Free the Republican caucus. Follow Lisa Murkowski's lead. Recognize a naked power play for what it is. Voters who think they care about the crisis of gun violence in America are part of the problem, not the solution - they are enablers if they aren't willing to help their elected representatives cast off the N.R.A.'s chains. Call for an end to the cowardly filibuster against Caitlin Halligan, whose nomination the president resubmitted in September. The next time a senator announces opposition to a judicial nominee, demand something other than incoherent mumbo-jumbo. Tell the senator to fill in the blank: "I oppose this nominee because ____." If there's an answer of substance, fine. That's advise-and-consent democracy. But if, upon inspection, the real answer is "because the N.R.A. told me to," we have a problem. Based on these last few years, I think we do.

    The N.R.A. at the Bench, NYT, 26.12.2012,






Woman Helped Firefighters’ Killer Get Gun

He Used in Ambush, Police Say


December 28, 2012
The New York Times


The police arrested a woman in western New York on Friday who they said helped a man acquire the weapon he is believed to have used to kill two firefighters in an ambush that left two others injured.

According to the police, the woman, Dawn Nguyen, 24, bought a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun from a gun shop more than two years ago on behalf of William Spengler Jr., who as a felon was not permitted to buy or own a gun.

Mr. Spengler apparently used the rifle on Monday to kill the firefighters, whom he lured to his home in Webster, N.Y., near Lake Ontario, by starting a fire, the authorities said. After shooting at other emergency responders, Mr. Spengler shot himself in the head with another weapon, a handgun, an autopsy revealed. The fire destroyed seven homes.

Ms. Nguyen went with Mr. Spengler to buy the weapons at a shop in June 2010, according to a criminal complaint filed by the United States attorney in the Western District of New York.

When the police asked her about the purchase after the shooting, she claimed the guns were for her own protection. She also said they had been stolen from her car, although the police said no report had been filed to support that claim.

The complaint said Ms. Nguyen had told a friend that she bought the weapons for Mr. Spengler. The police said that assertion was corroborated by what Mr. Spengler wrote in a suicide note, in which he said a neighbor’s daughter helped him acquire the guns.

Since the guns were not intended for her, the complaint said, she made a false statement when she bought them, a felony that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Ms. Nguyen is “the person who purchased that rifle and that shotgun found next to William Spengler,” William J. Hochul Jr., the United States attorney for the Western District of New York, said at a news conference in Rochester on Friday.

Ms. Nguyen’s lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Webster police chief, Gerald L. Pickering, said that based on the distance between Mr. Spengler’s hiding place and where his victims were found, he most likely used the Bushmaster.

A similar gun was used in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, which prompted a renewed debate about the nation’s gun laws. Much of the discussion has been focused on whether military-style assault weapons like the Bushmaster should be banned.

On Thursday, the State Police released the autopsy results of the two firefighters who were killed and their attacker.

Michael Chiapperini, 43, died as a result of a gunshot wound and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, died as a result of two gunshot wounds, the police said. Mr. Spengler, 62, was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot to his head.

Funeral and memorial services are planned for Mr. Chiapperini and Mr. Kaczowka during the weekend. Hundreds of firefighters and police officers from around the region were pouring into Webster on Friday.

The police have also recovered human remains in Mr. Spengler’s home, which was among the buildings that burned, but the remains have yet to be positively identified. Earlier this week, Chief Pickering said the police believed that the remains belong to Cheryl Spengler, 67, Mr. Spengler’s sister.

The two had fought bitterly in the past, friends and neighbors said, and they may have been involved in a dispute over who would take ownership of the family home following the death of their mother, Arline, in October. Mr. Spengler served 17 years in prison for the 1980 murder of his grandmother, whom he killed with a hammer.

It remained unclear what motivated him to target emergency responders, but he made his intentions clear in the note he left behind: he wanted to kill as many people as he could.

When the police arrived at the scene of the fire just before dawn on Monday, they were met by a fusillade of bullets. A SWAT team was called in to help thwart the gunman. As the gun battle raged, the fire spread.

The autopsy report showed that Mr. Spengler was not struck by any bullets fired by law enforcement officers.


Michael D. Regan contributed reporting.

    Woman Helped Firefighters’ Killer Get Gun He Used in Ambush, Police Say, NYT, 28.12.2012,






Firefighters’ Attacker Didn’t Hide Past Killing,

a Neighbor Says


December 27, 2012
The New York Times


The man who ambushed firefighters in western New York before fatally shooting himself was not shy about discussing his role in a previous killing, neighbors said Thursday.

Amy S. Warner, who bought a cottage next door to the home of the gunman, William Spengler Jr., this summer, recalled her revealing first encounter with him. Shortly after introducing himself, Mr. Spengler recounted why he had killed his paternal grandmother with a hammer in the house Ms. Warner and her boyfriend had just bought, she said.

“In the first 15 minutes, he volunteered that,” Ms. Warner recalled. “He said, ‘I was on drugs and I wanted money for drugs and my grandmother wouldn’t give it to me.’ ”

He explained that he had spent 17 years in prison for that crime, which occurred in summer 1980 on the staircase that ran right up the middle of the old cottage on Irondequoit Bay.

“What do you say to that?” Ms. Warner said, adding that she could not, in fact, remember how she had responded to Mr. Spengler’s confession.

What she and her boyfriend, James B. Smith, did not do was rush to cancel the contract they had just signed. They figured that the man had served his punishment, and they did not find him scary or intimidating, she said.

“He just seemed like a hippie,” Ms. Warner said. “He had his ponytail. He wanted to help.”

What they did was tear out the staircase and build a replacement on one side of the main floor. “I just kind of wanted that out because it was creepy,” Ms. Warner said.

That was not the only creepy discovery the new owners made. While cleaning out the basement, they found a canister containing the ashes of Alphonse Vercruysse, the father of two siblings who had lived there.

One of the siblings, Roger Vercruysse, said Thursday that it had been his father’s wish to have his ashes “thrown against the wall” of his favorite bar in Rochester. But, Mr. Vercruysse said, his sister must have decided to hold on to them. “My sister was close to my dad,” he said.

Mr. Spengler, on the other hand, was close to his mother — but not to his sister, even though they lived in the same small house, at 191 Lake Road in Webster, Mr. Vercruysse said. “He used to tell me he hated his sister,” Mr. Vercruysse said of the man he called Billy. “I asked him why. He would never tell why.”

Ms. Warner said she never saw Mr. Spengler’s sister, Cheryl, and he never spoke of her and never mentioned guns or hunting. Now, the police believe that the remains they found in the Spengler home after it burned are those of his sister. They have not revealed a cause of death.

The police have said that Mr. Spengler, 62, set fire to the house and a car before dawn on Christmas Eve, then shot four volunteer firefighters who responded to an emergency call, killing two of them. On Thursday, State Police officials said that one of the firefighters, Michael J. Chiapperini, was killed by a single gunshot, and that the other, Tomasz Kaczowka, was hit twice. Mr. Spengler killed himself with a single bullet to the head, they said.

The authorities are still investigating how he obtained the guns he used, including a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle similar to the one used this month in an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

As the police searched for Mr. Spengler, the fires he set spread through the neighborhood, destroying seven homes, including the one that Ms. Warner and Mr. Smith were renovating and planned to live in year-round.

Ms. Warner said she doubted that Mr. Spengler intended any harm to come to her or Mr. Smith because “he liked Jim.” Indeed, she said she believed one reason he carried out his plot so early was because Mr. Smith would have shown up to work on the house a little later that morning.

Asked if she had second thoughts about rebuilding in the burned-out neighborhood after all that Mr. Spengler had wrought there over the years, Ms. Warner was quick to reply: “He’s gone now, right?”

Besides, she added, “I’ve lived here my whole life and I really want to live on the bay.”


Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

    Firefighters’ Attacker Didn’t Hide Past Killing, a Neighbor Says, NYT, 27.12.2012,






Anatomy of a Murder-Suicide


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


SUICIDE is not as newsworthy as homicide. A person’s disaffection with his own life is less threatening than his rage to destroy others. So it makes sense that since the carnage in Newtown, Conn., the press has focused on the victims — the heartbreaking, senseless deaths of children, and the terrible pain that their parents and all the rest of us have to bear. Appropriately, we mourn Adam Lanza’s annihilation of others more than his self-annihilation.

But to understand a murder-suicide, one has to start with the suicide, because that is the engine of such acts. Adam Lanza committed an act of hatred, but it seems that the person he hated the most was himself. If we want to stem violence, we need to begin by stemming despair.

Many adolescents experience self-hatred; some express their insecurity destructively toward others. They are needlessly sharp with their parents; they drink and drive, regardless of the peril they may pose to others; they treat peers with gratuitous disdain. The more profound their self-hatred, the more likely it is to be manifest as externally focused aggression. Adam Lanza’s acts reflect a grotesquely magnified version of normal adolescent rage.

In his classic work on suicide, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger said that it required the coincidence of the wish to kill, the wish to be killed and the wish to die. Adam Lanza clearly had all three of these impulses, and while the gravest crime is that his wish to kill was so much broader than that of most suicidal people, his first tragedy was against himself.

Blame is a great comfort, because a situation for which someone or something can be blamed is a situation that could have been avoided — and so could be prevented next time. Since the shootings at Newtown, we’ve heard blame heaped on Adam Lanza’s parents and their divorce; on Adam’s supposed Asperger’s syndrome and possible undiagnosed schizophrenia; on the school system; on gun control policies; on violence in video games, movies and rock music; on the copycat effect spawned by earlier school shootings; on a possible brain disorder that better imaging will someday allow us to map.

Advocates for the mentally ill argue that those who are treated for various mental disorders are no more violent than the general population; meanwhile an outraged public insists that no sane person would be capable of such actions. This is an essentially semantic argument. A Harvard study gave doctors edited case histories of suicides and asked them for diagnoses; it found that while doctors diagnosed mental illness in only 22 percent of the group if they were not told that the patients had committed suicide, the figure was 90 percent when the suicide was included in the patient profile.

The persistent implication is that, as with 9/11 or the attack in Benghazi, Libya, greater competence from trained professionals could have ensured tranquillity. But retrospective analysis is of limited utility, and the supposition that we can purge our lives of such horror is an optimistic fiction.

In researching my book “Far From the Tree,” I interviewed the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colo., in 1999. Over a period of eight years, I spent hundreds of hours with the Klebolds. I began convinced that if I dug deeply enough into their character, I would understand why Columbine happened — that I would recognize damage in their household that spilled over into catastrophe. Instead, I came to view the Klebolds not only as inculpable, but as admirable, moral, intelligent and kind people whom I would gladly have had as parents myself. Knowing Tom and Sue Klebold did not make it easier to understand what had happened. It made Columbine far more bewildering and forced me to acknowledge that people are unknowable.

When people ask me why the Klebolds didn’t search Dylan’s room and find his writings, didn’t track him to where he’d hidden his guns, I remind them that intrusive behavior like this sometimes prompts rather than prevents tragedy and that all parents must sail between what the British psychoanalyst Rozsika Parker called “the Scylla of intrusiveness and the Charybdis of neglect.” Whether one steered this course well is knowable only after the fact. We’d have wished for intrusiveness from the Klebolds and from Nancy Lanza, but we can find other families in which such intrusiveness has been deeply destructive.

THE perpetrators of these horrific killings fall along what one might call the Loughner-Klebold spectrum. Everyone seems to have known that Jared Loughner, who wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others at a meet-and-greet in Tucson in 2011, had something seriously wrong with him.

In an e-mail months before the shootout, a fellow student said: “We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon.” The problem was obvious, and no one did anything about it.

No one saw anything wrong with Dylan Klebold. After he was arrested for theft, Mr. Klebold was assigned to a diversion program that administered standardized psychological tests that his mother said found no indication that he was suicidal, homicidal or depressed. Some people who are obviously troubled receive no treatment, and others keep their inner lives completely secret; most murder-suicides are committed by people who fall someplace in the middle of that spectrum, as Adam Lanza appears to.

So what are we to do? I was in Newtown last week, one of the slew of commentators called in by the broadcast media. Driving into town, I felt as though the air were full of gelatin; you could hardly wade through the pain. As I hung out in the CNN and NBC trailers, eating doughnuts and exchanging sadnesses with other guests as we waited for our five minutes on camera, I was struck by a troubling dichotomy. People who are dealing with a loss of this scale require the dignity of knowing that the world cares. Public attention serves, like Victorian mourning dress, to acknowledge that nothing is normal, and that those who are not lost in grief should defer to those who are. When I stopped in a diner on Newtown’s main drag, I did not sense hostility between the locals and the rest of us but I did sense a palpable gulf between us. We need to but cannot know Adam Lanza; we wish to but cannot know his victims, either.

In a metaphoric blog post called “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” a woman in Boise, Idaho, who clearly loves her son but is afraid of him worries that he will turn murderous. Many American families are in denial about who their children are; others see problems they don’t know how to stanch. Some argue that increasing mental health services for children would further burden an already bloated government budget. But it would cost us far less, in dollars and in anguish, than a system in which such events as Newtown take place.

Robbie Parker, the father of one of the victims, spoke out within 24 hours of the shooting and said to Adam Lanza’s family, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well.” His spirit of building community instead of reciprocating hatred presents humbling evidence of a bright heart. It also serves a pragmatic purpose.

My experiences in Littleton suggest that those who saw the tragedy as embracing everyone, including the families of the killers, were able to move toward healing, while those who fought grief with anger tended to be more haunted by the events in the years that followed. Anger is a natural response, but trying to wreak vengeance by apportioning blame to others, including the killer’s family, is ultimately counterproductive. Those who make comprehension the precondition of acceptance destine themselves to unremitting misery.

Nothing we could have learned from Columbine would have allowed us to prevent Newtown. We have to acknowledge that the human brain is capable of producing horror, and that knowing everything about the perpetrator, his family, his social experience and the world he inhabits does not answer the question “why” in any way that will resolve the problem. At best, these events help generate good policy.

The United States is the only country in the world where the primary means of suicide is guns. In 2010, 19,392 Americans killed themselves with guns. That’s twice the number of people murdered by guns that year. Historically, the states with the weakest gun-control laws have had substantially higher suicide rates than those with the strongest laws. Someone who has to look for a gun often has time to think better of using it, while someone who can grab one in a moment of passion does not.

We need to offer children better mental health screenings and to understand that mental health service works best not on a vaccine model, in which a single dramatic intervention eliminates a problem forever, but on a dental model, in which constant care is required to prevent decay. Only by understanding why Adam Lanza wished to die can we understand why he killed. We would be well advised to look past the evil against others that most horrifies us and focus on the pathos that engendered it.


Andrew Solomon is the author, most recently, of “Far From the Tree:

Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.”

    Anatomy of a Murder-Suicide, NYT, 22.12.2012,






4 Firefighters Shot, 2 Fatally, in New York; Gunman Dead


December 24, 2012
The New York Times


WEBSTER, N.Y. — It was a simple call to put out a car fire, the sort of routine job that firefighters tackle all the time. The fire truck hurtled to the assignment early Monday in this drowsy town on the shores of Lake Ontario that was preparing for the joys of Christmas.

But it apparently was a trap, the authorities said. There were a house and a car burning. There was also a waiting killer, who had stationed himself like a sniper on a berm above the firefighters.

Before they could begin to extinguish the fire, the firefighters were met by a burst of gunfire. Four were hit by the volley of bullets, and two died. An off-duty police officer from nearby Greece, N.Y., who was on his way to work, was wounded when he and his car were hit by shrapnel.

For a few hours, the scene was chaotic: flames ignited adjacent houses as the police frantically searched for the gunman. They would find him dead near the beach, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was identified as William Spengler, 62, a man with a lengthy criminal record, who lived in the burning house. In 1981, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter for bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer. He was imprisoned until 1998.

He remained on supervised parole until 2006, and the Webster police said they had not had recent brushes with him. His mother, Arline, who lived in the same house, died this year. A former neighbor, Roger D. Vercruysse, said Mr. Spengler and his sister had also lived in the house, but “he stayed in one part with his mother and his sister stayed in the other part, and they never talked to each other.”

Mr. Spengler’s ire for his sister was matched by love for his mother, Mr. Vercruysse said.

Mr. Spengler did not seem to have a lot of friends, but “every time I needed help, he was there,” Mr. Vercruysse, 64, said, whether it was for shoveling snow or driving Mr. Vercruysse’s blind sister to the store. The police said they found Mr. Spengler with three weapons by his side, including the rifle used in the shootings. Authorities said that they did not know where he got the weapons, but that there had been recent gun thefts in Monroe County, where Webster is. As a felon, Mr. Spengler was prohibited from owning guns.

Authorities said they were unaware of a motive, but Gerald L. Pickering, the police chief in Webster, suggested that “there were certainly mental health issues involved.”

The episode comes a little over a week after the Newtown, Conn., attack, and with the country engaged in an intense debate over gun control and care of the mentally ill. Grieving, Chief Pickering said in an interview: “We know that people are slipping through the cracks, not getting the help they need. And I suspect that this gentleman slipped through the cracks. Maybe he should have been under more intense supervision, maybe he should not have been in the public, maybe he should have been institutionalized, having his problems dealt with.”

The ambush shook residents of Webster, a town 12 miles northeast of Rochester.

“These people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires,” Chief Pickering said of his lost firefighters. “They don’t expect to be shot and killed.”

At a news conference, he choked up repeatedly when giving the names of the crew members. The two men killed were Michael J. Chiapperini, 43, a local police lieutenant who owned a window-tinting business, and Tomasz Kaczowka, 19, a 911 dispatcher for Monroe County.

The two wounded firefighters, Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter, were listed in guarded to stable condition at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. Mr. Hofstetter suffered an injury to his pelvis. Mr. Scardino was shot twice and had shoulder and lung wounds. The wounded off-duty officer, John Ritter, was treated and released from another hospital.

The firefighters belonged to the West Webster Fire Department, a volunteer force whose firehouse is around four miles from where the presumed ambush occurred on Lakeside Road. By afternoon, people had left bouquets and a wreath at the firehouse, and candles burned in memory of the dead crew members. Purple and black bunting hung over each of the garage bays.

It was just over a year since another shocking crime in Webster involving a house fire. On Dec. 7, 2011, the police said, a 15-year-old named Michael Pilato deliberately set fire to his home, killing his father and two brothers. His mother and sister survived. Mr. Pilato’s trial on charges of murder and arson is to begin in a few weeks.

Webster is a middle-class community of around 43,000 named after the statesman Daniel Webster. The area where the shooting took place perches on a skinny strip sandwiched between Irondequoit Bay and Lake Ontario. Most of the tightly packed wood-frame houses are summer residences, though there are some full-time occupants.

Chief Pickering called it a “little vacation nest” and said calls for help from there were rare.

After receiving a 911 call from a resident of the neighborhood, firefighters responded to the fire at 191 Lake Road shortly after 5:30 a.m. When the gunfire began, they retreated to safety. One of the wounded firefighters fled in his car to seek help, while the others were pinned.

Police SWAT teams arrived and, according to the local police, some three dozen neighbors were evacuated in an armored vehicle.

“We heard gunshots before 6 o’clock, but we thought it was duck hunters,” said Connie Gisel, who lives across the bay from the shooting. Shortly afterward, she said, she received an automated phone call from authorities urging residents to stay indoors and away from windows.

The police said they suspected that Mr. Spengler had started the fire to draw first responders, whom he meant to kill.

The first Webster officer on the scene chased Mr. Spengler and exchanged fire with him briefly. Chief Pickering praised the officer for potentially saving many lives. The police then flooded the area and hunted for the gunman for hours before he was found dead around 11 a.m., the authorities said.

Not until the police deemed the area secure did firefighters resume putting out the blaze. By then, it had spread to neighboring houses. Ultimately, authorities said, seven houses were destroyed. As of Monday evening, firefighters had not been able to enter the burned homes to check for victims of the fire. The police said, however, that Mr. Spengler’s sister was unaccounted for.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the State Police and the Office of Emergency Management were collaborating with local officials on the case.

“New York’s first responders are true heroes as they time and again selflessly rush toward danger in order to keep our families and communities safe,” the governor said in a statement.

Chief Pickering said that in his small force, he always had a left-hand and a right-hand lieutenant, and Lieutenant Chiapperini was his left hand. “When he wasn’t working as a police officer, he was always on the first truck at any scene,” he said. “We kidded him all the time: Which hat are you wearing today, Lieutenant?”

He said the lieutenant had been to New York to help in the recovery after Hurricane Sandy. Just weeks ago, he was named firefighter of the year. His son, Nicholas, 19, is a volunteer firefighter as well, though he was not part of the crew that responded. Mr. Kaczowka’s best friend was the lieutenant’s son.

Lieutenant Chiapperini also had two young daughters.

Mr. Kaczowka joined the volunteer force only a year ago. Roberta Gammons, 52, a neighbor, said he was the youngest of three boys from a “lovely nice Catholic family.”

“He absolutely loved his job,” she said. “It didn’t surprise me in the least bit to know that he was one of the first ones on the scene.”

Ms. Gisel, who lives near Mr. Scardino, described him as a “dedicated son, dedicated husband, dedicated father,” for whom volunteering at the fire department was a kind of passion.

Mr. Hofstetter was a full-time Rochester firefighter who also belonged to the West Webster department. His mother teaches in the Webster school district, and his father is a retired teacher.

Vince DiPrima, an assistant manager at Bill Gray’s, a diner across the bridge from the fires, was overwhelmed by the morning’s tragedy. “The stuff that happened in Connecticut the other day, and then this — it’s a weird feeling,” he said. “It’s Christmas Eve.”

As evening drew close, the vigil at the West Webster firehouse grew. Mike Auger, 60, knew Lieutenant Chiapperini for 20 years.

“How ironic that as a policeman he faces this stuff all the time and he gets shot answering a fire call,” Mr. Auger said. “If it had been a police call he would have had the body armor on. A fire call, you think you’re helping people and saving their house.”


Liz Robbins reported from Webster, N.Y., and N. R. Kleinfield from New York.

Reporting was contributed by Matt Flegenheimer, J. David Goodman,

Andy Newman, Michael D. Regan, Wendy Ruderman and Sarah Wheaton.

    4 Firefighters Shot, 2 Fatally, in New York; Gunman Dead, NYT, 24.12.2012,






N.R.A. Leaders Stand Firm Against Gun Restrictions


December 23, 2012
1:25 pm
The New York Times


Leaders of the National Rifle Association said Sunday that they would fight any new gun restrictions introduced in Congress, and they made clear that they were not interested in working with President Obama to help develop a broad response to the Connecticut school massacre.

During an appearance on the NBC News program "Meet the Press," Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the powerful gun lobby, was openly dismissive of a task force established by Mr. Obama and led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that is examining ways to reduce gun violence.

"If it's a panel that's just going to be made up of a bunch of people that, for the last 20 years, have been trying to destroy the Second Amendment, I'm not interested in sitting on that panel," Mr. LaPierre said, adding that the "N.R.A. is not going to let people lose the Second Amendment in this country, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people."

At a widely watched news briefing on Friday, Mr. LaPierre said the N.R.A.'s solution to prevent mass shootings like those that have occurred in the last few years -- several of them on school campuses - was to put armed guards in schools nationwide. During the briefing, he and the gun group's president, David Keene, did not directly address plans proposed in the last week that would ban assault rifles or otherwise restrict the availability of firearms.

But during a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows by Mr. LaPierre, Mr. Keene and Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas who will lead the gun group's response to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., they made it clear that the N.R.A. opposed any of the gun restrictions now under discussion and did not believe they should be part of the discussion.

On the question of whether a limit on high-capacity ammunition would reduce the likelihood of mass shootings like the one in Connecticut, Mr. LaPierre said in a testy exchange with David Gregory, the host of "Meet the Press," that "I don't think it will."

"I keep saying it, and you just won't accept it - it's not going to work. It hasn't worked," Mr. LaPierre said.

As for the idea of reinstating a ban on so-called assault rifles, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, he said, "I think that is a phony piece of legislation, and I do not believe it will pass for this reason: It's all built on lies that have been found out."

While the N.R.A. has been criticized sharply by gun-control advocates since it broke its silence about the Connecticut shooting on Friday, it did receive some support from Senator Lindsay Graham, the influential South Carolina Republican who also appeared Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"People where I live, I've been Christmas shopping all weekend, have come up to me: 'Please don't let the government take my guns away,' " Mr. Graham said. "And I'm going to stand against another assault ban because it didn't work before, and it won't work in the future.''

On the other big issue in Washington at the moment - negotiations over a deficit-reduction deal to avert tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect after the new year - Republicans and Democrats expressed pessimism about reaching a deal in time, and they spent much of the morning blaming each other for the gridlock.

"I believe the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes," Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said on "Fox News Sunday." "He senses a victory at the bottom of the cliff. I think it hurts our country and hurts our economy."

But Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Republicans were the ones playing politics with the fiscal talks and taking the risk of putting the country over the so-called "fiscal cliff."

"If we go over it, God forbid, and I still don't think we have to, the American people are going to blame the Republican Party," Mr. Schumer said on "Meet the Press."

Lawmakers were not much more optimistic when asked about the prospects of the Senate confirming Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska, who is considered a top candidate to to succeed Leon E. Panetta as defense secretary.

Mr. Hagel has drawn criticism in recent days for his record on Israel and gays. "The Republicans are going to ask him hard questions, and I don't think he's going to get many Republican votes," Mr. Graham predicted.

    N.R.A. Leaders Stand Firm Against Gun Restrictions, NYT, 23.12.2012,






Gun Makers Use Home Leverage in Connecticut


December 23, 2012
The New York Times


Gun owners packed a hearing room in the Connecticut capital, vowing to oppose a bill that would require new markers on guns so that they are easier to trace.

One after another, they testified that the technology, called microstamping, was flawed and would increase the cost of guns.

But the witness who commanded the most attention in Hartford that day in 2009 was a representative of one of Connecticut’s major employers: the Colt Manufacturing Company, the gun maker.

The Colt executive, Carlton S. Chen, said the company would seriously consider leaving the state if the bill became law. “You would think that the Connecticut government would be in support of our industry,” Mr. Chen said.

Soon, Connecticut lawmakers shelved the bill; they have declined to take it up since. Now, in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, the lawmakers are formulating new gun-control measures, saying the state must serve as a national model.

But the failed effort to enact the microstamping measure shows how difficult the climate has been for gun control in state capitals. The firearm companies have played an important role in defeating these measures by repeatedly warning that they will close factories and move jobs if new state regulations are approved.

The companies have issued such threats in several states, especially in the Northeast, where gun control is more popular. But their views have particular resonance in Connecticut, a cradle of the American gun industry.

Like manufacturing in Connecticut over all, the state’s gun industry is not as robust as it once was. Still, Connecticut remains the seventh-largest producer of firearms in the country, according to federal data.

Colt, based in Connecticut since the 1800s, employs roughly 900 people in the state. Two other major gun companies, Sturm, Ruger & Company and Mossberg & Sons, are also based in the state. In all, the industry employs about 2,000 people in Connecticut, company officials said.

Gun-control advocates have long viewed Hartford, the capital, as hospitable terrain, because Connecticut is a relatively liberal state and already has more gun restrictions than most. Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

Yet lawmakers in Hartford did more than shelve the microstamping bill in 2009. They also declined to push a bill last year that would have banned high-capacity ammunition magazines — the very accessory used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

In several states, the gun companies have enlisted unions that represent gun workers, mindful that Democratic lawmakers who might otherwise back gun control also have close ties to labor.

In Connecticut, the United Automobile Workers, which represents Colt workers, has testified against restrictions. The union’s arguments were bolstered last year when Marlin Firearms, a leading manufacturer of rifles, closed a factory in Connecticut that employed more than 200 people. Marlin cited economic pressures, not gun regulation, for the decision, but representatives of the gun industry have said the combination of the two factors could spur others to move.

State law significantly restricts the ability of corporations to make political donations in Connecticut. Employees of Connecticut gun companies have contributed several thousand dollars in total in recent years to state candidates, mostly Republicans, according to an analysis of state records.

Financially, the gun companies and their employees in Connecticut have exerted influence by donating to national groups, especially the National Rifle Association, which have in turn helped Connecticut gun rights groups, according to interviews and financial records.

But it appears that in Hartford, the companies are relying largely on economic arguments.

Their strategy has been led by the industry’s trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which happens to have its national headquarters in Newtown, a few miles from the site of the shootings.

When Connecticut lawmakers held a hearing in 2011 on the measure to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, the director of government regulations for the foundation, Jake McGuigan, opened his testimony with some statistics.

Mr. McGuigan told lawmakers that the state’s gun companies contributed $1.3 billion to the Connecticut economy, through their own operations and those of their suppliers.

“Each year, they get courted by other firearm-friendly states, like Idaho, Virginia, North Carolina,” Mr. McGuigan said. He later added, “It’s not an idle threat.”

The federation and Colt have declined to comment on gun-control legislation since the school killings.

“Our hearts go out to our fellow Connecticut residents who have suffered such unimaginable loss,” Colt said in a statement. “We do not believe it is appropriate to make further public statements at this very emotional time.”

Gun-control advocates in Hartford said the gun companies’ strategy was shrewd because it allowed Democratic lawmakers to oppose new regulations while proclaiming that they had not bowed to the National Rifle Association.

“There are people who want to vote right, but are worried about jobs,” said Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group. “And there are people who don’t want to vote right and use it as an excuse so they don’t have to say, ‘I’m scared of the N.R.A.’ ”

Some lawmakers in Hartford suggested that after the school killings, gun companies would be unable to gain as much traction with an argument about jobs.

“I don’t think it should be a difficult choice at all,” said one of the leaders of the State Senate, Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat who represents several towns in eastern Connecticut. “There’s no reason that we can’t help companies thrive in ways that do not threaten our children, our schools, movie theaters, the things we take for granted in terms of safety and security in our communities.”

Still, the gun companies have allied themselves with Connecticut advocacy groups representing hunters and other gun owners, which have become increasingly assertive in Hartford.

The groups have in recent years sought to defeat gun regulations by evoking notorious crimes like the 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in Cheshire, Conn. They were killed by two career criminals in a home invasion.

The gun owners said the Petit case demonstrated that people needed powerful weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to protect themselves and their families against crime in their homes.

State Representative Pamela Z. Sawyer, a Republican who is an ally of gun-rights groups, acknowledged that public pressure arising from the Newtown killings would make it more difficult for gun companies and gun-rights groups to maintain influence in Hartford.

But she said the proper place for the debate was in Washington, not at the state level, signaling a strategy that Connecticut gun-rights groups may now deploy more aggressively.

Ms. Sawyer said her constituents cared deeply about gun rights, and noted that she had four gun clubs within a few miles of her hometown, Bolton, which is east of Hartford. She comes from a family of hunters and owns a rifle and handgun.

She emphasized that traditions embodied by companies like Colt inevitably colored debates over gun control in Connecticut.

The state “has a long, long history in manufacturing weapons, and so for many people, there’s a pride in that,” Ms. Sawyer said.


Michael Moss and Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

    Gun Makers Use Home Leverage in Connecticut, NYT, 23.12.2012,






Sunday Dialogue: Violence in America


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


Readers debate the best response to the surge in mass killings.

To the Editor:

In response to the killings in Connecticut (“Looking for America,” column, Dec. 15), Gail Collins calls for breaking the silence about gun laws. But the discussion needs to address more than guns and extra bullet capacity.

The spreading pattern of violence grows from many sources, not simply guns. These include television news coverage, video games and movies, as well as family and community dynamics.

Public policy on guns can play a role. But mitigating the devaluation of human life will require a much more powerful civic response. Families, schools, colleges, congregations, businesses, consumer groups and others need to work together to challenge and change the culture of violence, reaching well beyond debates about the Second Amendment.

For instance, parents and teachers can develop early warning strategies; local journalists can spotlight programs that work for disaffected young adults; and young people themselves can organize peer-to-peer anti-bullying and anti-violence campaigns.

We need a broad citizen movement if we are to reweave the social fabric.

Minneapolis, Dec. 18, 2012

The writer is director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College.

Readers React

It’s understandable that some people want to leverage this moment of intense public focus toward wider social maladies: It’s about deteriorating civil society, it’s about poverty, it’s about lack of support for youth, it’s about bullying ... the list is endless.

But right now the public is appalled and fed up with mass shootings and wants to do something about them. Now. There’s nothing wrong with focusing narrowly instead of broadly.

We also owe it to the public to be as clear as possible about what has actually been found to be true. There was a time when many of us felt sure that the violence depicted in media, games and music must be one of the root causes of violence in our society. Surprisingly, research has not provided us with the conclusive causal connection we expected.

It also turns out that, in fact, violence over all in the United States has been decreasing, not increasing, over the years. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” shares good news about the progress we’ve made as a species over the centuries.

But that hopeful news has been punctuated on a regular basis by horrifying incidents of mass murder. The public focus on Newtown may indeed be the beginning of a broad civic movement. It’s up to the public to decide where it goes from here. Let’s listen and learn.

Gibsonia, Pa., Dec. 19, 2012

The writer is contributing editor for the National Issues Forum.

Mr. Boyte’s ideas for a “powerful civic response” are fine as far as they go, but are unlikely to reach the resentful loners who carry out most of the mass shootings. The modern world produces some fraction of young men whose personal limitations keep them on the fringes of society. Their resentment is real and also realistic; most of these men will never achieve success, financially or socially, and they know it. Some of them will lash out, and the appropriate goal of gun control is to limit the damage they can do.

This lashing out has little to do with the culture of violence that Mr. Boyte rightly decries. What has changed in recent decades is the availability of weapons that enable the resentful to take many, many lives. That is where our efforts are most likely to bear fruit.

By all means let us seek to change the culture of violence, but this may be only a symptom of the loss of community bonds in modern society, whose solutions are far from obvious. What we can do in practical terms is to limit damage by removing multiple-shot and magazine-fed weapons from easy availability, and that should be our focus.

Seattle, Dec. 19, 2012

We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of culture do we want?” In the United States, we worship guns. Just look at the popular TV crime shows and movies, the video games and even the gun-oriented rhetoric of some politicians.

I was recently in the Philippines, where malls, restaurants and supermarkets frequented by upper-class people are guarded by men with automatic weapons. I did not feel safe, and I don’t think that if I had carried a gun I would have felt any safer.

While there, I thought about when I had visited England, with a culture that discourages guns, where few carry guns and even the authorities are reluctant to use them. I’ve always felt safe there.

Petaluma, Calif., Dec. 19, 2012

While we should absolutely elevate the national conversation around gun control, mental health and our violent culture, these seem to me to be symptoms of a more deep-seated issue.

The root problem is our disconnectedness from one another, the individualism of America, where people can go through life unnoticed and without intervention (inevitably described in post-tragedy news reports as “loners”).

There’s mental illness in every country. Sure, our gun-loving culture is a big part of why we are alarmingly murderous. But our relative lack of a sense of collective responsibility is the real culprit. It’s up to all of us to try to know, to ask, to care, to listen, to act a little more as if we’re all in this together. Because we are.

San Mateo, Calif., Dec. 19, 2012

Advocates for reducing violence in movies and video games as a way to prevent mass shootings and gun violence are misplacing their attention. In Canada, where the firearm murder rate is much lower than in the United States, we have the same violent video games and movies. What’s different is the gun regulation.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Dec. 19, 2012

I agree that neither gun control nor moral exhortation is an adequate response to massacres. What’s lacking are concrete ways for community members to get involved in preventing these mass killings. In the 1990s, an Australian program began training ordinary citizens in “mental health first aid,” in which they learn to detect and respond helpfully when a neighbor or family member is experiencing a mental health crisis. The program has spread to the United States.

Why can this help? Mass killers may be mentally ill and isolated, but they are often connected to and dependent on their parents. Community members can be trained to supportively intervene with these families when the danger signs of violence are present in their young men.

St. Paul, Dec. 19, 2012

The writer is professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.

My initial reaction to Mr. Boyte’s common-sense proposal was “yes,” the fabric of society is broken and a broad discussion is certainly in order. But my fear is that the focus will be taken off the narrower issue of gun control.

Mr. Boyte is playing into the hands of gun rights advocates who want to steer the debate away from automatic weapons and comprehensive background checks and instead talk about mental health and the like. There is momentum now for a sane national weapons policy that addresses the legitimate interests of hunters and Second Amendment proponents but takes automatic weapons off the street. We should capitalize on that momentum, and then talk about how to stop debasing human life.

Lake in the Hills, Ill., Dec. 19, 2012

The Writer Responds

These responses raise the many challenges facing our country in both the short run and long term. I agree with Ms. Dineen, Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Rugh that we need to seize the moment to develop what Mr. Rugh calls “a sane national weapons policy that addresses the legitimate interests of hunters and Second Amendment proponents but takes automatic weapons off the street.” The interagency initiative announced by President Obama is an important step.

It is also crucial to recognize the broader context, what Mr. Obama described as a culture “that glorifies guns and violence.”

There are also deeper dynamics. We have lost much of the sense that “we’re all in this together,” in Mr. Garriott’s phrase. Also, there has been a change in many anchoring institutions — among them, local businesses, schools and colleges grounded in the life of places — which once brought diverse people together to work on problems and created cultures of collective responsibility and civic agency. They have been replaced by detached professionals who provide services to clients and customers.

The consequences are widespread feelings of powerlessness, a search for supermen, and Lone Ranger fantasies like the idea that everyone should carry guns. The larger task in “reweaving the social fabric” is to build citizen capacities, illustrated by Mr. Doherty’s example, to work together, across differences, on guns and other issues.

Minneapolis, Dec. 20, 2012

    Sunday Dialogue: Violence in America, NYT, 22.12.2012,






A Bleak Procession of Funerals for Shooting Victims

Ends in Newtown


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — This community laid to rest on Saturday the last of the children killed in a schoolhouse massacre.

In a town devastated by violence, besieged by worldwide attention from the news media and struggling to move forward, the burial of Josephine Grace Gay, 7, brought to an end a bleak procession of funerals that began not long after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“This has been a challenge for us,” Msgr. Robert E. Weiss said during his homily at Josephine’s funeral Mass at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.

Funeral after funeral, wake after wake, he said, it had been faith, family and friendship that held the community together.

He recalled the terrible hours after the shooting stopped on Dec. 14, when he waited with families at the firehouse near the school, with parents clinging to the hope that their children had made it out unharmed.

At 3 p.m. that day, he said, Josephine’s parents were told that she had not survived.

“It does not make sense,” Monsignor Weiss said, adding that the children did not die in vain. “If these 20 cannot change the world, then no one can,” he said.

He added that it was now up to everyone to bring out the best in themselves and one another.

“You should be angry,” Monsignor Weiss said. “But don’t hold onto it.”

The shootings have resonated around the world, and have set off an intense national discussion on gun control, mental health and other issues.

That discussion continues, yet the focus here Saturday was not on questions of policy or new laws. It was on a first grader known to family and friends as Joey, who had turned 7 days before she was killed.

Her father, Bob Gay, noted that though she had autism and was unable to speak, “you don’t need words to say, ‘I love you.’ ”

Mr. Gay and Josephine’s mother, Michele Gay, shared with the congregation some of the “life lessons” they learned from their daughter.

“You can’t really appreciate a movie until you have watched it 300 times,” Ms. Gay said, before mentioning another lesson: “iPhones are not waterproof.”

Josephine’s father said that she had taught him not to “sweat the small stuff; it’s all small stuff.” And this: “Even the smallest of us can do great things.”

In a town that was plunged into unimaginable shock and sorrow a little more than a week before, there seemed to be a determination at the funeral to be upbeat. Many people wore purple, Josephine’s favorite color.

There were two other funerals for children killed at Sandy Hook on Saturday, both held outside of Newtown.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, was mourned at a private ceremony in Bloomfield, Conn. She was the daughter of the jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who posted a short tribute to his daughter on his Facebook page.

“As much as she is needed here and missed by her mother, her brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise,” he wrote the day after the shootings. “I love you, sweetie girl.”

Her mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, in a statement, recalled her budding musical talent.

“In a musical family, her gift for melody, pitch and rhythm stood out remarkably,” she said.

In Ogden, Utah, Robbie and Alyssa Parker buried their 6-year-old daughter, Emilie.

Mr. Parker was one of the first parents of a child killed at the school to speak out publicly, at an emotional news conference one week ago.

Choking back tears, he vowed not to let what happened “turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people.”

Those sentiments were echoed in the notes and posters left at memorials across Newtown.

The piles of stuffed animals and flowers and toys have grown each day, but there was a hope that with the final funeral, the people here could begin to grieve outside of the constant glare of media attention.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who had ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-staff after the massacre, said it was time to raise them once again.

    A Bleak Procession of Funerals for Shooting Victims Ends in Newtown, NYT, 22.12.2012,






From Apocalypse to Dystopia


December 22, 2012
The New York Times



WE’RE a little overwrought now.

The N.R.A. understands that. It’s as patient with us as a husband with a tremulous pregnant wife prone to crying jags.

This is just a passing meltdown. We’ll get ourselves back under control soon and things will return to normal.

For decades, when the public has grown more sympathetic to gun control after an attempted assassination or a spike in gun murders or a harrowing school shooting, Wayne LaPierre and his fellow N.R.A. officials have hunkered down to wait for the “emotional period” or “hysteria,” as they call it, to pass.

They rule in the back rooms on Capitol Hill and rein in panicked senators and congressmen who fret that they should support some measly legislation to pretend they are not pawns of the gun lobby.

They defend anyone owning anything with a trigger, reiterating that military-style semiautomatics are just uglier hunting guns.

While there were more heartbreaking funerals in Newtown, Conn., with long hearses carrying small bodies, LaPierre stepped to the microphone in Washington on Friday to present the latest variation of his Orwellian creed: Guns don’t kill people. Media kill people.

“Rather than face their own moral failings,” he said in high dudgeon, “the media demonize gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action, and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”

So it’s our fault.

LaPierre, who literally trembles when the omnipotent gun lobby is under siege, went ballistic painting a threatening picture of the dystopia that awaits if we don’t protect our schools from guns by putting guns in schools.

“The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” he said. “People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

How many more copycat killers, he asked ominously, are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame?

On the day that 6-year-old Olivia Engel, who was going to play an angel in her church’s Nativity play, was buried, LaPierre heinously cloaked his refusal to consider any remedies to gun violence — not even better background checks — as tender concern for the 20 “little kids” shot in cold blood.

He kicked around the old whipping boy, violent video games, even though plenty of his four million members no doubt play violent video games. And he repeated his old saw: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Guns don’t kill people. Guns save people.

The press conference, where the press was not allowed to ask questions, played like an insane parody: a tightly wound lobbyist who earns a million or so a year by refusing to make the slightest concession on gun safety, despite repeated slaughters by deranged shooters with jaw-droppingly easy access to firearms.

LaPierre makes Charlton Heston look like Michael Moore. The N.R.A. vice president, who once called federal agents “jackbooted government thugs,” insists the solution to gun violence is putting police officers, or “armed good guys,” in every one of the nation’s 98,817 K-12 schools.

His logic is spurious. Hunters can have their guns without leaving Americans so vulnerable to being hunted by demented souls with assault rifles that can fire 45 rounds per minute.

And consider that in 1999 an armed sheriff’s deputy policing Columbine High School exchanged fire with the shooters, and still they killed 12 other students and a teacher. Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused LaPierre of “a shameful evasion.”

It’s hard to believe that the N.R.A. needed to go dark for a week after the Newtown shootings to cook up such a chuckleheaded arms race. And LaPierre made a worse case against himself than the media ever could. It’s shocking that the N.R.A. can’t even fake it better.

It didn’t try to mask its obdurate stance by putting forth a less harsh official — a woman who’s a mother and a hunter, for instance. Maybe it could have prompted a serious discussion about armed guards at schools if it had a less crazed presentation and less of an absolute vision that “guns are cool,” as David Keene, its president, says.

The 63-year-old LaPierre and the 67-year-old Keene, a cantankerous former Bob Dole adviser whose son went to prison for shooting at another driver in a road-rage fit, seemed as out-of-touch as Mitt Romney’s campaign and the rest of the white, macho Republican Party.

President Obama, who should have been alarmed that his re-election inspired a boom in gun sales, seems daunted at the prospect of taking on gun lovers, having handed the matter off to Joe Biden to study. The president seems to be setting the table for defeat. If only he had the visceral outrage of a Bloomberg. Who knows what could happen?

    From Apocalypse to Dystopia, NYT, 22.12.2012,






The Scourge of Concealed Weapons


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


As the nation’s leaders devise new gun control strategies following the Connecticut shooting, they should look for ways to strengthen state laws that govern the possession and use of firearms. In too many states, these laws are weak and, in some cases, seem almost designed to encourage violence.

Over the years, states have made it increasingly possible for almost any adult to carry a concealed handgun in public, including on college campuses, in churches and in state parks — places where people tend to congregate in large numbers and where, in a rational world, guns should be strictly prohibited.

Some state legislators like to argue that citizens must be allowed to arm themselves because law enforcement cannot be trusted. Others offer the 2008 Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment as justification for these laws. But that decision recognized only a narrow right of “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” And it came along well after most states had begun to weaken their controls.

A more likely cause for this shift are the very forces that have undercut efforts to enact strong and sensible national laws, namely, the incredible power of the pro-gun lobby and its profitable allies in the gun manufacturing industry. The assertion on Friday by Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the National Rifle Association, that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” was as much a sales pitch as it was a restatement of the organization’s perverse philosophy.

Whatever the reason, the regulatory landscape has changed enormously in the last few decades. In 1981, 19 states prohibited individuals from carrying a concealed gun in public, and 28 states plus the District of Columbia gave law enforcement agencies discretion to issue permits only to people who had a real need to carry a hidden gun. All but a few states took this cautious approach.

Nowadays, however, there are four states that require no permit at all to carry a gun, and 35 states have permissive “shall issue” or “right-to-carry” laws that effectively take the decision of who should carry a weapon out of law enforcement’s hands. These laws say that if an applicant meets minimal criteria — one is not having been convicted of a felony, and another is not having a severe mental illness — officials have no choice about whether to issue a permit.

Some states go even further by expressly allowing guns where they should not be. Nine states now have “carry laws” that permit guns on campuses; eight permit them in bars; five permit them in places of worship. In Utah, holders of permits can now carry concealed guns in elementary schools.

Among the arguments advanced for these irresponsible statutes is the claim that “shall issue” laws have played a major role in reducing violent crime. But the National Research Council has thoroughly discredited this argument for analytical errors. In fact, the legal scholar John Donohue III and others have found that from 1977 to 2006, “shall issue” laws increased aggravated assaults by “roughly 3 to 5 percent each year.”

The federal government could help protect the public from lax state gun laws. For starters, the Fix Gun Checks Act, proposed last year in Congress, would close gaping loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and make a huge difference in identifying many people who should be denied permits under “shall issue” laws yet slip through the state systems.

Similarly, Congress could require that states set higher standards for granting permits for concealed weapons, give local law enforcement agencies greater say in the process, and prohibit guns from public places like parks, schools and churches. It could also require record-keeping and licensing requirements in the sale of ammunition, and strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The one thing Congress absolutely must not do is pass a law requiring all states to grant legal status to permits from others; that would undercut states that have relatively strong laws and would turn a porous system into a sieve.

President Obama has promised to unveil a new gun control strategy soon. It is likely to include a renewed effort to ban the sale of assault weapons like the one used in the Connecticut massacre, as well as other familiar measures. But the strategy will be incomplete unless Washington becomes actively engaged in making sure that the states stop allowing guns to get into the wrong hands.

    The Scourge of Concealed Weapons, NYT, 22.12.2012,






N.R.A. Call to Guard Schools Is Criticized as Too Simplistic


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


The National Rifle Association’s blunt call on Friday to train and place armed guards in every school in the nation as a way to “protect our children right now” has brought a divergence of opinion from school officials, teachers, parents and police officials.

But even those who said they might support some increased police presence on campuses as part of a broader safety strategy pointed out that the group’s proposal was far too simplistic.

“It’s not that they’re simply there if something terrible happens,” said Martin Miller, a math teacher at Hyde Park High School in Chicago, which has three armed police officers assigned to the building. The officers, he explained, are working to diffuse potential conflict within the schools as much as to protect students from outside intruders. One also doubles as a wrestling coach, Mr. Miller said, and the officers spend time with students serving as de facto counselors or social workers.

“In a lot of ways, I feel like our school is safer than a lot of other schools,” Mr. Miller said, adding that the school also had metal detectors at every entrance. “But as a whole, just having a police officer or an armed guard or someone with a gun is not going to stop the violence. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

While about a third of public schools nationwide have armed guards on campus, those who do not say they worry that allowing police officers with guns in schools would be far more destructive to the day-to-day culture of schools than any benefit they might bring in protecting against the worst-case scenario.

“To have an armed guard at every school completely sends the wrong message in so many ways about what schools are about,” said David Fleishman, superintendent of the Newton Public Schools in Massachusetts. He added that in extensive discussions with principals, local police, parents and elected officials over the past week after the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, “not a soul” had requested that the schools hire armed security officers.

When the Cleveland school district overhauled its safety program a few years ago, it decided not to arm the 145 security officers stationed in school buildings. David Osher, director of the human and social development program at the American Institutes for Research, who advised the Cleveland district on safety, said that an armed guard does not necessarily make a school safer.

“In theory what the N.R.A. is saying is we want to put someone in so that if somebody breaks in, we’ll shoot him down and everything will be fine and the only person that will be shot is the person breaking in,” he said. “In reality, the problem is you might shoot someone who isn’t in fact breaking in or you might shoot somebody else — a student or a visitor or a teacher or other adult who is doing something else that is inappropriate that is perceived by that person as being threatening.”

And many opponents of the rifle association’s proposal pointed out that a security guard at Columbine High School did not prevent the tragedy there, and that even trained New York City police officers shot and injured nine bystanders in August in their pursuit of a gunman outside the Empire State Building.

As a practical matter, placing trained professional security officers in all of the country’s schools would be costly, and it is not clear that there are enough people who could even do the job.

There are currently about 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools in the United States, along with about 33,000 private schools. According to the Department of Justice, there were 452,000 full-time law enforcement officers across the country in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.

Craig Steckler, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, called the rifle association’s proposal unrealistic and probably unwise. Putting at least one officer in each of the nation’s schools could mean hiring as many as 100,000 people, he said, expanding the ranks of state and local officers by one-quarter. Qualified applicants, he said, are already scarce.

“My city has 32 elementary schools, 5 middle schools, 6 high schools, and that doesn’t include private schools,” said Mr. Steckler, the police chief in Fremont, Calif., a city of 214,000 people. “My patrol force is 89 officers on all shifts. Where are we going to get 40-some additional officers?”

“I just don’t believe that putting more guns on the campus is a solution,” he added, saying that chiefs would rather see more resources devoted to mental health care and the control of assault weapons.

Another tier of the rifle assocation’s plan would make use of local volunteers serving in their own communities.

The group proposed that it could train volunteers, like retired police officers or military personnel, to serve as school guards. Others said that even school staff could be trained.

“I have been saying for years that schools should have personnel, whether it is a janitor or a principal, who are armed,” said John DeLoca, a father of a teenager and two other grown children who owns the Seneca Sporting Range in Ridgewood, Queens, and is a licensed gun dealer and an N.R.A. certified firearms instructor. “We have fire extinguishers all over the place and hopefully we never have to use them. In the same way, we need trained armed personnel at schools.”

Joseph Dedam, 16, a junior at Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School in Elizabethtown, N.Y., said the proposal “is proactive. Right now, the best a school can do is have the teachers lock the classroom door and have the kids try to hide in a corner. But this is a situation where you can’t fight fire with water. You need to fight fire with fire.” He added, “you would not want a school official who is scared of a gun or not fully trained to have one.”

But a number of parents objected to the notion of a school staff member or a volunteer carrying a gun anywhere near their children.

“If we’re going to do this — which I don’t know that we necessarily should — they should be paid professionals,” said Dave Lamb, a research physicist in St. Paul, who has two daughters in elementary school.

Other parents regarded the proposal as simply missing the point. Picking up her children from a Washington, D.C., elementary school on Friday, Courtney Carlson, a business consultant, said she felt “so totally outraged when I stepped into the school thinking that was the solution to a totally messed up problem.”

“I think crazy people who get access to high capacity-rifles want to cause mayhem,” added Ms. Carlson, a mother of three whose two eldest attend school. “Someone who has a gun that can shoot 200 rounds in under 10 minutes — you don’t stop that person unless you don’t let the person have that kind of gun.”


Richard Perez-Pena and Serge F. Kovaleski contributed reporting.

    N.R.A. Call to Guard Schools Is Criticized as Too Simplistic, NYT, 22.12.2012,






Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void


December 22, 2012
The New York Times


FOR a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left. In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite. Like so many members of that class, Bloomberg combines immense talent with immense provincialism: his view of American politics is basically the famous New Yorker cover showing Manhattan’s West Side overshadowing the world, and his bedrock assumption is that the liberal paternalism with which New York is governed can and should be a model for the nation as a whole.

It’s an assumption that cries out to be challenged by a thoughtful center-right. If you look at the specific proposals being offered by Bloomberg and others, some just look like reruns of assault weapon regulations that had no obvious effect the last time they were tried. Others still might have an impact on gun violence, but only at a cost: the popular idea of cracking down hard on illegal handguns, for instance, would probably involve “stop and frisk” on a huge scale, and might throw more young men in prison at a time when our incarceration rates are already too high.

But instead of a kind of skepticism and sifting from conservatives, after a week of liberal self-righteousness the spotlight passed instead to ... Wayne LaPierre. And no Stephen Colbert parody of conservatism could match the National Rifle Association spokesman’s performance on Friday morning.

It wasn’t so much that LaPierre’s performance made no concession whatsoever on gun restrictions or gun safety — that was to be expected. It was that he launched into a rambling diatribe against an absurdly wide array of targets, blaming everything from media sensationalism to “gun-free schools” signs to ’90s-vintage nihilism like “Natural Born Killers” for the Newtown tragedy. Then he proposed, as an alternative to the liberal heavy-handedness of gun control, something equally heavy-handed — a cop in every school, to be paid for by that right-wing old reliable, cuts to foreign aid.

Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall.

The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all.

The establishment view is interventionist, corporatist and culturally liberal. It thinks that issues like health care and climate change and immigration are best worked out through comprehensive bills drawn up by enlightened officials working hand in glove with business interests. It regards sexual liberty as sacrosanct, and other liberties — from the freedoms of churches to the rights of gun owners — as negotiable at best. It thinks that the elite should pay slightly higher taxes, and everyone else should give up guns, SUVs and Big Gulps and live more like, well, Manhattanites. It allows the president an entirely free hand overseas, and takes the Bush-Obama continuities in foreign policy for granted.

The right-wing view is embittered, paranoid and confused. It opposes anything the establishment supports but doesn’t know what it wants to do instead. (Defund government or protect Medicare? Break up the banks or deregulate them? Send more troops to Libya or don’t get involved? Protect our liberties or put our schools on lockdown?) Sometimes the right’s “just say no” approach holds the establishment at bay — as on climate change and immigration, to date. But sometimes, as the House Republicans are demonstrating in the budget showdown, it makes the eventual defeat that much more sweeping.

What’s missing, meanwhile, are real alternatives — not only conservative, but left-wing as well. On national security, the left has essentially disappeared, sitting on its hands while President Obama embraces powers every bit as imperial as those his predecessor claimed. On economic issues, the Occupy Wall Street movement passed on the chance to actually advance an anticorporate agenda in favor of consciousness raising and theoretical self-gratification.

As for a conservatism with a serious program, and a real understanding of the challenges facing America today — well, hopefully it will surface by the 2016 presidential campaign. Till then, it’s the hubris of Bloomberg versus the humbug of LaPierre. Merry Christmas, America.

    Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void, NYT, 22.12.2012,






Shop Owners Report Rise in Firearm Sales

as Buyers Fear Possible New Laws


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


Rainier Arms, a gun dealer in Auburn, Wash., receives great Yelp reviews for its responsiveness. But a call to the dealer on Friday led to a full voice mail box, and an e-mail to its sales team drew this automatic response: “Thank you for contacting Rainier Arms for your AR-15 needs. Due to an overwhelming response to the latest political climate, we are experiencing longer-than-normal response times.”

At Bud’s Gun Shop in Maryland, a message on the Web site said that customer service was “completely overwhelmed” and it discouraged customers from calling or e-mailing.

And on GunBroker.com, an Oracle .223 that normally retails for around $650 had been bid up to $1,175 with three days left in the auction.

With gun-control legislation getting more serious discussion than it has in years, gun sales are spiking as enthusiasts stock up in advance of possible restrictions.

Gun sales have been increasing over the past five years, with marked increases around the 2008 and 2012 elections, and after mass shootings like the one in Aurora, Colo., and now in Newtown, Conn.

“The largest factor by far is fears over a potential change in gun laws — that’s what’s driving most guns enthusiasts or even first-time buyers to go buy a gun,” said Nima Samadi, senior guns and ammunition analyst for the research firm IBISWorld.

There is increasing demands for guns in the United States. Last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 16.45 million background checks for firearm sales through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a 14 percent jump from the previous year. In the first 11 months of this year, the bureau conducted 16.8 million background checks, a record since the system’s founding in 1998.

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, though, a few companies associated with gun sales have backed away. Cerberus Capital Management put the company that makes the Bushmaster, a gun used in the shootings, up for sale on Tuesday, saying, “The Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods temporarily ceased selling all guns in its location closest to Newtown, and has also put a hold on sales of so-called modern sporting rifles, which include semiautomatic guns, nationwide.

And Deseret Digital Media, which owns KSL.com, a Web site that has been criticized by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for allowing unregulated gun sales, said it was suspending classified advertisements for guns.

Elsewhere, though, consumers are hurrying to buy guns, leading to some models being out of stock, warnings of shipping and customer-service delays, and significant premiums on assault rifles.

“We are seeing a total madhouse of buying everything in sight,” said Bob Irwin, owner of the Gun Store, a Las Vegas shooting range and retailer. Thursday, he said, was the largest sales day in the history of the store, which has been open for 30 years. “We have not only a run on the guns, but a run on ammunition.”

Mr. Irwin has begun limiting how much of some types of ammunition customers can buy, and he has canceled employees’ days off to handle the demand.

Walmart, the largest retailer of guns and ammunition in the United States, indicated that several semiautomatic guns were out of stock at locations across the country. Kory Lundberg, a spokesman, said the company was not sold out of guns altogether, but had low inventory in some situations. Walmart carries guns in about half its stores, and about one-third carry so-called modern sporting rifles, the category including the Bushmaster and other AR-15 weapons.

Other retailers around the country were selling out of guns and accessories. On Friday on ImpactGuns.com, the Bushmaster .223 was out of stock. Davidson’s, a supplier to gun retailers, placed a notice on its Web site that said it was seeing “unprecedented demand,” and at MidwayUSA.com, more than 100 parts for AR-15 guns were out of stock and on back order.

On AR15.com, a gun-enthusiast Web site, a user posted that a barrel for a gun disappeared from an online shopping cart overnight, and is now on back order. Another user, named warplg8654, responded, “Dealers can’t keep anything in stock for what I think are obvious reasons given the current political climate.”

When a user called JazzFan asked whether paying a $100 premium for a Stag Model 3 was a good deal, another user said that seemed “reasonable with all of the panic buying.”

Gavin Gear, the founder of the enthusiast site Northwest Gun, said gun owners were feeling “apprehension.”

“People are trying to think ahead, and if they want to own a particular firearm and they think it’s going to be outlawed or restricted, they’re more likely to buy now,” he said.

    Shop Owners Report Rise in Firearm Sales as Buyers Fear Possible New Laws, NYT, 21.12.2012,






Wish You a Gun-Free Christmas


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


Well, the Mayans were sort of right.

The world didn’t implode when their calendar stopped on Dec. 21. But the National Rifle Association did call for putting guns in every American school in a press conference that had a sort of civilization-hits-a-dead-end feel to it.

And we learned that negotiations on averting a major economic crisis had come to a screeching halt because Speaker John Boehner lost the support of the far-right contingent of his already-pretty-damned-conservative caucus. We have seen the future, and everything involves negotiating with loony people.

Wayne LaPierre, the C.E.O. of the N.R.A., has major sway in Congress when it comes to gun issues. So the press conference, in which he read a rambling, unyielding statement in a quavering voice, while refusing to take any questions, could not have inspired confidence that the national trauma over the shooting at a Connecticut elementary school was going to be resolved anytime soon.

LaPierre immediately identified the problem that led to a deranged young man mowing down children with a semiautomatic rifle: Gun-free school zones. (“They tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem.”) Then he demanded a police officer in every American school. Or maybe a program to recruit armed volunteers.

At around the same time he was speaking, a gunman in Pennsylvania killed three people after shooting up a rural church. We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.

The idea that having lots of guns around is the best protection against gun violence is a fairy tale that the N.R.A. tells itself when it goes to sleep at night. But an armed security officer at Columbine High School was no help. And history also shows that armed civilians generally freeze up during mass shootings — for good reason, since usually the only way a crazed gunman gets stopped is when he runs out of ammunition. So what we continue to have is an excellent argument for banning weapons that spray lots of bullets.

However unhinged LaPierre might have seemed to the casual observer, he sent a clear message to members of Congress who fear the wrath of the N.R.A.: No compromise on banning assault weapons or any gun control issue. That made it hard to imagine any reform getting past the great, gaping maw that is the House of Representatives.

We witnessed the magic of the House Republican majority when the Tea Party forces blocked Boehner’s plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for incomes under $1 million a year. This was around the time the speaker recited the prayer, much beloved by 12-step programs, about seeking the serenity to accept things you cannot change.

Boehner’s bill was mainly a political ploy, so in a way, its defeat was meaningless. Except that it would be comforting not to believe that one of the critical players in Washington was always at the mercy of the loopy-extremist wing in his caucus.

Like, um, Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. On Friday, Huelskamp represented the House resistance forces on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” in an appearance with great Mayan overtones. First, he gradually acknowledged that he was never going to vote for anything that raised taxes on anybody, even if it was understood by the entire world to be a negotiating tactic to win massive spending cuts, and avert massive tax increases on 99.8 percent of the population.

Then the discussion turned to the Connecticut shootings, and Huelskamp quickly announced that the nation did not have a gun problem. “It’s a people problem. It’s a culture problem,” he insisted. Anybody who disagreed — like President Obama — was, he said, using a tragedy “to push a political agenda.”

In conclusion, the congressman announced that he had an 11-year-old son, “and I have a choice whether he’s allowed to play those video games. What I would suggest to moms and dads across this country is look at what your children are doing. ... And I’m not saying to pass a single law about that, because I think that would be politicizing the issue.”

Which we really hate. Politicizing.

There are so many ways we’d rather be celebrating the holidays. We would like to be gathering around the tree with loved ones, discussing current events in the form of that story about the theft of 6 million pounds of syrup from the strategic maple syrup reserve in Quebec.

But we are where we are. President Obama bid a Merry Christmas to the nation after announcing that he would try to re-avert the feared “fiscal cliff” with a bill that resolves virtually nothing but avoiding tax increases for the middle class. “At the very least, let’s agree right now on what we already agree on,” he said. This is what currently passes for a wildly optimistic statement.

Meanwhile, a congressman from Wisconsin, angry about the failure to pass a farm bill, warned that the nation was about to fall over “the Dairy Cliff.”

At least there’s still eggnog. God bless us every one.

    Wish You a Gun-Free Christmas, NYT, 21.12.2012,






Guns and Their Makers


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


“It takes a lot of men to make a gun,” wrote Stephen Sondheim in his 1990 musical “Assassins.”

Men in the mines

To dig the iron,

Men in the mills

To forge the steel,

Men at machines

To turn the barrel,

Mold the trigger,

Shape the wheel-

It takes a lot of men to make a gun...

One gun ...

I thought of those lyrics earlier this week when I read that Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm run by the secretive financier Steven Feinberg, was going to sell Freedom Group, a motley collection of gun and ammunition firms it had gathered together under one umbrella company.

Since 2006, it has paid around $158 million to acquire 15 companies, according to an analysis by Andrew Silton, who writes the blog Meditations on Money Management. Although many gun manufacturers are small, Freedom Group now employs a lot of people to make guns — over 3,000. Until last Friday, when Adam Lanza slaughtered 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — using, among other weapons, a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle made by Freedom Group — it proudly called itself the world’s largest manufacturer of guns and ammunition. Now, Cerberus and Feinberg are trying to wipe the blood off their hands.

It’s a little late for that. Go look at some of the Web sites of Freedom Group’s companies. The Bushmaster home page, for example, shows an Adaptive Combat Rifle, an assault rifle that looks like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Did you know, by the way, that one of the guns used by James Holmes when he allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 in the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., was a Remington pump-action shotgun? Freedom Group makes those, too.

One reason Cerberus gave for wanting to sell Freedom Group is that, with the Newtown shootings having “raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” it didn’t believe its role was to “attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate.” This is complete nonsense. Freedom Group’s chief executive, George Kollitides, has run for the board of the National Rifle Association and serves on several N.R.A. committees. The N.R.A. has described Cerberus executives as “strong supporters of the Second Amendment.”

My guess is that what really bothers Feinberg is all the bad press. After Cerberus bought Chrysler in 2007 — not to worry: It got most of its money back from the taxpayers when the government bailed out Chrysler the following year — Feinberg told a group of Wall Street investors that he almost didn’t do the deal. “We knew it would get an insane amount of press, and, boy, we don’t like that,” he said. Daniel Roth, who managed to get into the session for Wired Magazine, also quoted him as saying that if anyone from Cerberus gets his picture in the paper “we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him.” It probably seemed funny at the time.

Robert Farago, who writes about the firearm business on his blog, The Truth About Guns, told me that Cerberus has never been shy about “using its juice in Washington.” Dan Quayle, the former vice president, and John Snow, the former Treasury secretary, are both Cerberus executives.

Farago also told me that Cerberus has been a terrible steward of Freedom Group. It has shuttered factories and laid-off employees, in the name of efficiency. Its executives are called “the Borg” by others in the industry — a reference to a pseudo-race of cyborgs in the Star Trek series. Its guns are considered shoddily made and full of problems. In one infamous case, Bushmaster had to recall the Adaptive Combat Rifle because the trigger sometimes got stuck. The gun kept shooting even after the shooter took his finger off the trigger.

Not that it’s mattered. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, gun sales have steadily risen, which has helped Freedom Group’s bottom line. Although Cerberus had to cancel a public offering for Freedom Group in 2011, it doesn’t actually need an I.P.O. to come out ahead. According to Silton, it has already pulled out $248 million, nearly $100 million more than it paid for the companies it bought. Even if it gives Freedom Group away for nothing, it will still have made a profit.

Not that that’s likely. The rumor is that Taurus, a Brazilian company with an American presence, is likely to make a bid for Freedom Group. The company, strong in handguns, would use the acquisition to bolster its “long gun” portfolio. (Representatives for Taurus, Cerberus and Freedom Group did not respond to inquiries.)

The sad truth is, you can always find a lot of people to make guns. And you can always find people like Feinberg, only too happy to profit from the violence guns can do.

    Guns and Their Makers, NYT, 21.12.2012,






Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


At Columbine High School, a glass atrium glistens in the sunlight.

Inside Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, pastel walls enclose a peace center.

At Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, a flower garden welcomes students.

These spaces were once other things: the second-floor library where two killers completed a rampage that left 12 fellow high school students and a teacher dead; the classrooms where 30 college students and faculty members were gunned down by another student; and the gymnasium where 16 5- and 6-year-old children and their teacher were fatally shot by an intruder.

School officials in Newtown, Conn., said this week that they had not yet begun to discuss the future of Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first graders and 6 staff members were killed inside. But in the indelible tragedies that came before, school officials and parents were often so haunted by the violence that they sought to dismantle whole sections of buildings, ripping out blood-soaked floors and every last chunk of cinder block from the rooms where the killings took place. And when the spaces were put back together, if they were not razed completely, they often had new layouts and amenities that rendered them nearly unrecognizable — which is more or less the point.

These new spaces were typically culminations of long and painful healing processes for devastated families and communities. School officials and parents say their wounds are still there, though their scars grow a little thicker with each passing year, as the survivors graduate and new students too young to remember what happened take their places.

“A school should not be a memorial,” said Cindy Stevenson, superintendent in Jefferson County, Colo., where school officials and parents rejected the idea of closing Columbine High School after the shooting. “We don’t ever want to forget those children, but you also need to say a school is a living, growing, vibrant place.”

For now, Sandy Hook Elementary remains a crime scene, a bullet-ravaged shell that has become a worldwide symbol of anguish. The school’s more than 400 students will resume classes in January in a former school nearby that is being painstakingly remade to resemble the one they left behind, down to the exact color of the classroom walls. Even their old desks and chairs are being moved over from Sandy Hook.

“All of our efforts have been focused on healing our children and families and restarting school,” William Hart, a Newtown school board member, wrote in an e-mail, saying, “we have been unable to put any energy into planning for the future of that building.”

He added, “I suspect it may be some time before we can do so.”

Many psychologists say that schools torn apart by violence are confronted by a need to provide some continuity to traumatized students and staff members, and the need to take steps toward moving beyond the tragedy, so it does not come to define them. “It’s a balance,” said Peter Langman, a psychologist and the author of the book “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.” “I don’t think there’s any one right way to do this.”

Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said that research seemed to support efforts by schools to change their buildings after a tragedy, since returning to the same environment can set off terror and anxiety. “It will not help you get over it,” Dr. Kazdin said. “Anything that was associated with it, you want to get rid of.”

So Amish leaders decided to demolish a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., just over a week after 10 schoolgirls were lined up against a blackboard and shot in 2006. Five of them died.

Herman Bontrager, a local businessman who helped the families of the victims, said parents believed that it would be too traumatic for their children to go back, and others were concerned that the building could become a shrine that drew unwanted attention to their quiet community.

The students moved to a temporary site nearby while a new building was erected by the men in their community. It was christened the New Hope Amish School, and four of the five survivors of the shooting returned to classes there. “It was definitely a good decision,” Mr. Bontrager said. “They haven’t put the event behind them. They’ve just found a way to live with it.”

Similarly, Dunblane Primary School tore out its gymnasium, the scene of the 1996 attack, and converted it into a flower garden; a whole new gym was built in another spot.

Northern Illinois University debated razing a popular hall that was closed for almost four years after five students were fatally shot in an auditorium in 2008, but later remade the space into an anthropology museum and a classroom equipped with touch-screen computers. “That space has been replaced by a new state-of-the-art learning environment that is completely different,” Paul Palian, a university spokesman, said. “So it’s a way to honor their spirit and commitment to learning.”

In other places, however, tight school schedules and lean budgets have led to more modest changes. Chardon High School in Ohio reopened less than a week after a student opened fire in the cafeteria in February, killing three classmates. The school cleaned up the cafeteria, replaced tables and repainted the wall trim in the school’s colors, red and black.

Andy Fetchik, the Chardon principal, said he had expected students to be reluctant to set foot in the cafeteria. But that was the first place they went. They cried, hugged and wrote tributes on a table placed over a spot where their classmates had fallen.

“They needed to reclaim their space,” Mr. Fetchik said. “If it completely changes, it’s no longer their space; it’s a new space, and it doesn’t give them a chance to grieve.”

Columbine High School was temporarily closed after the April 1999 shootings and its 1,500 students were sent to a nearby school for the remaining weeks before the summer break. Dr. Stevenson, the superintendent, said the community had made it clear that it wanted to keep the school open but that the library had to be removed.

“You couldn’t have asked the children and teachers who had lived through that tragic day to go back to that space,” said Dr. Stevenson, who still remembers “the horror scene.”

The high school’s $2.6 million renovation — the bulk of which was financed through donations — included replacing the library with an atrium featuring a canopy of evergreens and aspens painted on the ceiling. A new library was built on another part of the campus.

Jerzy Nowak, a retired Virginia Tech professor of horticulture whose wife was killed in the 2007 shootings there, said a building that had been the site of carnage could not simply reopen as if nothing had happened.

Dr. Nowak helped lead the effort to create a Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention in 2008 and served as its founding director. He said he spent much of its first year meeting with relatives and friends of those killed, many of whom went to the center as part of their healing process.

“It had to be transformed because otherwise it would remain a symbol of evil,” he said. “Nobody’s reminded that it was a place of tragedy. They don’t feel that. All they feel is the spirit of the transformation, the spirit of the future.”

    Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools, NYT, 21.12.2012,






The ‘More Guns’ Argument


December 21, 2012
11:29 am
The New York Times


Of the many specious arguments against gun control, perhaps the most ridiculous is that what we really need is the opposite: more guns, in the hands of more people, in more places. If people were packing heat in the movies, at workplaces, in shopping malls and in schools, they could just pop up and shoot the assailant.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, which is like the National Rifle Association only nuttier, said the other day: "Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered."

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, echoed that sentiment this morning. "The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said.

I see it differently: About the only thing more terrifying than a lone gunman firing into a classroom or a crowded movie theater is a half a dozen more gunmen leaping around firing their pistols at the killer, which is to say really at each other and every bystander. It's a police officer's nightmare.

In the movies, the bad guys can empty 200 rounds at the Green Hornet and miss every time, while the good guys can knock a man off a fire escape from 200 feet with a rusty pistol, but here are a few facts from the real world:

In 1999, New York police officers who were actually trained to use their weapons when seconds count (i.e., unlike civilians), fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo and missed 22 times.

Last August, two New York police officers fired 16 rounds in an altercation with an armed man outside the Empire State Building. Ten people were hit - the gunman and nine bystanders.

Does anyone think armed civilians without training would do better?

Apparently, Mr. Pratt does. "The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun," he said.

And so does Michele Fiore, a Republican member of the Nevada Assembly who likes getting photographed with her piece on her hip. She believes her bill to "allow students and others with permits to carry concealed weapons on the campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education" doesn't go far enough. "[W]e might have to have an armed employee at the schools, that's a measure," she said.

(That's actually a step up the logic food chain, believe it or not, from Charlotte Allen, who wrote in the National Review Online that we should all think of "what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on" the killer. Answer: two dead teachers and some dead 12 year olds.)

Mother Jones reported the other day, based on a pretty thorough look at mass shootings, that "not one of the 62 mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years has been stopped" by an armed civilian. In a couple of cases a bystander subdued the gunman after the fact. In a couple of other cases, attempted interventions went horribly wrong, with well-intentioned civilians shot dead or wounded by the assailants.

While other advanced countries have imposed gun control laws, America has conducted a natural experiment in what happens when a society has as many guns as people. The results are in, and they're not counterintuitive.



This blog post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 21, 2012

This blog post originally stated that New York police officers fired 16 times

in an altercation outside the Empire State Building and hit nine people, all bystanders.

Actually, they hit ten people. The gunman and nine bystanders.

    The ‘More Guns’ Argument, NYT, 21.12.2012,






N.R.A. Envisions ‘a Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After a weeklong silence, the National Rifle Association announced Friday that it wants to arm security officers at every school in the country. It pointed the finger at violent video games, the news media and lax law enforcement — not guns — as culprits in the recent rash of mass shootings.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A. vice president, said at a media event that was interrupted by protesters. One held up a banner saying, “N.R.A. Killing Our Kids.”

The N.R.A.’s plan for countering school shootings, coming a week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was met with widespread derision from school administrators, law enforcement officials and politicians, with some critics calling it “delusional” and “paranoid.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, said arming schools would not make them safer.

Even conservative politicians who had voiced support this week for arming more school officers did not rush to embrace the N.R.A.’s plan.

Their reluctance was an indication of just how toxic the gun debate has become after the Connecticut shootings, as gun control advocates push for tougher restrictions.

Nationwide, at least 23,000 schools — about one-third of all public schools — already had armed security on staff as of the most recent data, for the 2009-10 school year, and a number of states and districts that do not use them have begun discussing the idea in recent days.

Even so, the N. R. A’s focus on armed guards as its prime solution to school shootings — and the group’s offer to help develop and carry out such a program nationwide — rankled a number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“Anyone who thought the N.R.A. was going to come out today and make a common-sense statement about meaningful reform and safety was kidding themselves,” said Representative Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, who has called for new restrictions on assault rifles.

Mr. LaPierre struck a defiant tone on Friday, making clear that his group was not eager to reach a conciliation. With the N.R.A. not making any statements after last week’s shootings, both supporters and opponents of greater gun control had been looking to its announcement Friday as a sign of how the nation’s most influential gun lobby group would respond and whether it would pledge to work with President Obama and Congress in developing new gun control measures.

Mr. LaPierre offered no support for any of the proposals made in the last week, like banning assault rifles or limiting high-capacity ammunition, and N.R.A. leaders declined to answer questions. As reporters shouted out to Mr. LaPierre and David Keene, the group’s president, asking whether they planned to work with Mr. Obama, the men walked off stage without answering.

Mr. LaPierre seemed to anticipate the negative reaction in an address that was often angry and combative.

“Now I can imagine the headlines — the shocking headlines you’ll print tomorrow,” he told more than 150 journalists at a downtown hotel several blocks from the White House.

“More guns, you’ll claim, are the N.R.A.’s answer to everything,” he said. “Your implication will be that guns are evil and have no place in society, much less in our schools. But since when did the gun automatically become a bad word?”

Mr. LaPierre said his organization would finance and develop a program called the National Model School Shield Program, to work with schools to arm and train school guards, including retired police officers and volunteers. The gun rights group named Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas and administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, to lead a task force to develop the program.

Mr. LaPierre also said that before Congress moved to pass any new gun restrictions, it should “act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation” by the time students return from winter break in January.

The idea of arming school security officers is not altogether new. Districts in cities including Albuquerque, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis have armed officers in schools, either through relationships with local police departments or by training and recruiting their own staff members.

A federal program dating back to the Clinton administration also uses armed police officers in school districts to bolster security, and Mr. LaPierre himself talked about beefing up the number of armed officers on campuses after the deadly shootings in 2007 at Virginia Tech.

But what the N.R.A. proposed would expand the use of armed officers nationwide and make greater use of not just police officers, but armed volunteers — including retired police officers and reservists — to patrol school grounds. The organization offered no estimates of the cost.

Mr. LaPierre said that if armed security officers had been used at the Newtown school, “26 innocent lives might have been spared that day.”

The N.R.A. news conference was an unusual Washington event both in tone and substance, as Mr. LaPierre avoided the hedged, carefully calibrated language that political figures usually prefer, and instead let loose with a torrid attack on the N.R.A.’s accusers.

He blasted what he called “the political class here in Washington” for pursuing new gun control measures while failing, in his view, to adequately prosecute violations of existing gun laws, finance law enforcement programs or develop a national registry of mentally ill people who might prove to be “the next Adam Lanza,” the gunman in Newtown.

Mr. LaPierre also complained that the news media had unfairly “demonized gun owners.” And he called the makers of violent video games “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people,” as he showed a video of an online cartoon game called “Kindergarten Killer.”

While some superintendents and parents interviewed after the N.R.A.’s briefing said they might support an increased police presence on school campuses as part of a broader safety strategy, many educators, politicians, and crime experts described it as foolhardy and potentially dangerous. Law enforcement officials said putting armed officers in the nation’s 99,000 schools was unrealistic because of the enormous cost and manpower needed.

At a news conference Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is leading an effort to reinstitute a ban on assault rifles, read from a police report on the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, which detailed an armed officer’s unsuccessful attempts to disarm one of the gunmen. “There were two armed law enforcement officers at that campus, and you see what happened — 15 dead,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, called the N.R.A.’s plan “unbelievable and cynical.”

He said placing armed guards within schools would “expose our children to far greater risk from gun violence than the very small risk they now face.”Officials in some districts that use armed security officers stressed that it was only part of a broader strategy aimed at reducing the risk of violence.

But Ben Kiser, superintendent of schools in Gloucester County, Va., where the district already has four police officers assigned to patrol schools, said it was just as important to provide mental health services to help struggling children and families.

“What I’m afraid of,” said Mr. Kiser, who is also president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, “is that we’re often quick to find that one perceived panacea and that’s where we spend our focus.”

In Newtown, Conn., the N.R.A.’s call for arming school guards generated considerable debate among parents and residents on Friday — much of it negative. Suzy DeYoung, a parenting coach who has one child in the local school system, said she thought many parents in town and around the country would object to bringing more guns onto school campuses.

“I think people are smarter than that,” she said.


Reporting was contributed by John H. Cushman Jr. and Jeremy W. Peters

in Washington, and Serge F. Kovaleski and Richard Pérez-Peña in New York.

    N.R.A. Envisions ‘a Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School, NYT, 21.12.2012,






The N.R.A. Crawls From Its Hidey Hole


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, would have been better advised to remain wherever he had been hiding after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, rather than appear at a news conference on Friday. No one seriously believed the N.R.A. when it said it would contribute something “meaningful” to the discussion about gun violence. The organization’s very existence is predicated on the nation being torn in half over guns. Still, we were stunned by Mr. LaPierre’s mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant.

Mr. LaPierre looked wild-eyed at times as he said the killing was the fault of the media, songwriters and singers and the people who listen to them, movie and TV scriptwriters and the people who watch their work, advocates of gun control, video game makers and video game players.

The N.R.A., which devotes itself to destroying compromise on guns, is blameless. So are unscrupulous and unlicensed dealers who sell guns to criminals, and gun makers who bankroll Mr. LaPierre so he can help them peddle ever-more-lethal, ever-more-efficient products, and politicians who kill even modest controls over guns.

His solution to the proliferation of guns, including semiautomatic rifles designed to kill people as quickly as possible, is to put more guns in more places. Mr. LaPierre would put a police officer in every school and compel teachers and principals to become armed guards.

He wants volunteer and professional firefighters, who already risk their lives every day, to be charged with thwarting an assault by a deranged murderer. The same applies to paramedics, security guards, veterans, retired police officers. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said.

We cannot imagine trying to turn the principals and teachers who care for our children every day into an armed mob. And let’s be clear, civilians bristling with guns to prevent the “next Newtown” are an armed mob even with training offered up by Mr. LaPierre. Any town officials or school principals who take up the N.R.A. on that offer should be fired.

Mr. LaPierre said the Newtown killing spree “might” have been averted if the killer had been confronted by an armed security guard. It’s far more likely that there would have been a dead armed security guard — just as there would have been even more carnage if civilians had started firing weapons in the Aurora movie theater.

In the 62 mass-murder cases over 30 years examined recently by the magazine Mother Jones, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. We have known for many years that a sheriff’s deputy was at Columbine High School in 1999 and fired at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. He missed four times.

People like Mr. LaPierre want us to believe that civilians can be trained to use lethal force with cold precision in moments of fear and crisis. That requires a willful ignorance about the facts. Police officers know that firing a weapon is a huge risk; that’s why they avoid doing it. In August, New York City police officers opened fire on a gunman outside the Empire State Building. They killed him and wounded nine bystanders.

Mr. LaPierre said the news media call the semiautomatic weapon used in Newtown a machine gun, claim that it’s a military weapon and that it fires the most powerful ammunition available. That’s not true. What is true is that there is a growing call in America for stricter gun control.

This is part of a continuing series on the epidemic of gun violence

and possible solutions. Other editorials are at nytimes.com/gunchallenge.

    The N.R.A. Crawls From Its Hidey Hole, NYT, 21.12.2012,






Guns, Smoke and Mirrors


December 21, 2012
The New York Times


What was that?

Seriously, what was the National Rifle Association performing on Friday? I thought it was going to be a press conference. It wasn’t. I really don’t know how to describe it. A soliloquy of propaganda? A carnival of canards? A herding of scapegoats?

Wayne LaPierre, the N.R.A.’s executive vice president, blamed gun violence in general, and mass shootings in schools in particular, on everything except for the proliferation of brutally efficient, high-capacity guns and his organization’s efforts to resist virtually any restriction on people’s access to those weapons.

It was an appalling display of deflection and deception. So much smoke and so many mirrors.

He blamed American culture, and the media, and video games and even natural disasters. But not a society saturated with guns that spray bullets the way that Super Soakers spray water and have made us the embarrassment of the developed world.

He blamed “every insane killer,” “monsters and the predators,” and “people that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them.” It is true that America has those types of people, but so do other countries. The difference here is that help can be too hard — and guns too easy — to come by.

The simple truth is that more guns equal more death.

An analysis this year from the Violence Policy Center found that “states with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws have the lowest rates of gun death.” The report continued, “by contrast, states with weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership had far higher rates of firearm-related death.” According to the analysis, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut had the lowest per capita gun death rates. Each of those states had “strong gun laws and low gun ownership rates. On the other hand, “ranking first in the nation for gun death was Louisiana, followed by Wyoming, Alabama, Montana, and Mississippi.” Those states had “weak gun laws and higher rates of gun ownership.”

What’s more, deaths may be a misleading statistic that minimizes the true breadth of gun violence. Another report this year by the Violence Policy Center, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that while gun deaths remained relatively flat from 2000 to 2008, the total number of people shot went up nearly 20 percent since 2001. Why the difference between rates of shootings and deaths? “Advances in emergency services — including the 911 system and establishment of trauma centers — as well as better surgical techniques,” the report said.

Just because more people aren’t dying doesn’t mean that more aren’t being shot. And the report points out that survivors’ injuries are “often chronic and disabling.”

LaPierre didn’t talk much about the broad societal implications of all this. Instead, he kept his “solutions” (if you want to call them that) to school safety. His big thought: Put armed guards in school. As LaPierre said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

That seems to be quite an apocalyptic gun policy, especially since lax gun regulations pump an ever-increasing number of guns into our country, thereby increasing the chances that “bad guys” will get them.

How about taking the opposite approach and better regulating guns? How about not giving up on so many children that we label “bad boys” so that they grow up without hope or options and become “bad men?”

As the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association said in a joint statement on Thursday:

“Guns have no place in our schools. Period. We must do everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.”

The statement continued:

“But this is not just about guns. Long-term and sustainable school safety also requires a commitment to preventive measures. We must continue to do more to prevent bullying in our schools. And we must dramatically expand our investment in mental health services. Proper diagnosis can and often starts in our schools, yet we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. States have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. It is well past time to reverse this trend and ensure that these services are available and accessible to those who need our support.”

It’s time to call out the N.R.A.’s sidewinding and get serious about new set of sensible gun regulations.

    Guns, Smoke and Mirrors, NYT, 21.12.2012,






Gaps in F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks for Guns


December 20, 2012
The New York Times


CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Nearly two decades after lawmakers began requiring background checks for gun buyers, significant gaps in the F.B.I.’s database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms every year who should be barred from doing so.

The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers, including those who have tested positive for illegal drugs or have a history of domestic violence.

While some states, including New York, have submitted more than 100,000 names of mentally ill people to the F.B.I. database, 19 — including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Maryland and Maine — have submitted fewer than 100 records and Rhode Island has submitted none, according to federal data compiled by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That suggests that millions of names are missing from the federal database, gun control advocates and law enforcement officials say.

“Until it has all the records of people out there in the country who have been deemed too dangerous to own a firearm, the background check system still looks like Swiss cheese,” said Mark Glaze, director of the group. The gaps exist because the system is voluntary; the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the federal government cannot force state officials to participate in the federal background check system. As a result, when a gun dealer asks the F.B.I. to check a buyer’s history, the bureau sometimes allows the sale to proceed, even though the purchaser should have been prohibited from acquiring a weapon, because its database is missing the relevant records.

While the database flaws do not appear to have been a factor in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, they have been linked to other attacks, including the Virginia Tech mass murder in 2007. In that case, a Virginia state judge had declared the gunman mentally ill, but the record of that proceeding was not submitted to the F.B.I. He was able to pass a background check and buy the weapons he used to kill 32 people and wound 17 others.

Since then, Virginia has increased its submissions to the F.B.I. But other states have not taken similar steps because of lack of political will, technical obstacles and state privacy laws, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which conducted a survey of states last year about their compliance. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York is a co-chairman of the group.

A July report by the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan Congressional watchdog, found that the total number of mental health records submitted by states to the background check system increased to 1.2 million from about 126,000 between 2004 and 2011, but that the increase largely reflected the efforts of just 12 states. And, it found, 30 states were not making noncriminal records — like positive drug test results for people on probation — available to the system.

Charles H. Ramsey, the police commissioner in Philadelphia, said the system needed to be strengthened immediately. “There is a lot of data sitting in different places, and we need to be able to access it in a timely fashion,” he said. “It ought to be a top priority now.”

The gaps in the database have exacerbated the effect of a loophole that results in violent felons, fugitives and the mentally ill being able to buy firearms when the F.B.I. cannot determine the person’s history during a three-day waiting period.

Roughly 97 percent of the time, specialists said, the F.B.I. can provide an instant answer, but sometimes an ambiguity — an arrest record that does not say whether someone was convicted, or a common name — requires calling local courthouses to track down the information.

That can cause delays as local officials search through records, some of which are not yet digitized, law enforcement officials said. If the F.B.I. investigation is not completed within the waiting period, would-be gun buyers are permitted to go ahead.

Since 2005, 22,162 firearms — including nearly 3,000 this year — have been bought after the waiting period by people later determined to have been disqualified because of their criminal and mental histories, according to an examination of F.B.I. data.

Some of the weapons were used in violent crimes, including a fatal drive-by shooting, but it is not clear how many were linked to criminal acts, because authorities are barred by Congress from tracking such information.

Many of the guns were not swiftly confiscated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as federal law requires, according to current and former federal law enforcement officials and government documents. It could take weeks or months to collect them, if ever, the officials said, because the agency is too thinly stretched to make retrieval a high priority.

The bureau and several of its agents said in interviews that they focused on trying to recover firearms from felons who had recently committed a violent crime or were under a restraining order. But Scot Thomasson, a former chief of the A.T.F.’s firearms operations division who retired this year, said that Congress, facing pressure from gun lobbyists, had made it hard for the agency to do its job by restricting its funding, forcing tough decisions.

“If you are an agent and are hot on the trail of a guy who killed a lot of people,” he said, “you are not going to turn around and work on one of these cases.”

Some gun shops say they sell to buyers who have not been cleared in the three-day window, including Bass Pro Shops, which has 58 stores in the United States. “We follow the law,” said Larry L. Whiteley, a spokesman. But if a buyer is “jittery or acting funny,” he said, “we won’t sell them the firearm.”

Other businesses — including the country’s largest gun dealer, Walmart — say they do not sell firearms to buyers if the F.B.I. has not responded in the three-day window. Dennis Pratte, owner of the NOVA weapons store in Falls Church, Va., said, “We are just as concerned about firearms getting into the wrong hands as the state police or the F.B.I.”

After the school shooting in Newtown, in which 20 first graders and six adults were killed, pressure has mounted on President Obama and lawmakers to strengthen federal gun laws. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would lead a task force to propose ways to limit sales of assault weapons and close loopholes.

That probably will focus attention on the F.B.I.’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system, which was required by the 1993 Brady background-check law.

At an office building in Clarksburg, W.Va., servers and backup drives hum in a huge basement. Upstairs, workers with headsets sit in cubicles, taking calls from gun dealers across the country. In 2012, about 17 million background checks have been done through the F.B.I.’s system.

The background check requirements apply only to licensed dealers, not the private sellers who account for an estimated 40 percent of sales. Restrictions imposed by Congress on government tracking of firearms make it hard to know exactly how many weapons are sold each year, but according to the A.T.F., more than five million firearms are manufactured each year for sale in the United States, and about three million more such weapons are imported. Those numbers do not account for the sale of used guns.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress enacted a law designed to improve the background check system, including directing federal agencies to share relevant data with the F.B.I. and setting up a special grant program to encourage states to share more information with the federal government. But only states that also set up a system for people to petition to get their gun purchasing rights restored were eligible under the law — a key concession to the National Rifle Association — which proved to be an extra hurdle many states have not yet overcome.

While the law also allowed the Justice Department to withhold some general law enforcement grant money from states that did not submit their records to the system, the department has not imposed any such penalties, the G.A.O. found. After the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded, the Justice Department developed a blueprint to close the holes in the background check system, including steps that could be taken by executive order and not require Congressional action. But the recommendations were largely shelved at the time because the political atmosphere was deeply hostile to new gun control steps.

Lawmakers and groups for gun control have pushed a bill called the Fix Gun Checks Act, co-sponsored by Representative Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Charles E. Schumer, both New York Democrats, to resolve many of the problems. Their proposals, however, have faced stiff opposition from gun rights advocates. This week, Ms. McCarthy, whose husband died in a mass shooting on the Long Island Rail Road 19 years ago, called for her legislation to move, saying the Newtown schoolchildren massacre had changed the political environment.

“There’s always sadness after a mass shooting — there’s public mourning,” she said. “But this time I’m also seeing a lot of anger. Anger from people fed up with gun violence in America. Anger from people fed up with the gun lobby’s tactics in Washington. And anger from people fed up with the lack of courage that too many of the politicians here have.”

    Gaps in F.B.I. Data Undercut Background Checks for Guns, NYT, 20.12.2012,






N.R.A. Leader, Facing Challenge in Wake of Shooting,

Rarely Shies From Fight


December 20, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — David Keene — big-game hunter, éminence grise to conservatives, and now head of the National Rifle Association — was explaining last month why people are buying more guns these days.

“Today,” Mr. Keene told a roomful of conservatives in Hawaii, “guns are cool.”

That, of course, was before the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school dramatically revived the once-moribund debate over gun control.

With the N.R.A. set to hold its first news conference on the shootings Friday after a weeklong silence, Mr. Keene is facing perhaps the biggest threat in decades to his organization’s gun rights stance.

He finds himself in the difficult position of persuading Americans outside the N.R.A. that guns are, if not “cool,” at least not the stark danger that President Obama made them out to be this week. “His instinct is to fight back and make his case as strongly as he can — that’s been his modus operandi for as long as I’ve known him,” said Craig Shirley, a conservative author and former business partner and occasional hunting buddy of Mr. Keene.

Indeed, Mr. Keene, 67, a combative and sometimes bombastic political operative who has advised Republican leaders from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney, has rarely shied from a fight.

In a videotaped confrontation that quickly made the Republican rounds in 2009, he threatened to punch a conservative filmmaker who challenged his leadership of the American Conservative Union and his criticism of “whining” by the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

And when Mr. Keene was a senior adviser to Senator Bob Dole’s losing presidential bid in 1988, his clashes with others in the Dole campaign became so heated that he and another top aide were fired midtrip, with the campaign manager yelling during a stopover at the Jacksonville airport to “Get their baggage off the plane!”

That fighter’s instinct puts him squarely in the tradition of past leaders of the N.R.A., a four-million-member group that has one of Washington’s most powerful, well-financed lobbying arms.

In the most iconic scene of defiance in the N.R.A.’s 141-year history, its most famous president — the actor Charlton Heston — lifted a colonial musket over his head in 2000 and dared opponents to take it “from my cold, dead hands!”

A year earlier, the N.R.A. spurned calls to cancel its convention in Denver less than two weeks after shootings at nearby Columbine High School killed 13 people. As 7,000 people protested, Mr. Heston declared that the N.R.A. “cannot let tragedy lay waste” to gun rights.

Even after the Columbine shootings, the N.R.A. was able to block a measure in 2000 to close the so-called gun-show loophole, allowing private gun sales at shows without background checks. The aftermath of the Columbine shootings provides one possible road map for how the N.R.A. may respond now.

The group has been uncharacteristically quiet in the week since the Connecticut shootings, and Mr. Keene and other N.R.A. officials did not respond to messages and e-mails seeking comment for this article.

The N.R.A. did offer a short statement of condolence four days after the shootings and said, without elaboration, that it “is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

What it was billing as a “major news conference” Friday will be its first response to growing calls for greater gun restrictions. Mr. Keene, elected president last year, was also scheduled to appear Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

After past shootings, N.R.A. officials have stressed the need for greater safety training and enforcement of existing gun laws, without offering significant concessions to gun control advocates.

Josh Sugarman, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, which supports increased gun control, says he expects a similar approach this time.

“I don’t see him as any type of change-agent inside the organization,” Mr. Sugarman said. “What will guide the N.R.A. is to try to delay any action on guns for as long as they possibly can.”

With a shock of white hair and a deep baritone voice, Mr. Keene has proved a durable figure in conservative circles for four decades, working as a lobbyist, columnist, lawyer, and political strategist for top Republican candidates, although often in losing campaigns.

He likes to tell audiences how he grew up the son of staunchly Democratic union organizers in Wisconsin but discovered conservatism in high school and wound up volunteering for Barry Goldwater’s Republican presidential campaign in 1964.

He found his most influential platform beginning in 1984, in the heyday of Republican Reaganism, as the leader of the American Conservative Union, a group espousing “liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and strong national defense.”

The group’s annual convention is a required stop for Republicans on the rise, making Mr. Keene a kingmaker of sorts as he held court for conservative lawmakers, governors and presidential candidates.

But he sometimes took strong stances at odds with the political and ideological positions of many fellow Republicans. He denounced the broad counterterrorism powers given the government under the Patriot Act — a measure pushed by the administration of George W. Bush and popular among Republicans.

In 2007, after Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, had been forced to resign from Congress over ethics allegations, Mr. Keene appointed him to the board of the American Conservative Union. Four board members quit in protest.

And Mr. Keene joined with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2008 in a prisoners’ rights campaign. He had a personal motivation: his son had been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for firing a gun at another motorist in a road-rage episode.

After 27 years, Mr. Keene left the American Conservative Union last year amid internal tensions over his leadership. Mr. Keene’s inclusion of a gay conservative group at its convention upset some members, and there were allegations that his ex-wife, Diana Hubbard Carr, who was bookkeeper for the group, had embezzled $400,000 from its bank accounts. (She pleaded guilty.)

When Mr. Keene moved last year to take over the N.R.A.’s top spot, he called it “an opportunity for me to continue to fight for a constitutional right that has so deeply enriched my life.”

It was no surprise to Mr. Shirley, the former partner who remembers going bird hunting in Maryland and deer hunting in West Virginia with Mr. Keene. (A 2010 N.R.A. blog post shows a smiling Mr. Keene, rifle in hand, posing with a buffalo killed in a televised hunt.)

“It was the perfect job for Dave,” Mr. Shirley said of the N.R.A. move. “My goal was always to be rich and famous. His was to hunt and fish. That’s his passion in life.”


Kitty Bennett contributed research.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 20, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the position once held

by former Representative Tom DeLay.

He was majority leader in the House of Representatives, not the speaker.

    N.R.A. Leader, Facing Challenge in Wake of Shooting, Rarely Shies From Fight, NYT, 20.12.2012,






National Rifle (Selling) Association


December 20, 2012
The New York Times


The National Rifle Association is scheduled to hold a news conference on Friday where it says it plans to provide details about its promise of “meaningful contributions” to prevent another a massacre like the one in Newtown, Conn.

We would like to believe that the N.R.A., the most influential opponent of sensible gun-control policies, will do as it says, but we have little faith that it will offer any substantial reforms. The association presents itself as a grass-roots organization, but it has become increasingly clear in recent years that it represents gun makers. Its chief aim has been to help their businesses by increasing the spread of firearms throughout American society.

In recent years, the N.R.A. has aggressively lobbied federal and state governments to dilute or eliminate numerous regulations on gun ownership. And the clearest beneficiary has been the gun industry — sales of firearms and ammunition have grown 5.7 percent a year since 2007, to nearly $12 billion this year, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. Despite the recession, arms sales have been growing so fast that domestic manufacturers haven’t been able to keep up. Imports of arms have grown 3.6 percent a year in the last five years.

The industry has, in turn, been a big supporter of the N.R.A. It has contributed between $14.7 million and $38.9 million to an N.R.A.-corporate-giving campaign since 2005, according to a report published last year by the Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit group that advocates greater gun control. The estimate is based on a study of the N.R.A.’s “Ring of Freedom” program and very likely understates the industry’s total financial support for the association, which does not publicly disclose a comprehensive list of its donors and how much they have given.

Officials from the N.R.A. have repeatedly said their main goal is to protect the Second Amendment rights of rank-and-file members who like to hunt or want guns for protection. But that claim is at odds with surveys that show a majority of N.R.A. members and a majority of American gun owners often support restrictions on gun sales and ownership that the N.R.A. has bitterly fought.

For instance, a 2009 poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 69 percent of N.R.A. members would support requiring all sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks of prospective buyers, which they do not have to do now and which the N.R.A. has steadfastly argued against. If lawful gun owners are willing to subject themselves to background checks, why is the association resisting? Its position appears only to serve the interest of gun makers and dealers who want to increase sales even if it means having dangerous weapons fall into the hands of criminals and violent individuals.

Businesses and special-interest groups often cloak their profit motives in the garb of constitutional rights — think Big Tobacco and its opposition to restrictions on smoking in public places and bold warnings on cigarette packages. The Supreme Court has made clear that the right to bear arms is not absolute and is subject to regulations and controls. Yet the N.R.A. clings to its groundless arguments that tough regulations violate the Second Amendment. Many of those arguments serve no purpose other than to increase the sales of guns and bullets.

    National Rifle (Selling) Association, NYT, 20.12.2012,






The N.R.A. Protection Racket


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


Edina, Minn.

FOR years, protection rackets dominated dangerous urban neighborhoods. Shop owners and residents lived in relative security only by paying off or paying homage to organized criminals or corrupt cops. Anyone who dared to stand up to these “protectors” would not be around for long.

The Republican Party — once a proud bastion of civic and business leaders who battled Southern racism, Northern corruption and the evils of big government — has for the past several decades been itself the victim of political protection rackets. These rackets are orchestrated by fringe groups with extremist views on social issues, which Republican politicians are forced to support even if they are unpopular with intelligent, economically successful and especially female voters. Their influence was already clear by the time I joined the Bush White House staff in 2005, and it has only increased in the years since.

The most blatant protection racket is orchestrated by the National Rifle Association, which is ruthless against candidates who are tempted to stray from its view that all gun regulations are pure evil. Debra Maggart, a Republican leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives, was one of its most recent victims. The N.R.A. spent around $100,000 to defeat her in the primary, because she would not support a bill that would have allowed people to keep guns locked in their cars on private property without the property owner’s consent.

The message to Republicans is clear: “We will help you get elected and protect your seat from Democrats. We will spend millions on ads that make your opponent look worse than the average holdup man robbing a liquor store. In return, we expect you to oppose any laws that regulate guns. These include laws requiring handgun registration, meaningful background checks on purchasers, limiting the right to carry concealed weapons, limiting access to semiautomatic weapons or anything else that would diminish the firepower available to anybody who wants it. And if you don’t comply, we will load our weapons and direct everything in our arsenal at you in the next Republican primary.”

For decades, Republican politicians have gone along with this racket, some willingly and others because they know that resisting would be pointless. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the N.R.A. spent almost $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to beat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don’t toe the line.

But the last election showed the costs to Republicans of succumbing to the N.R.A. and to other groups with extremist views on issues like homosexuality and stem cell research. The fringe groups, drenched with money and the “free speech” that comes with it, have stood firm, and become even more radical, as the population as a whole — including many traditional Republican voters — has moved in the opposite direction.

Gun violence in particular frightens voters in middle- and upper-income suburbs across the country, places like my hometown, Edina, Minn. These areas, once Republican strongholds, still have many voters who are sympathetic to the economic platform of the Republican Party but are increasingly worried about their own safety in a country with millions of unregistered and unregulated guns. Some suburban voters may keep a hunting rifle locked away in a safe place, but few want people bringing semiautomatic weapons into their neighborhoods. They also believe that insane people should not have access to guns.

A few clicks on the N.R.A. Web site lead you to the type of weapons the group wants to protect from regulation. Many are not needed for hunting pheasants or deer. They are used for hunting people. They have firepower unimaginable to the founding fathers who drafted the Second Amendment, firepower that could wipe out an entire kindergarten classroom in a few minutes, as we saw so tragically last week.

This is not the vision of sportsmanship that soccer moms and dads want or will vote for, and they will turn against Republicans because of it. Who worries about the inheritance tax when gun violence may kill off one’s heirs in the second grade?

Republican politicians must free themselves from the N.R.A. protection racket and others like it. For starters, the party establishment should refuse to endorse anyone who runs in a primary with N.R.A. money against a sitting Republican. If the establishment refuses to support Republicans using other Republicans for target practice, the N.R.A. will take its shooting game somewhere else.

Reasonable gun control legislation will then be able to pass Congress and the state legislatures. Next, Republicans should embrace legislation like the proposed American Anti-Corruption Act, which would rid both parties of their dependence on big money from groups like the N.R.A. The Republican Party will once again be proud to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And voters will go back to feeling that their children are safe, their democracy works, and they will once again consider voting Republican.


Richard W. Painter, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota,

was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush

from 2005 to 2007.

    The N.R.A. Protection Racket, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Why Gun ‘Control’ Is Not Enough


December 19, 2012
1:03 pm
The New York Times
Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web


In the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and the resulting renewed debate on gun control in the United States, The Stone will publish a series of essays this week that examine the ethical, social and humanitarian implications of the use, possession and regulation of weapons. Other articles in the series can be found here.


Americans are finally beginning to have a serious discussion about guns. One argument we're hearing is the central pillar of the case for private gun ownership: that we are all safer when more individuals have guns because armed citizens deter crime and can defend themselves and others against it when deterrence fails. Those who don't have guns, it's said, are free riders on those who do, as the criminally disposed are less likely to engage in crime the more likely it is that their victim will be armed.

There's some sense to this argument, for even criminals don't like being shot. But the logic is faulty, and a close look at it leads to the conclusion that the United States should ban private gun ownership entirely, or almost entirely.

One would think that if widespread gun ownership had the robust deterrent effects that gun advocates claim it has, our country would be freer of crime than other developed societies. But it's not. When most citizens are armed, as they were in the Wild West, crime doesn't cease. Instead, criminals work to be better armed, more efficient in their use of guns ("quicker on the draw"), and readier to use them. When this happens, those who get guns may be safer than they would be without them, but those without them become progressively more vulnerable.

Gun advocates have a solution to this: the unarmed must arm themselves. But when more citizens get guns, further problems arise: people who would once have got in a fistfight instead shoot the person who provoked them; people are shot by mistake or by accident.

And with guns so plentiful, any lunatic or criminally disposed person who has a sudden and perhaps only temporary urge to kill people can simply help himself to the contents of Mom's gun cabinet. Perhaps most important, the more people there are who have guns, the less effective the police become. The power of the citizens and that of the police approach parity. The police cease to have even a near-monopoly on the use of force.

To many devotees of the Second Amendment, this is precisely the point. As former Congressman Jay Dickey, Republican of Arkansas, said in January 2011, "We have a right to bear arms because of the threat of government taking over the freedoms we have." The more people there are with guns, the less able the government is to control them. But if arming the citizenry limits the power of the government, it does so by limiting the power of its agents, such as the police. Domestic defense becomes more a matter of private self-help and vigilantism and less a matter of democratically-controlled, public law enforcement. Domestic security becomes increasingly "privatized."

There is, of course, a large element of fantasy in Dickey's claim. Individuals with handguns are no match for a modern army. It's also a delusion to suppose that the government in a liberal democracy such as the United States could become so tyrannical that armed insurrection, rather than democratic procedures, would be the best means of constraining it. This is not Syria; nor will it ever be. Shortly after Dickey made his comment, people in Egypt rose against a government that had suppressed their freedom in ways far more serious than requiring them to pay for health care. Although a tiny minority of Egyptians do own guns, the protesters would not have succeeded if those guns had been brought to Tahrir Square. If the assembled citizens had been brandishing Glocks in accordance with the script favored by Second Amendment fantasists, the old regime would almost certainly still be in power and many Egyptians who're now alive would be dead.

For the police to remain effective in a society in which most of those they must confront or arrest are armed, they must, like criminals, become better armed, more numerous, and readier to fire. But if they do that, guns won't have produced a net reduction in the power of the government but will only have generated enormous private and public expenditures, leaving the balance of power between armed citizens and the state as it was before, the unarmed conspicuously worse off, and everyone poorer except the gun industry. The alternative to maintaining the balance of power is to allow it to shift in favor of the armed citizenry and away from the police, again making unarmed citizens - including those who refuse on principle to contribute to the erosion of collective security by getting a gun - the greatest losers overall.

The logic is inexorable: as more private individuals acquire guns, the power of the police declines, personal security becomes more a matter of self-help, and the unarmed have an increasing incentive to get guns, until everyone is armed. When most citizens then have the ability to kill anyone in their vicinity in an instant, everyone is less secure than they would be if no one had guns other than the members of a democratically accountable police force.

The logic of private gun possession is thus similar to that of the nuclear arms race. When only one state gets nuclear weapons, it enhances its own security but reduces that of others, which have become more vulnerable. The other states then have an incentive to get nuclear weapons to try to restore their security. As more states get them, the incentives for others increase. If eventually all get them, the potential for catastrophe - whether through irrationality, misperception, or accident - is great. Each state's security is then much lower than it would be if none had nuclear weapons.

Gun advocates and criminals are allies in demanding that guns remain in private hands. They differ in how they want them distributed. Criminals want guns for themselves but not for their potential victims. Others want them for themselves but not for criminals. But while gun control can do a little to restrict access to guns by potential criminals, it can't do much when guns are to be found in every other household. Either criminals and non-criminals will have them or neither will. Gun advocates prefer for both rather than neither to have them.

But, as with nuclear weapons, we would all be safer if no one had guns - or, rather, no one other than trained and legally constrained police officers. Domestic defense would then be conducted the way we conduct national defense. We no longer accept, as the authors of the now obsolete Second Amendment did, that "a well-regulated militia" is "necessary to the security of a free state." Rather than leaving national defense to citizens' militias, we now, for a variety of compelling reasons, cede the right of national defense to certain state-authorized professional institutions: the Army, Navy, and so on. We rightly trust these forces to protect us from external threats and not to become instruments of domestic repression. We could have the same trust in a police force designed to protect us from domestic threats.

A prohibition of private ownership would not mean that no one could shoot guns. Guns for target shooting could be rented under security arrangements at the range. And there's perhaps scope for debate about private possession of single chamber shotguns for hunting.

Gun advocates will object that a prohibition of private gun ownership is an impossibility in the United States. But this is not an objection they can press in good faith, for the only reason that a legal prohibition could be impossible in a democratic state is that a majority oppose it. If gun advocates ceased to oppose it, a prohibition would be possible.

They will next argue that even if there were a legal prohibition, it could not be enforced with anything approaching complete effectiveness. This is true. As long as some people somewhere have guns, some people here can get them. Similarly, the legal prohibition of murder cannot eliminate murder. But the prohibition of murder is more effective than a policy of "murder control" would be.

Guns are not like alcohol and drugs, both of which we have tried unsuccessfully to prohibit. Many people have an intense desire for alcohol or drugs that is independent of what other people may do. But the need for a gun for self-defense depends on whether other people have them and how effective the protection and deterrence provided by the state are. Thus, in other Western countries in which there are fewer guns, there are correspondingly fewer instances in which people need guns for effective self-defense.

Gun advocates sometimes argue that a prohibition would violate individuals' rights of self-defense. Imposing a ban on guns, they argue, would be tantamount to taking a person's gun from her just as someone is about to kill her. But this is a defective analogy. Although a prohibition would deprive people of one effective means of self-defense, it would also ensure that there would be far fewer occasions on which a gun would be necessary or even useful for self-defense. For guns would be forbidden not just to those who would use them for defense but also to those who would use them for aggression. Guns are only one means of self-defense and self-defense is only one means of achieving security against attack. It is the right to security against attack that is fundamental. A policy that unavoidably deprives a person of one means of self-defense but on balance substantially reduces her vulnerability to attack is therefore respectful of the more fundamental right from which the right of self-defense is derived.

In other Western countries, per capita homicide rates, as well as rates of violent crime involving guns, are a fraction of what they are in the United States. The possible explanations of this are limited. Gun advocates claim it has nothing to do with our permissive gun laws or our customs and practices involving guns. If they are right, should we conclude that Americans are simply inherently more violent, more disposed to mental derangement, and less moral than people in other Western countries? If you resist that conclusion, you have little choice but to accept that our easy access to all manner of firearms is a large part of the explanation of why we kill each at a much higher rate than our counterparts elsewhere. Gun advocates must search their consciences to determine whether they really want to share responsibility for the perpetuation of policies that make our country the homicide capitol of the developed world.


Jeff McMahan is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University.

He is the author of "The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life"

and "Killing in War." He has several books forthcoming,

including "The Values of Lives," a collection of essays.

    Why Gun ‘Control’ Is Not Enough, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Looking for Lessons in Newtown


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


After my column a few days ago urging tighter gun control, I faced incoming salvos from firearm enthusiasts. Let me respond to some of their arguments:

Don’t politicize the tragedy in Connecticut. This is a time for mourning, not for demonizing gun-owners.

Oh, come on! The president and Congress are supposed to address national problems — and every two months, we lose more Americans to gun violence than we did in the 9/11 attacks, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study by the Children’s Defense Fund found that we lose some 2,800 children and teenagers to guns annually.

That’s more than the number of American troops who have died in any year in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. More than twice as many preschoolers die annually from gun violence in America as law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty.

So this is a time for mourning, yes, but it’s time for President Obama to display leadership as well as grief.

What happened in Newtown, Conn., was heartbreaking, but gun laws are feel-good measures that don’t make a difference. Norway has very restrictive gun laws, but it had its own massacre of 77 people.

It’s true that the 1994 assault weapons ban was not very effective, even before it expired (partly because it had trouble defining assault weapons, and partly because handguns kill more people than assault rifles). But if that law’s ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines had still been in effect, Adam Lanza, the gunman in Newtown, might have had to reload three times as often.

As for Norway, its laws did not prevent the massacre there last year. But, in a typical year, Norway has 10 or fewer gun murders. The United States has more than that in eight hours.

If people want to kill, you can’t stop them. Even a fork can be deadly. On the same day as the Connecticut tragedy, a man attacked 23 schoolchildren in China with a knife.

But, in the attack in China, not one of those children died. What makes guns different is their lethality. That’s why the military doesn’t arm our troops with forks.

Gun suicides (nearly 19,000 a year in the U.S.) outnumber gun murders (more than 11,000), and a gun in the home increases the risk that someone in the home will commit suicide. The reason is that suicide attempts with pills or razors often fail; with guns, they succeed. When Israel moved to have many soldiers store guns on base rather than at home, its military suicide rates plunged.

We have the Second Amendment, which protects our right to bear arms. So don’t talk about gun control!

There’s a reasonable argument that the Second Amendment confers an individual right — to bear a musket. Beyond that, it’s more complicated. Everybody agrees on a ban on fully automatic machine guns. The question isn’t whether to limit the right to bear arms, but where to draw the line.

I’d like to see us take a public health approach that reduces the harm that guns cause. We could limit gun purchases to one a month to impede traffickers, make serial numbers harder to file off, ban high-capacity magazines, finance gun buybacks, require solid background checks even for private gun sales, require microstamping so that bullet casings can be traced back to a particular gun and mandate that guns be stored in gun safes or with trigger locks.

And if you need to enter a code to operate your cellphone, why not to fire your gun?

If you were at home at night and heard creaking downstairs, wouldn’t you want a Glock in your night stand?

Frankly, at that moment, I might. And then I might creep downstairs and fire at a furtive figure in the darkened kitchen — perhaps my son returning from college to surprise the family. Or, God forbid, somebody who lives in the house might use the Glock to commit suicide.

The gun lobby often cites the work of John Lott, who argued that more guns mean less crime, but scholars have since thoroughly debunked Lott’s arguments. Published research makes it clear that having a gun in the home simply makes it more likely that you will be shot — by your partner or by yourself. Americans are safer if they rely on 911 for protection rather than on a gun.

Nancy Lanza is a case in point. She perhaps thought that her guns would keep her safe. But they were used to kill her and then schoolchildren.

As children were being rushed out of Sandy Hook Elementary School, they were told to cover their eyes. I hope we don’t do the same and blind ourselves to the lessons of this tragedy.

I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground.

Please also join me on Facebook and Google+,

watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

    Looking for Lessons in Newtown, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Religious Leaders Push Congregants on Gun Control,

Sensing a Watershed Moment


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


Religious leaders across the country this week vowed to mobilize their congregants to push for gun control legislation and provide the ground support for politicians willing to take on the gun lobby, saying the time has come for action beyond praying and comforting the families of those killed.

A group of clergy members, representing mainline and evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims, plans to lead off the campaign in front of the Washington National Cathedral at an event on Friday timed to mark the moment a week before when a young gunman opened fire in a school in Newtown, Conn.

The cathedral will toll its funeral bell 28 times, once for each victim, including 20 children, 6 teachers and school administrators and the mother of the killer, as well as the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who shot and killed himself.

“Everyone in this city seems to be in terror of the gun lobby. But I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, in an impassioned sermon on Sunday that has become a rallying cry for gun control. People in the cathedral’s pews rose and applauded.

Dean Hall said in an interview that he and Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington were calling on their parishioners to support four specific steps: bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tightening rules for sales at gun shows and re-examining care for the mentally ill.

Clergy members have been involved in gun control efforts for at least three decades because, they say, they are the ones called to give the eulogies at funerals and comfort victims’ families. But they acknowledge that they have been unable to mount a sustained grass-roots movement against gun violence — partly because they have not made it a priority, and partly because their efforts have been overshadowed by the organizational and fund-raising power of the gun lobby.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, a two-year-old coalition that now counts 40 religious groups as members, has only one part-time employee, Vincent DeMarco, who is simultaneously organizing coalitions on obesity, health care and smoking. Asked his budget, he laughed and said, “de minimis.”

However, Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist Church’s public policy arm, the General Board of Church and Society, said he was seeing some signs that the shooting in Newtown could be a watershed. His office immediately sent out an “action alert” on gun control to bishops and other church leaders, and he said he was surprised how many wrote back thanking him effusively.

“I could tell there was this real need, real hunger, at least in my denomination, for there to be some response that is not only prayers and expressions of sadness, but also a call to action,” Mr. Winkler said. “And it came from some who wouldn’t normally care that much about public policy action, but who would be more interested in spiritual responses.”

The primary organizer of the news conference on Friday, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, in Washington, said, “This is not likely an issue that we’ll have a sustained campaign on in the absence of political leadership. But if political leaders act, the religious community will be strongly engaged.”

On Wednesday, President Obama said in a news conference that he would make preventing gun violence a legislative priority, but that it would take “a wave of Americans” to move it forward.

Religious groups that sent out calls for action on guns to their members in the last five days include the Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the PICO National Network, an advocacy group, and many Jewish organizations.

But advocating limits on guns is controversial within many religious groups, and many evangelicals are opposed. A CBS News poll conducted Dec. 14-16, after the massacre in Newtown, showed that while 69 percent of Catholics said they wanted stricter laws on gun control, only 37 percent of white evangelical Christians agreed.

The evangelical leaders expected at the cathedral event on Friday are relatively moderate: the Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, and Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

Mark DeMoss, a prominent evangelical who recently served as an adviser to the campaign of the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, stepped forward after the tragedy in Newtown, telling Politico.com that measures to address gun control, mental health treatment and violence in the media should all be on the table.

But he said in an interview that evangelicals were unlikely to support gun control efforts because they do not want to break ranks with the Republican Party, and because they tend to see gun violence as a concern to be addressed spiritually, rather than through policy change.

He said he also considered violence a spiritual problem, but said he saw a “double standard” at work. Evangelical clergy, he said, have boycotted the manufacturers of violent video games and pornography, but on guns they say, “No, this is just as spiritual matter of the heart.”

The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in an interview that his group had never taken a position on gun control but might now “take a harder look.” He pointed out that a rarely read part of the Christmas story is King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents.

“Mary and Joseph fled. It’s a part of the story, and they took decisive action. This is now a part of our story,” he said, referring to shooting rampages, “and we need to take decisive action.”

    Religious Leaders Push Congregants on Gun Control, Sensing a Watershed Moment, NYT, 19.12.2012,






It’s the Guns


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


President Obama on Wednesday gave Vice President Joe Biden Jr. a month to complete a job that he could have finished that afternoon. It is time to come up with, as Mr. Obama put it, “a set of concrete proposals” to make the nation safer from guns. The ways to do this are well-known because the nation has grappled with gun massacres many times before. It is Congress that hasn’t.

For years sensible gun-control bills have been offered and rejected. The occasional bill has actually become law — but in hollow, loophole-riddled form — and then been allowed to lapse. Farther-reaching proposals focusing on things like banning certain kinds of bullets, or taxing them out of existence, have been laughed at.

Many of the good ideas, some expressed on this page this week, involve sensible limits on who can buy guns and how they can be sold. Mr. Obama should also focus on the weaponry itself, starting with restoring — after toughening — the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Assault weapons are versions of military rifles that are meant to kill people, not paper targets, clay pigeons or deer. They account for only a fraction of the guns sold and used in the United States, but they play a hugely outsize role in the national slaughter; rampage killers love them.

The expired ban was shredded with loopholes, which gun dealers easily exploited. The rifle Adam Lanza carried in Newtown, Conn., a semiautomatic Bushmaster, was a version of the AR-15, a widely popular form of the military’s M-16 and M-4. But it was not illegal, even in Connecticut, which outlaws assault weapons, because it differed from banned weapons in cosmetic details, not in lethality. A revived assault-weapons bill should have stricter definitions to capture more of these lethal weapons than before. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who sponsored the original ban, has promised to reintroduce it early in the new year. In the House, Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat of New York, has a bill containing what should be an element of any law Mr. Obama proposes: a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. High-capacity magazines allow someone to commit mass murder in seconds, or minutes, without the inconvenience of having to reload.

Republicans say they want to end the violence but have been mostly trying to end the discussion. Their attempts at deflection began immediately after news of Newtown spread. To hear them tell it, the slaughter of 20 children and seven adults wasn’t about guns; it was about mental health care. It was Hollywood and video games and the culture of violence. Actually, it was about guns and bullets and the easy access to them.

The Republicans and the gun lobby have rabidly opposed any and all gun restrictions, even those that don’t impinge on Second Amendment rights. In the 1990s, for example, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York introduced a bill to levy a 10,000 percent tax on hollow-tipped bullets, the kind designed to tear flesh. (The man who killed Ms. McCarthy’s husband and wounded her son on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993 carried dozens of them.) Nothing came of it.

Congress remains mired in excuses and passivity — an assault-weapons ban is a nonstarter, Republicans say, because assault weapon is a vague term. “How do you define assault weapon?” Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican of Alabama, asked Politico, saying a ban wouldn’t fix anything. “We’ve seen that movie before,” he said. What that answer ignores is that definitions are possible, but the gun lobby and its supporters, mostly in Mr. Shelby’s party, pepper them with exemptions to make them less effective and to keep the gun-making business nice and healthy.

Mr. Obama played into that argument on Wednesday, talking about the “culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence” and saying that any actions should begin “inside the home and inside our hearts.” It is tempting to blame abstractions, and to give in to fatalism, knowing that America is a land of hundreds of millions of guns and of a rabid, well-financed lobby that shrouds its unreason in appeals to individual liberty and freedom from government.

But the path to sanity needs to start somewhere. If Mr. Obama is serious, he already knows what to do.

    It’s the Guns, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Obama Vows Fast Action in New Push for Gun Control


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama declared on Wednesday that he would make gun control a “central issue” as he opens his second term, promising to submit broad new firearm proposals to Congress no later than January and to employ the full power of his office to overcome deep-seated political resistance.

Leading House Republicans responded to the president’s pledge in the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre by restating their firm opposition to new limits on guns or ammunition, setting up the possibility of a bitter legislative battle and a philosophical clash over the Second Amendment soon after Mr. Obama’s inauguration.

Having avoided a politically difficult debate over guns for four years, Mr. Obama vowed to restart a national conversation about their role in American society, the need for better access to mental health services and the impact of exceedingly violent images in the nation’s culture.

He warned that the conversation — which has produced little serious change after previous mass shootings — will be a short one, followed by specific legislative proposals that he intends to campaign for, starting with his State of the Union address next month.

“This time, the words need to lead to action,” Mr. Obama said. “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

At an appearance in the White House briefing room, the president said that he had directed Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lead an interagency effort to develop what the White House said would be a multifaceted approach to preventing mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., last week and the many other gun deaths that occur each year.

As evidence of the brutal cost of gun violence, Mr. Obama said that since Friday’s school shooting in Connecticut, guns had led to the deaths of police officers in Memphis and Topeka, Kan.; a woman in Las Vegas; three people in an Alabama hospital; and a 4-year-old in a drive-by shooting in Missouri. They are, he said, victims of “violence that we cannot accept as routine.”

Accompanied by Mr. Biden, the president signaled his support for new limits on high-capacity clips and assault weapons, as well as a desire to close regulatory loopholes affecting gun shows. He promised to confront the broad pro-gun sentiment in Congress that has for years blocked gun control measures.

That opposition shows little signs of fading away. While the death of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday appears to have persuaded some Democratic lawmakers to support new gun control measures, there has been little indication that Republicans who control the House — and are in a standoff with Mr. Obama over taxes — are willing to accept such restrictions.

House Democrats urged Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday to bring a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines to a vote by Saturday — a step he is highly unlikely to take.

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, an influential conservative leader, said in a statement that “it is clear that criminals will always find ways to acquire weapons and use them to commit acts of violence.”

“Passing more restrictions on law-abiding citizens will not deter this type of crime,” he said.

Mr. Jordan and other House Republicans declined to be interviewed, saying through aides that it was time to mourn, not to debate policy.

“There will be plenty of time to have this conversation,” said Brittany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, “but it is not amidst the funerals of these brave young children and adults.”

This week, Mr. King told an Iowa radio station, KSCJ, that “political opportunists didn’t wait 24 hours before they decided they were going to go after some kind of a gun ban.” He also expressed doubt about gun control measures, saying, “We all had our cap pistols when I was growing up, and that didn’t seem to cause mass murders in the street.”

Representative Howard Coble, Republican of North Carolina, said in an interview that he thought the talk of gun control was “probably a rush to judgment” that missed the real issue.

“I think it’s more of a mental health problem than a gun problem right now,” he said. “Traditionally states that enact rigid, inflexible gun laws do not show a corresponding diminishment in crime.”

While Mr. Coble said he would want to study any proposal made by the president, he said fellow Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, which would consider any gun recommendations, probably agree with his views.

One senior Republican, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, signaled an openness to review Mr. Obama’s proposals.

“As the president said, no set of laws will prevent every future horrific act of violence or eliminate evil from our society, but we can do better,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Mr. Sensenbrenner noted that he had co-sponsored the Brady gun control bill in the 1990s. “Our country must also grapple with difficult questions about the identification and care of individuals with mental illnesses,” he said.

On Wednesday the president said that Mr. Biden’s group would propose new laws and actions in January, and that those would be “proposals that I then intend to push without delay.” Mr. Obama said Mr. Biden’s effort was “not some Washington commission” that would take six months and produce a report that was shelved.

“I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these new measures next year, in a timely manner,” Mr. Obama said.

White House aides said Mr. Biden would meet with law enforcement officials from across the country on Thursday, along with cabinet officials from the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Education and Health and Human Services.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York praised Mr. Obama’s announcement and said he offered his “full support” to Mr. Biden in a phone conversation on Wednesday. But Mr. Bloomberg, a vocal advocate of tougher gun control, also urged the president to take executive actions in the meantime, including making a recess appointment of a new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Republicans have blocked an appointment to the post for years.

“The country needs his leadership if we are going to reduce the daily bloodshed from gun violence that we have seen for too long,” Mr. Bloomberg said of Mr. Obama.

Gun control advocates have urged the White House and lawmakers to move rapidly to enact new gun control measures before the killings in Connecticut fade from the public’s consciousness. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, has said she intends to introduce a new ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines on the first day of the next Congress in January.

During his first term, Mr. Obama largely avoided the issue of gun control, even as high-powered firearms were used in several mass shootings. Asked bluntly about his lack of past action on the issue, the president appeared irritated, citing the economic crisis, the collapse of the auto industry and two wars as matters that demanded attention.

“I don’t think I’ve been on vacation,” he said curtly.

He then conceded, “All of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington.”


Peter Baker contributed reporting.

    Obama Vows Fast Action in New Push for Gun Control, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Lessons in Politics and Fine Print

in Assault Weapons Ban of ’90s


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


More than two decades before Newtown, there was Stockton.

In January 1989, a troubled drifter in his 20s opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on a California elementary school yard packed with students. Five children, ages 6 to 9, were killed in the fusillade of bullets; 29 others were wounded, along with one teacher.

The resulting national shock and outrage plunged Congress into a debate over whether to ban military-style assault weapons.

“The American people are fed up with the death and violence brought on by these assault weapons,” Senator Howard M. Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat, declared on the Senate floor. “They demand action.”

Action, however, would take time. The gun lobby put up roadblocks. The politics, just as today, were fraught. It took five years of legislative slogging to pass a federal assault weapons ban that finally took effect in 1994. But the price of passage was a host of compromises — most painfully for supporters, a sunset provision added late in the legislative wrangling that paved the way for the measure to expire in 2004.

Now, after another massacre at an elementary school by a gunman wielding a semiautomatic rifle, the Obama administration is working to develop a new set of gun-control proposals. With calls from some in Washington and across the country for reviving the assault weapons ban, the experience of the early 1990s offers lessons that can inform the current debate.

Just as it was then, the most difficult terrain to navigate will most likely be political, as any new federal measure would have to overcome the opposition of pro-gun lawmakers and the gun lobby. But contours of the policy will be nettlesome as well. As states and the federal government have experimented with various kinds of assault weapons bans over the years, gun manufacturers have excelled at finding ways around the restrictions, tweaking their guns just enough to comply with new laws.

The federal ban also yielded mixed results in its decade of existence. A 2004 study by the University of Pennsylvania, financed by the Justice Department, found that the measure, which included a ban on ammunition magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds, had only a limited impact on gun crime.

The study explained that part of the issue was all the exceptions to the law. Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines manufactured before 1994 were exempted from the ban, meaning that more than 1.5 million assault weapons remained in circulation. In addition, the country’s stock of large-capacity magazines actually continued to grow after the ban, because it remained legal to import them as long as they had been made before the ban.

Another challenge for lawmakers was defining precisely what an assault weapon is, which allowed the industry to continue manufacturing guns similar to those that had been banned.

Connecticut, in fact, has an assault weapons ban, similar to the old federal law. But law enforcement officials have said that they believe the guns that Adam Lanza used in the Newtown shooting — including a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, which is often described as a military-style assault weapon — were legally acquired and registered.

Connecticut’s law adheres to the old federal standard, defining an assault weapon as one able to accept a detachable magazine and that includes at least two other combat-type features. In the case of a rifle, these might include a pistol grip, a flash suppressor, or a grenade launcher. Guns that have just one of these additional accessories can comply with the law.

California, in contrast, has one of the strictest bans in the nation — forbidding semiautomatic rifles and pistols with easy-to-reload, detachable magazines, if they also have just one other military-style accessory. But gun manufacturers have been able to get around some of its strictures with an device known as the Bullet Button.

The device allows gun owners to pop out their magazines quickly by inserting the tip of a bullet or some other small tool into a button on the side of their weapons. Since the magazine requires a tool to release it — and cannot be released by hand — it is not considered “detachable” under California law.

A little more than half a dozen states currently have laws banning assault weapons, but definitions vary from state to state.

Brian Malte, the director of network mobilization at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that assault weapons bans should be written “to give as little room as possible for unscrupulous gun manufacturers to evade such a law.”

The National Rifle Association, which has kept a low profile since the Newtown shooting beyond expressing sympathy for the victims, called a news conference for Friday, promising to offer “meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again.”

Beyond the policy questions facing lawmakers, however, lie the tricky political calculations — just as they did two decades ago.

The chief protagonists then included three senators: Mr. Metzenbaum, a longtime liberal firebrand from Ohio; Dennis DeConcini, a moderate Democrat from Arizona; and Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who was then new to the Senate. (Ms. Feinstein vowed this week to introduce a bill to revive the ban in the wake of the Newtown shootings.) In the House, Representative Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, now a senator, was the workhorse.

The most surprising member of the group was Mr. DeConcini, who had consistently voted with the National Rifle Association and was once even named their “legislator of the month.”

The Stockton shooting, however, was a galvanizing moment, he said in a telephone interview. He approached N.R.A. officials to see if they would work with him in drafting a “responsible bill,” he said. After conversations over several months, however, he said, N.R.A. officials broke off talks, saying they feared they would lose members if they went along.

“I’ll never forget that,” Mr. DeConcini said.

Both Mr. Metzenbaum and Mr. DeConcini wound up introducing bills to ban assault weapons after the Stockton shooting. A proposal passed the Senate that year but went nowhere in the House.

In the years that followed, more mass shootings involving assault weapons made headlines. Gang violence involving high-powered weapons also escalated.

Crucial to how the ban finally moved forward in 1993, however, was the emergence of a large omnibus crime bill, filled with popular measures, like adding 100,000 police officers to the nation’s streets, a top priority of the Clinton administration.

Through some nimble legislative footwork, the ban’s supporters in the Senate, led by Ms. Feinstein, were able to get a version of the ban added to the crime bill and through the Senate in November 1993.

Although there was pressure from the White House to drop the ban for fear that it might scuttle the entire crime bill, former legislative staff members recalled, its proponents held fast.

“That was courage,” said Michael Lenett, a former counsel to the Judiciary Committee, assigned to Mr. Metzenbaum, who died in 2008. The quarterback of the crime bill was Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator from Delaware and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, President Obama tapped Vice President Biden to lead an interagency effort to develop new anti-violence proposals.

The ban narrowly survived, but the final version represented a series of compromises from what some gun-control proponents originally hoped for, including the sunset provision, a shorter list of explicitly banned guns and a more expansive category of exemptions.

David Yassky, who worked on the ban as chief counsel to the House subcommittee on crime under Mr. Schumer, said some compromises were needed just to pass the bill. “A broader definition of assault weapons would have been safer, would have resulted in fewer highly dangerous weapons making their way through the ban — but there just were not the votes for it,” he said.

Looking back, former staff members who worked on the bill recalled the long political slog, as well as how narrow their window of opportunity was. “To me,” Mr. Lenett said, “the lesson is you have to strike right now.”


Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.

    Lessons in Politics and Fine Print in Assault Weapons Ban of ’90s, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Many Owners Say

Semiautomatic Weapons Are Just Another Hobby


December 19, 2012
The New York Times


Anyone seeking to limit the sale of assault weapons must reckon with the fact that millions of Americans own guns that might be classified as one, and for many it is no more exotic than, say, a motorcycle or sports car, from which they derive a similar satisfaction.

“It’s very stress relieving,” said Chad Knox, a paramedic who shoots targets and hunts small pests with a semiautomatic rifle on his 40 acres in Marietta, Ohio. “Some people crochet, some people shop, some people shoot guns.”

Mr. Knox owns an AR-15 style rifle, a 55-year-old design based on a military weapon that has become notorious because it was used by gunmen in a series of mass shootings in recent years, including the attack in Newtown, Conn., last week.

Outlawed for a decade by the federal government, certain models of the AR-15 could again be forbidden if President Obama can persuade Congress to restore the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, as he has indicated.

But to many owners of military-style semiautomatic rifles, who reject the term “assault weapon,” the AR-15 and its brethren do not evoke fearsome images of attacks on people. They use their guns for target practice and hunting small game like rabbits, squirrels and coyotes.

They also say that as a self-defense weapon, the AR-15, which is based on the military’s M-16 and M-4, has its limits: It cannot be carried in public, and in the home it is potentially less accurate than a shotgun.

Mr. Knox, 28, praised the gun’s light weight and relatively gentle recoil.

“If I’m going to be out hunting or I want to get a young person interested in hunting,” an AR-15 is his choice, he said. “It’s a very user-friendly gun.”

What most owners seem to appreciate about this type of firearm is the pleasure of target shooting with a long-range weapon that fires bullets semiautomatically, or each time the trigger is pulled. They also like the detachable magazine that can hold a lot of bullets. High-capacity magazines have been singled out by gun control advocates as accessories that should be illegal.

Arnie Andrews, the owner of an auto body shop in Crown Point, Ind., who shoots his Olympic Arms AR-15 rifle a few times each summer at a shooting range, uses a 20-round magazine, which is the military standard.

“It’s a challenge to see how well you can do,” Mr. Andrews, 58, said of target shooting. “It’s like bowling or any other kind of sport. You want to see if you can do it better the next time.”

Although gun dealers say the AR-15 style is the most popular rifle in the country, a number of gun enthusiasts disdain them.

Kent Carper, a former police chief and current president of the Kanawha County Commission in West Virginia, owns many guns but said he has never wanted what he called an assault rifle.

“I never bought one of those extender clips, which I don’t understand at all,” he said. “You’ve seen too many tragedies now with assault rifles and extender clips.”

“The argument is you have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, so you have an absolute right to have a clip with as many bullets as you want,” Mr. Carper said. “If you follow that to its logical conclusion, you can have bullets like missiles.”

Some owners described the pleasure they took from shooting as akin to a thrill sport. Every couple of months, when Patrick Mason has saved enough money for 500 rounds of ammunition, he drives into the desert outside Las Vegas with a friend or two, a barbecue grill and a haul of fruit for target practice.

“I don’t want to shoot holes in pieces of paper, I want to watch a watermelon be destroyed,” said Mr. Mason, 23, an assistant manager at a yoga studio in Las Vegas.

“It’s fun and it makes you smile but it’s a skill, its own art form,” he said. “I don’t want to make it sound weird, but it’s almost like holding a live animal. You’ve fired the thing, and it’s kicked around, and there’s the smell.”

Mr. Mason does not hunt and does not consider his shooting to be a sport. It gives him an electrical charge of excitement, he said. “When I put 20 rounds downrange, I’m like, man, I need a burger, yes!”

While some AR-15 owners use their guns for hunting, others believe using a semiautomatic weapon is not sporting. “Hunting is taking one shot. It’s not pumping round after round,’” said Bill denHoed, who, with a brother, owns Den Hoed Wine Estates in Prosser, Wash.

Mr. denHoed, 54, who has owned a Colt AR-15 rifle for a quarter-century, confines its use to a shooting range on a family vineyard near the Columbia River.

But he acknowledged that a semiautomatic weapon could have a place in hunting pests, which in his part of the Pacific Northwest include coyotes.

“There’s a lot of ranchers in the outskirts of the valley where they run cattle,” he said. “Come February when they calve, the coyotes love to eat the calves. Some ranchers give permission to folks to hunt coyotes. A lot of them use that very particular gun that’s raising all the awareness now, the Bushmaster.”

Its ability to shoot rapidly, Mr. denHoed said, makes it easier to thin a pack of predators.

AR-15 owners dismissed the argument that taking their weapons off the market would limit mass shootings.

They did so without vehemence, partly, it seemed, because they shared the collective horror over the Connecticut massacre in which 20 young children died, and partly because they believed this latest effort to reduce violence by reducing citizens’ access to guns would be futile.

They did not believe a renewed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as President Obama has signaled he will press for, beginning in January, would hamper future mass murderers like Adam Lanza, who authorities said used a Bushmaster version of an AR-15 in last week’s shootings.

“If I thought banning weapons would solve this, I’d probably be for it,” said Everett Wilkinson, a Marine Corps veteran who lives in Palm Beach County, Fla., and owns several AR-15 style guns. “But the issue we have is not banning weapons, it’s crazy people.”

Other gun owners shared his view. “They’ll use something else, a bomb next time or who knows what,” Mr. Andrews said. He has a permit to carry a concealed handgun and has taken courses in how to respond to a gunman.

“Honestly, if you were in a bad situation, you’d want me to be there,” he said.


Steven Yaccino contributed reporting.

    Many Owners Say Semiautomatic Weapons Are Just Another Hobby, NYT, 19.12.2012,






Killer’s Mother Was Shot 4 Times, Official Says


December 18, 2012
The New York Times


Inside Adam Lanza’s family home in Newtown, Conn., his path of devastation seemed coldly calculated, from his mother’s bedroom, where she lay in bed with four bullets to her head, to the badly damaged computer hard drive.

Investigators have been unable to get any information from the hard drive, which they believe Mr. Lanza, 20, smashed in an effort to prevent the authorities from determining what he did on the computer before embarking on the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The hard drive has been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s computer lab in Quantico, Va., for further analysis by agents who specialize in data retrieval, a senior law enforcement official said.

“It is going to be tough to get anything from it,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. “If they are able to do so, it is going to take quite a while. But it is going to be tough.”

Mr. Lanza used a semiautomatic assault rifle to kill 20 first graders and 6 school employees, and then used a handgun to kill himself, firing one shot to the front of his head, the Connecticut chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, told CNN on Tuesday. Several attempts to reach Dr. Carver were unsuccessful.

Mr. Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, using a .22-caliber rifle, Dr. Carver told The Hartford Courant, adding that she was most likely asleep at the time. Toxicology results have not yet been released on Mr. Lanza.

As efforts continued to determine a motive for the massacre and for why he chose Sandy Hook Elementary, residents of the shattered town buried loved ones and tried to resume part of their lives. Two more funerals were held in town on Tuesday, for James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, both 6 years old.

The Newtown school district resumed classes at all of its schools except Sandy Hook, which is still considered a crime scene. It plans to move Sandy Hook students to a former middle school in nearby Monroe.

Steve Vavrek, first selectman of Monroe, said the Newtown Board of Education had decided on Monday night to postpone classes for Sandy Hook students until January. Mr. Vavrek and other educators said that school officials had initially hoped to bring the students back before the holiday break.

The investigation is being led by the State Police. The law enforcement official said he did not know of any other electronic devices, like the computer hard drive taken from the Lanzas’ house, that local authorities had sent to the F.B.I. for analysis.

Mr. Lanza belonged to a technology club while at Newtown High School and had taken computer classes at a local college.


Winnie Hu, William K. Rashbaum and Wendy Ruderman contributed reporting.

    Killer’s Mother Was Shot 4 Times, Official Says, 18.12.2012,






Facing the Unendurable,

Families Lay to Rest Two Children, Both 6


December 18, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — They were so young that their lives were defined by small, fleeting enthusiasms.

James Mattioli liked to sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, “How old do I have to be to sing on stage?” He was proud that at the age of 6 ¾, he could ride a bicycle without training wheels.

Jessica Rekos loved reading about horses and learning about orca whales. At 6, she could be so insistent about what the family ought to be doing that her parents called her the C.E.O.

The children, 2 of the 20 first-grade victims in one of the nation’s worst schoolhouse massacres, were eulogized Tuesday in back-to-back rites at the same Roman Catholic church here, St. Rose of Lima. On a bleak, sometimes drizzly day that underscored the mood of unendurable pain that gripped so many mourners at the services, the church’s bell tolled once every 10 seconds as a hearse pulled up and a coffin of a small child was taken out and carried inside to rest on the altar.

James’s coffin was white and decked with yellow and white carnations; Jessica’s was also white but it was flowerless. The coffins were not particularly small, perhaps testimony to the difficulty of finding small coffins when 20 6- and 7-year-olds in one town are killed in a single, sudden and thus-far unexplainable act.

At each funeral, a young mother gave a eulogy, a husband standing silently at her side, a child of theirs in a coffin nearby, and reminisced about the pleasures and laughter those children gave them in their short lives. Before each eulogy, a priest, Msgr. Robert Weiss, offered a solemn Mass of Christian Burial and distributed communion. After Jessica’s Mass, “Silent Night” was played, the melody particularly haunting just a week before Christmas.

After each service, the doors were opened, the coffin was carried to a hearse, the parents emerged and were embraced by weeping friends and relatives clustered near the church’s Christmas Nativity display.

The police allowed only relatives, close friends and a few dignitaries, like Connecticut’s governor, Dannel P. Malloy, to attend the funerals, but a few mourners provided accounts of the services afterward and both families wrote eloquent paid obituaries that summed up their children’s short lives.

Michael Christopher, a longtime friend of Jessica’s father, Richard Rekos, said Jessica’s mother, Krista, a sixth-grade teacher in Bridgeport, was “surprisingly composed” as she stood in the vaulted, blond wood sanctuary of the church recalling her daughter’s life, though after she had finished speaking she broke down in sobs.

“Jessica always knew what she wanted and she had to get her way,” Mr. Christopher said, reconstructing the mother’s words. “She loved horseback riding, and Santa Claus was going to bring her cowboy boots next week. She loved orca whales so they bought her the movie ‘Free Willy.’ When she got it into her mind about something she always wanted to learn more.”

She was spiritual at a young age, Monsignor Weiss recalled: she kept a bottle of holy water next to her bed, where she said her prayers.

Mark and Cindy Mattioli, in an obituary they wrote that was published in local Connecticut newspapers, remembered their son “as an energetic loving friend to all.”

“He loved to wear shorts and T-shirts in any weather and grab the gel to spike his hair,” the obituary said. “He often said, ‘I need to go outside, Mom. I need fresh air.’ ”

They recalled that James was born four weeks early at Bridgeport Hospital.

“It was an ongoing quip that James came early into the world because he was hungry,” the obituary said. “He loved hamburgers with ketchup, his dad’s egg omelets with bacon, and his mom’s French toast. He often asked to stop at Subway for a ham sandwich.”

James, who resembled his father, loved to spend time with him as he did yard work and barbecued hamburgers.

“Their love of one another was one of a kind,” the obituary said.

Both services drew onlookers, some of whom came from as far away as Queens and Boston, moved, they said, by the thought of what so many families had to endure.

Radya Martino of Howard Beach, Queens, who teaches Arabic at a Westchester Islamic center, said she and her husband, George, a retired postal carrier, came to pray near the church. She said she asked Allah “to please help these parents and give them the power to continue.”

“I am a mother,” she said. “I don’t see Muslim, Christian or Jew. I see the parents crying and we pray for them.”

Richard Rosiak, of California, was visiting New York with his wife and young daughters. He said the family felt a need to be near the funerals because of their sadness, and the inexplicable nature of the crime.

“You don’t expect funerals with little caskets,” Mr. Rosiak said.

His daughter Charlotte, 10, said she left a message at an impromptu shrine of flowers and candles outside the church.

“There’s no right of people to do this to little kids,” she said. “They’re innocent.”

    Facing the Unendurable, Families Lay to Rest Two Children, Both 6, NYT, 18..12.2012,






Adam Lanza,

Asperger’s and a Misleading Connection With Violence


December 18, 2012
2:10 pm
The New York Times


1. Did Adam Lanza, who authorities have identified as the gunman in Newtown, Conn., ever receive a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome?
2. If so, would that be relevant?
3. And has The Times been scrupulously responsible in the way it has reported on this aspect of Friday's massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School?

In brief, here are my conclusions, based on my own reading and a number of interviews and conversations this week.

1. Possibly.
2. It would not matter to the killing; it would help in understanding the personality and experiences of the gunman.
3. The Times's early reporting and presentation of the information was well-intentioned but flawed. (It began to remedy those flaws in a blog post Monday afternoon but had not yet done so in print on Tuesday.)

This subject is important to many of those whose lives are affected by Asperger's or other forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. They are troubled and angered by how the topic has been treated in The Times and other news organizations over the past several days.

Joe McGinniss, the well-known author and the father of a son who has Asperger's, is among the many who wrote to me.

"The suggestion that Asperger's might be a clue to why this happened is offensive to me," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It's misleading to suggest that quiet people who don't pick up on social cues are more likely to become killers."

Dr. Ami Klin, an expert on autism at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said that any tie between the Newtown shootings and Asperger's or autism "is an enormous disservice" to those whose lives are affected by these developmental disorders, which should not be confused with mental illness.

"Any human condition can coexist with violence," he said, but no correlation should be drawn.

In fact, he said, those with Asperger's "are much more likely to be victims rather than victimizers."

"This is not about autism," Dr. Klin said. "It's about mental illness and guns that those with mental illness should have no access to."

The Times was understated in its reporting on this subject and, if you were a casual reader, the reference might not have jumped out. But for those close to the situation - often because they are parents of autistic children - it certainly did.

This was the initial reference, in a Saturday print edition profile of Mr. Lanza, written on deadline:

Matt Baier, now a junior at the University of Connecticut, and other high school classmates recalled how deeply uncomfortable Mr. Lanza was in social situations.

Several said in separate interviews that it was their understanding that he had a developmental disorder. They said they had been told that the disorder was Asperger's syndrome, which is considered a high functioning form of autism.

"It's not like people picked on him for it," Mr. Baier said. "From what I saw, people just let him be, and that was that."

Law enforcement officials said Friday that they were closely examining whether Mr. Lanza had such a disorder.

I interviewed David Halbfinger, a reporter who was the article's author. He told me that he did not write that reference to Asperger's, but approved it after it had been inserted by an editor. He also said that the idea behind this first-day story was to find out and communicate as much as possible about Mr. Lanza.

"The fear that's being expressed is that there's an implied cause, but we didn't say they were investigating it as a cause," Mr. Halbfinger said. "On the first day, law enforcement is investigating everything. To impute cause and effect is to make a giant leap that we didn't do."

The Metro editor, Carolyn Ryan, responded in an e-mail:

We were told Adam Lanza had Asperger's from so many people who knew him that it would have been irresponsible to withhold that from readers. However, we were very careful with the language, saying that people who knew him understood he had a developmental disorder and had been told it was Asperger's. I wanted to make sure readers understood where the information was coming from, and that law enforcement had not confirmed this or officially described him as having Asperger's. The "closely examining" language was not intended to suggest that Asperger's accounted for the motive or cause, but that law enforcement officials had been told he had Asperger's and were trying to understand his condition and his behavior.

Critics, though, say that if you want to understand how such a statement might be taken, try this hypothetical substitution: "Law enforcement officials said they were closely examining whether Mr. Lanza is gay." There is, for a reasonable person, the suggestion of cause and effect. It is very unlikely that that sentence would have appeared in The Times without further explanation.

References to Asperger's have now appeared in several Times articles, all based on anonymous sources or on named sources who were reporting what they had heard from someone else. It has been, in short, repeated conjecture by those who don't know. On Monday, The Associated Press reported that a divorce mediator, who was named, was told by the Lanzas that their son had Asperger's, and The Times began reporting that on The Lede blog. The blog post did a great deal to explain the issue clearly and responsibly.

If there were solid sourcing last week of the Asperger's diagnosis, the issue of its relevance could have been handled in a clarifying follow-up sentence -- for example: "Autism and Asperger's are developmental disorders, not mental illnesses; and there is no connection between them and violent behavior."

Mr. Halbfinger protested when I suggested the idea of such an explanation, particularly in a first-day story. "To me, it seems kind of ridiculous; that's the journalistic equivalent of a nanny state," he said. He added, though, that as a parent himself, he does understand how parents feel about this subject. And he sees that there may be a "knowledge deficit" - people may not know very much about autism and Asperger's.

The story by The A.P. did have such a sentence as its last paragraph.

I think that is helpful and necessary. Cause and effect had been suggested; and something should have been done - and still can be -- to clear up that troubling misconception. And while this may be of greatest concern to those who have a family member with Asperger's or autism, it's broader than that. These are questions of clarity and accuracy -- and those affect everyone. But more optimistically, there is now an opportunity to do some educating. I hope that happens.

    Adam Lanza, Asperger’s and a Misleading Connection With Violence, NYT, 18.12.2012,






Broad Gun Control Efforts Introduced in Wake of Shooting


December 18, 2012
The New York Times


The first concrete responses to the massacre in Newtown, Conn., began emerging on Tuesday, as state leaders proposed measures to curb gun violence, corporations distanced themselves from an event that has traumatized the nation and the White House pointed to gun control measures that President Obama would champion in the months ahead.

The reactions were considerably more broad-based than what had followed previous mass shootings, coming from Republicans as well as Democrats, from gun control advocates and those who have favored gun rights in the past, and even from the corporate and retail worlds. Proponents of stricter controls on firearms said they were cautiously optimistic that, perhaps this time, something concrete and lasting would be enacted.

In California, Democratic leaders introduced legislation that would mandate background checks and one-year permits for anyone who wanted to buy ammunition there. In Michigan, a Republican governor vetoed legislation that would have permitted concealed weapons in schools. And a private equity company announced that it would sell off the company that made the high-powered assault rifle used in the Newtown shootings last week.

The National Rifle Association broke its silence on the massacre with what it called an “important statement from the National Rifle Association,” saying that the organization, which has steadfastly fought almost any federal or state gun control legislation, was potentially reconsidering its position.

“The N.R.A. is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again,” the statement said. It did not offer details.

This is hardly the first time that a mass killing on American soil produced promises to curb firearms, only for those efforts to falter as memories faded and powerful gun advocates, led by the N.R.A., rose up in the halls of Washington or in statehouses. In some cases, moves were not presented as a permanent shift in policy; one of them was an announcement by Dick’s Sporting Goods that it would stop selling many kinds of firearms, which could produce significant revenue losses for the chain.

Even as this was happening, millions of American gun owners — about 40 percent of American households report having a gun — remained deeply resistant to any moves to curtail Second Amendment gun rights. And not all the moves announced Tuesday pointed to stricter gun controls.

In Ohio, Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, announced that he would sign legislation that would allow people to keep guns in their cars at the Statehouse garage and make it easier to renew licenses and to carry concealed weapons. “I think as we move forward, whatever we do, we don’t want to erode the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Still, the cascading developments since Friday’s shooting led one of the leading gun control organizations, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to proclaim a legal and cultural groundswell in the nation’s view of firearms. It is a view reinforced with each new image of the funeral of an elementary school child, 20 of whom were killed in the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with 6 adults.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Brian Malte, the director of mobilization for the Brady Campaign.

At the White House, Jay Carney, the press secretary, suggested that President Obama was likely to support the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons, similar to the type used in Newtown. Mr. Carney said the president, who used his eulogy for the murdered children on Sunday to signal a personal effort to tackle gun control in his second term, might support a ban on the kind of high-capacity ammunition clips used by the young gunman, Adam Lanza, who killed himself as the police approached.

On Capitol Hill, some Congressional Republicans on Tuesday were cautiously supportive of the idea of exploring new gun policies. Senator John McCain of Arizona said he would not outright reject the notion of limitations or bans on certain types of guns or ammunition, and rejected the idea raised by some Republicans that it was too soon to begin debating legislative remedies.

“I don’t see that it’s too soon to talk about it,” he said. “Americans, all our fellow citizens, are talking about it.”

Whatever happens in Washington, there was growing evidence that, in some states, lawmakers and governors were moving forward.

The legislation introduced in California — backed by Democrats, who won commanding majorities in the Assembly and Senate in November — moves the effort from curbing weapons to controlling the sale of ammunition.

Other states have sought to control the sale of ammunition, among them Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey, but this would apparently be the most stringent law yet, requiring a background check and an annual $50 permit to buy any type of ammunition.

“We don’t think about the fuel that feeds the violence, and that’s ammunition,” said the sponsor, Senator Kevin de León. “If you want to fish, you have to secure a license to fish. If you want to cut down a Christmas tree in California — this is legally factual — you have to secure a permit at a cost of $10. Yet anyone who walks into any gun store in California can buy all the ammunition they want.”

At the same time, John W. Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, a state still reeling from the mass killing of moviegoers in Aurora in July, called for bolstering firearm checks to make it more difficult for mentally ill people to buy handguns. Mr. Hickenlooper proposed speeding the transfer of records that show when a person has been committed to a mental institution so that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation could immediately retrieve the information for firearm background checks.

“The common element of so many of these mass homicides seems to be a level of mental illness,” he said. He added: “What happened in Newtown is beyond comprehension.” The Michigan bill that would permit people to carry concealed weapons into schools and churches, as long as they had extra training, had passed the Republican-held Legislature on Thursday night, the day before the shooting. Gov. Rick Snyder said he was vetoing it because it did not permit public entities to exclude themselves from the bill’s requirement.

“While we must vigilantly protect the rights of law-abiding firearm owners, we also must ensure the right of designated public entities to exercise their best discretion in matters of safety and security,” Mr. Snyder said.

The fallout extended to the corporate world. Cerberus Capital Management announced that it was selling the Freedom Group, which makes the .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle used in the massacre. Cerberus acquired Bushmaster in 2006, later merging it with other gun companies to create the Freedom Group.

“It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level,” Cerberus said in statement.

The decision came after an announcement by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, that it was reviewing its investment in Cerberus in light of the firm’s holding in the Freedom Group.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, a chain with more than 500 stores that sells rifles and handguns, including autoloading ones, posted a notice on its Web site announcing that it was scaling back weapon sales because of the shooting. “During this time of national mourning, we have removed all guns from sale and from display in our store nearest to Newtown and suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chain wide,” it said.

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, said it had removed an information page on Bushmaster from its Web site “in light of the tragic events.” However, it said it had made no changes to its sales policies on guns and ammunition. Recently, Walmart has been increasing its emphasis on gun sales, after five years of backing away from them. Walmart does not break out gun sales, but in the year ending Jan. 31, 2011, its “hardlines” category — including sporting goods, auto accessories, hardware and other items — made up about 10 percent of total United States sales of $264.2 billion, down from 11 percent the year before.

Stock prices of gun makers have fallen since the shooting. From Friday morning through close of market Tuesday, Smith & Wesson’s share price declined more than 20 percent, while Sturm, Ruger & Company’s share price fell more than 14 percent.


Reporting was contributed by Stephanie Clifford, Michael Cooper, Monica Davey,

Dan Frosch, Ian Lovett, Michael D. Shear and Jennifer Steinhauer.

    Broad Gun Control Efforts Introduced in Wake of Shooting, NYT, 18.12.2012,






In Unusual Move, Cerberus to Sell Gun Company


December 18, 2012
5:54 am
The New York Times


Sitting in their offices high above Park Avenue late on Monday, the private equity executives who own the country's largest gun company received a phone call from one of their most influential investors.

An official at the California teachers' pension fund, which has $750 million invested with the private equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management, was on the line, raising questions about the firm's ownership of the Freedom Group, the gun maker that made the rifle used in the Connecticut school shootings.

Hours later, at 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Cerberus said that it was putting the Freedom Group up for sale.

"It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level," Cerberus said in a statement.

The move by Cerberus is a rare instance of a Wall Street firm bending to concerns about an investment's societal impact rather than a profit-at-all-costs ethos. Public pension funds like the California one - officially, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or Calstrs - have hundreds of billions of dollars in private equity and hedge fund investments. While their influence is vast, it is usually exerted behind the scenes and rarely prompts snap business decisions.

Yet in a sign of how deep the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., has resonated throughout the country, Cerberus signaled that it wanted to remove itself from the uproar over the nation's gun laws in seeking to sell Freedom, which makes the Bushmaster rifle used in the massacre.

"As a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers," the Cerberus statement said. "It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators."

While concern from Cerberus's investors - as well as a swirl of media attention - had an impact on the decision to sell, the leadership of the private equity firm debated through the weekend how to respond to the tragedy and its potential fallout, according to a person familiar with the firm's discussions. On Monday evening, a small group of Cerberus's top executives sat around a conference room table and weighed a range of options to respond to the tragedy, including making a large donation to the Newtown community or promoting mental health research and education.

Ultimately, Cerberus decided to make a clean break and sell the gun company. "We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so," the firm said in its statement.

Calstrs executives and other public officials applauded Cerberus's action. Thomas P. DiNapoli, the New York state comptroller, said he supported Cerberus's decision to sell the Freedom Group and ordered a review of the state pension fund's investments in firearms manufacturers. The $150 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund has $50 million invested with Cerberus.

Cerberus, a private equity and hedge fund firm that manages more than $20 billion, is owned by the billionaire financier Stephen A. Feinberg. His father, Martin Feinberg, lives in Newtown, Conn., where the shootings occurred. The elder Mr. Feinberg did not return telephone calls, but Bloomberg News quoted him as saying that the shooting was "devastating" and "horrendous, truly horrendous." Stephen Feinberg declined to be interviewed.

It is not clear whether Mr. Feinberg will find a ready buyer for the Freedom Group. Over the last two days, shares of the publicly traded American gunmakers, Sturm, Ruger & Company and Smith & Wesson, have dropped precipitously on fears of increased gun regulation. Several foreign gun manufacturers, including Forjas Taurus of Brazil and Heckler & Koch of Germany, could be possible acquirers, according to a banker familiar with the weapons industry.

Cerberus said it would retain a financial adviser to sell its interests in the Freedom Group and then return the sale proceeds to its investors.

This is hardly the first time that the publicity-shy Mr. Feinberg has come under scrutiny because of a Cerberus holding. In the last decade, during the peak of the leveraged buyout boom, Cerberus made national headlines after buying two of the country's best-known companies, the automaker Chrysler and the finance arm of General Motors.

Having made those acquisitions just before the financial crisis struck, Cerberus suffered losses on both deals, and Mr. Feinberg told his clients that the firm would in the future stay away from such prominent investments.

Despite that vow, Mr. Feinberg again has found himself in an uncomfortable spotlight. The Freedom Group's origins date to 2006, when Cerberus acquired Bushmaster Firearms. The firm then consolidated the fragmented gun industry, acquiring at least six other brands and rolling them into one company to create the Freedom Group, which is based in Madison, N.C. Freedom is on track to post about $900 million in revenue this year.

Other brands under the Freedom Group umbrella include Remington Arms, the country's largest and oldest maker of rifles; Marlin Firearms, a manufacturer of lever-action rifles; and Advanced Armament, a maker of pistol silencers. The company filed for an initial public offering of stock in 2009, but it withdrew the offering last year after its financial performance flagged.

Mr. Feinberg has a penchant for investing in military-related businesses. Cerberus's holdings include the military contractor IAP Worldwide Services and the satellite provider GeoEye. Cerberus also explored an investment in Blackwater USA, the private security contractor since renamed Academi, but a deal never materialized.

A major Republican donor, Mr. Feinberg has Dan Quayle, the former vice president, and John Snow, the former Treasury secretary, on Cerberus's payroll. Among the former military leaders on Freedom Group's board is George A. Joulwan, the onetime supreme allied commander of Europe.

Mr. Feinberg is also an avid shooter and hunter - he favors a Remington 700 - and has a membership at the upscale hunting club Mashomack Preserve Club in Pine Plains, N.Y.

A fellow firearms enthusiast and Cerberus executive, George Kollitides, has served as the Freedom Group's chief executive since March. Mr. Kollitides is a trustee of the NRA Foundation and a director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

The son of a steel salesman, Mr. Feinberg, 52, was raised in Spring Valley, N.Y., in Rockland County. After graduating from Princeton, he started his Wall Street career working at Drexel Burnham Lambert during the bank's heyday in the 1980s. After developing a specialty trading in the distressed debt of troubled companies, Mr. Feinberg struck out on his own to start Cerberus.

Though the Freedom Group was unable to complete its initial public offering, the deal has been largely successful, with Cerberus already making a small profit via a dividend payment, a person briefed on the investment said.

If it is able to sell the Freedom Group for additional profit, the beneficiaries would be Cerberus's investors, which include two of the country's largest pension funds - Calstrs and the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

On Tuesday, Ricardo Duran, a spokesman for Calstrs, said it would remain an investor with the firm. Calstrs has $600 million invested across two Cerberus funds with interests in the Freedom Group; its share of the Freedom Group investment amounts to a 2.4 percent stake in the gunmaker.

"They are taking a very responsible approach to this and we are happy that they're selling," Mr. Duran said.

Bill Lockyer, the California treasurer, said the state's pension funds should not own stakes in any companies that make assault weapons.

"Our objective is to make sure that both Calpers and Calstrs are scrubbed clean of any investment in any company that makes guns that are illegal in this state and expose our communities to violence and death," Mr. Lockyer said in a statement. "We're pleased that Cerberus is taking this action, but our initiative extends far beyond one company."

    In Unusual Move, Cerberus to Sell Gun Company, NYT, 18.12.2012,






In Other Countries, Laws Are Strict and Work


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Like other shootings before it, the Newtown, Conn., tragedy has reawakened America to its national fixation with firearms. No country in the world has more guns per capita, with some 300 million civilian firearms now in circulation, or nearly one for every adult.

Experts from the Harvard School of Public Health, using data from 26 developed countries, have shown that wherever there are more firearms, there are more homicides. In the case of the United States, exponentially more: the American murder rate is roughly 15 times that of other wealthy countries, which have much tougher laws controlling private ownership of guns.

There’s another important difference between this country and the rest of the world. Other nations have suffered similar rampages, but they have reacted quickly to impose new and stricter gun laws.

Australia is an excellent example. In 1996, a “pathetic social misfit,” as a judge described the lone gunman, killed 35 people with a spray of bullets from semiautomatic weapons. Within weeks, the Australian government was working on gun reform laws that banned assault weapons and shotguns, tightened licensing and financed gun amnesty and buyback programs.

At the time, the prime minister, John Howard, said, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.” The laws have worked. The American Journal of Law and Economics reported in 2010 that firearm homicides in Australia dropped 59 percent between 1995 and 2006. In the 18 years before the 1996 laws, there were 13 gun massacres resulting in 102 deaths, according to Harvard researchers, with none in that category since.

Similarly, after 16 children and their teacher were killed by a gunman in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, the British government banned all private ownership of automatic weapons and virtually all handguns. Those changes gave Britain some of the toughest gun control laws in the developed world on top of already strict rules. Hours of exhaustive paperwork are required if anyone wants to own even a shotgun or rifle for hunting. The result has been a decline in murders involving firearms.

In Japan, which has very strict laws, only 11 people killed with guns in 2008, compared with 12,000 deaths by firearms that year in the United States — a huge disparity even accounting for the difference in population. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed on Monday while ratcheting up his national antigun campaign, “We are the only industrialized country that has this problem. In the whole world, the only one.”

Americans do not have to settle for that.

Read related editorials on gun control: rethinking guns and constitutional issues.

    In Other Countries, Laws Are Strict and Work, NYT, 17.12.2012,






The Yawning Loophole in the Gun Laws


December 18, 2012
The New York Times


Pressures from unexpected quarters continued to build on Congress to strengthen the country’s porous gun laws. Pro-gun legislators expressed support for stronger rules. A prominent private equity firm announced that it was divesting itself of the company that makes the Bushmaster rifle, which was used in the mass shooting of 20 children and seven adults in Connecticut on Friday.

Bit by bit, it began to seem possible, at long last, that lawmakers who say they do not want guns to wind up in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and others who cannot be trusted with them will do the one thing that would be most effective at achieving that goal, and the one thing the gun lobby does not want: requiring background checks for all gun sales.

The Brady gun control law, named for the White House official who was shot during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, requires licensed gun dealers to screen all prospective gun buyers through a federal database of convicted felons, drug abusers, people with a serious mental illness and others. In addition, the law requires licensed dealers to collect information about buyers that can be used later to trace guns that were used in crimes. From 1994 to 2009, those checks have prevented nearly two million gun sales, according to the Justice Department.

But the law does not cover private sales of guns, including transactions by “occasional sellers” at gun shows and flea markets, in what has become a gaping loophole that has allowed teenagers, ordinary criminals, terrorists, Mexican drug cartels and arms traffickers to have easy access to weapons. For instance, firearms bought at gun shows were used in the Columbine school shooting; they have been found in a shipment of arms supplies to the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah; and they have made their way across the border to Mexico.

But none of those examples have stopped the National Rifle Association and its supporters in Congress from blocking legislation that would require private sellers to run buyers through background checks, which take just a few minutes to process on the telephone. The N.R.A., emboldened by a Supreme Court ruling asserting an individual constitutional right to bear arms, has turned its attention to further broadening the market, lobbying state legislatures to allow concealed weapons in churches, schools and other public places and to restrict the discretion of local police in granting gun permits.

In the case of background checks on private sales, the N.R.A. has argued that checks are not needed because surveys of criminals suggest that just 2 percent of them buy their weapons from gun shows. This is a highly disingenuous argument because criminals most often purchase firearms from relatives, friends and associates. Many of those people, in turn, get their supplies from gun shows and elsewhere, including on the Internet where anybody with a credit card can order semiautomatic weapons for overnight delivery.

Requiring background checks for private sales will obviously not, on its own, keep people like Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who perpetrated the massacre in Newtown, Conn., away from deadly weapons. For starters, only buyers of guns, not members of the families who own them (as was true in his case), are screened against the database known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Moreover, many state governments and federal agencies have provided incomplete or no records to the system for various logistical, legal and financial reasons. But those flaws and limitations should not be a reason for lawmakers to exempt sales at gun shows, flea markets and at other venues from background checks, which are a simple and effective way to prevent many violent individuals from getting access to guns.

Since the Newtown shootings, the influence and power of the N.R.A. may have diminished as some of its usual allies have distanced themselves from its hard-line position. Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, said on Tuesday that it would sell its stake in Freedom Group, the maker of the Bushmaster rifle. And a Democratic state lawmaker in California, Kevin de León, introduced a bill that would require people buying ammunition to go through background checks. These are small but promising shoots. It is up to Congress and President Obama to nurture them.

    The Yawning Loophole in the Gun Laws, NYT, 18.12.2012,






Personal Guns and the Second Amendment


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


When the Supreme Court struck down a ban on handguns by the District of Columbia in 2008, ruling that there is a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense, the decision was enormously controversial in the legal world. But the court’s conclusion has generally been accepted in the real world because the ruling was in tune with popular opinion — favoring Americans’ rights to own guns but also control of gun ownership.

The text of the Second Amendment creates no right to private possession of guns, but Justice Antonin Scalia found one in legal history for himself and the other four conservatives. He said the right is not outmoded even “in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem.”

It is not just liberals who have lambasted the ruling, but some prominent conservatives like Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The majority, he wrote, “read an ambiguous constitutional provision as creating a substantive right that the Court had never acknowledged in the more than two hundred years since the amendment’s enactment. The majority then used that same right to strike down a law passed by elected officials acting, rightly or wrongly, to preserve the safety of the citizenry.” He said the court undermined “conservative jurisprudence.”

In the real world, however, criticism has abated in part because the majority opinion was strikingly respectful of commonplace gun regulations. “Like most rights,” Justice Scalia said, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”

And: “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms” —“prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ ”

Justice Scalia does not say how federal courts should evaluate such regulations and the Supreme Court may need to return to this issue soon, to resolve a substantial disagreement that has arisen in federal appeals courts.

Does the court’s 4-year-old ruling imply “a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”? That is what the Seventh Circuit appellate court concluded last week in striking down an Illinois law that prohibited most people from carrying a loaded weapon in public.

Or does the Supreme Court’s ruling on handguns support the view that public interest in safety outweighs an individual’s interest in self-defense because gun rights are more limited outside the home? That is what the Second Circuit found last month in upholding a New York State law limiting handgun possession in public to people who can show a threat to their own safety.

Where “gun violence is a serious problem,” as Justice Scalia said it is in the United States, the courts must be very cautious about extending the individual right to own a gun. The justice’s opinion made that clear.

Read related editorials on gun control: rethinking guns and legislation abroad.

    Personal Guns and the Second Amendment, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Children Can Usually Recover From Emotional Trauma


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Perhaps the most remarkable part of her story is that today she sleeps just fine.

On April 20, 1999, Crystal Woodman, 16, was studying for a test in the library at Columbine High School when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked in and began shooting. For seven and a half minutes she hid beneath a table listening to screams, gunfire and the two teenagers’ laughter.

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to live through this,’ ” said the young woman, now Crystal Woodman Miller, in a telephone interview this weekend from her home in Morrison, Colo., 15 miles from Columbine. “I’m 16 and I’m facing the reality of my death.”

When the two gunmen left the library to get more ammunition, she managed to escape without physical injury.

But the emotional aftermath was debilitating.

“I experienced nightmares all night, every night for two years,” said Mrs. Miller, now 30. “I was living in a paradox: I wanted to be around people, but I didn’t want people around me.”

Like many trauma victims, she found herself searching for exits and formulating an escape plan every time she entered a room. A friend followed her around with a box of Girl Scout cookies to make sure she ate something.

For young people exposed to gun trauma — like the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — the road to recovery can be long and torturous, marked by anxiety, nightmares, school trouble and even substance abuse. Witnessing lethal violence ruptures a child’s sense of security, psychiatrists say, leaving behind an array of emotional and social challenges that are not easily resolved.

But the good news is that most of these children will probably heal.

“Most kids, even of this age, are resilient,” said Dr. Glenn Saxe, chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The data shows that the majority of people after a trauma, including a school assault, will end up doing O.K.”

In a 2007 Duke University study that psychiatrists say is nationally representative, only 13 percent of people who had experienced a traumatic event before age 16 developed symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and less than 1 percent developed “full-blown” PTSD. Over all, more than two-thirds of the 1,420 children surveyed reported experiencing some kind of trauma.

“Like recovering from surgery, you could end up with a scar, and depending on the surgery it could be a big one,” said Dr. Don Bechtold, medical director of the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Wheat Ridge, Colo. “People get better — the extent of what ‘better’ means is relative.”

Today, Mrs. Miller describes herself as a happy, well-adjusted wife and mother, free of the nightmares and depression that haunted her in the months after the shooting. “I’ll never be the same,” she said, “but I eventually realized I can choose to be bitter, angry and hateful or I can choose to forgive and to live my life despite what has happened.”

The factors that determine how well a child may recover after a trauma run a gamut from personal to environmental. To what extent was the child exposed to the event? Did he actually see a shooting, or hear one? In the Duke study, children were more likely to develop long-term problems if they experienced multiple traumas.

Psychiatrists say a supportive family helps. And natural resilience — people’s likelihood to process their feelings verbally or have a positive attitude toward their future — plays a role, too.

And while the tender age of the Newtown schoolchildren has yielded speculation that they could be more deeply or irreversibly scarred, research does not bear out the theory, Dr. Saxe says.

“There is no compelling data I know that says there is a greater risk depending on whether the child is younger or older,” he said. “It really depends on the individual. You have to look at the whole host of risk factors.”

That is not to say a kindergartner will process trauma in the same way as a teenager. “A 5-year-old isn’t likely to talk about it, and certainly not in an adult way,” said Dr. Bechtold, who was part of the initial mental health response team for the Columbine shootings. Preschoolers are “more likely to be fearful, to ask a lot of questions and ask whether they’re safe; they may become clingy or have separation problems.”

Young children exposed to trauma often regress, returning to whiny baby talk or self-soothing habits they had outgrown, like carrying a favorite blanket.

One reason people tend to overestimate the psychological damage a child may sustain after a school shooting is that they underestimate the prevalence of childhood trauma. In a 1997 study of 12-to-17-year-olds conducted by the Medical University of South Carolina, 8 percent reported experiencing a sexual assault, 17 percent reported physical assault and 39 percent said they had been witness to violence.

“In a way, trauma is part of the ticket of being human,” Dr. Saxe said. “Most of us can look back and note at least one experience where there was a pretty big threat” to our safety. “Most people use that, manage and cope and go on.”

But the effects of PTSD linger over some families for years.

Marjorie Long, a sophomore at Columbine in 1999, was trapped for hours in a classroom with a dying teacher. Her mother, Peggy Lindholm, responding to an interview request made to Ms. Long, said that news of mass shootings still had the power to shut her daughter down. “She’s really taking this one hard,” she said.

Because Ms. Long couldn’t bear to be in a classroom, she eventually dropped out of high school. She battled illness, nightmares and addiction. “She was physically sick for a year,” said Ms. Lindholm, whose own divorce soon followed.

Today, Ms. Long, 30, is married, sober and working toward a graduate degree. But she still has trouble with loud noises.

“Fourth of July really bothers her,” Ms. Lindholm said, “and that used to be one of her favorites.” And she still runs the risk of reliving her experience every time something triggers it. “Now she’ll shut down for the next month.”

For others, leaving it behind is easier. Mrs. Miller, the student who hid under the table in the library, says she can’t put her finger on the day she started feeling better. But like the pain from a bitter breakup, her anxiety and nightmares gradually eased — probably, she says, as a result of time, regular therapy and travel. (She has spent much of the past 13 years speaking and volunteering in countries affected by adversity, like Kosovo and Indonesia, after the 2004 tsunami.)

On Saturday, having closely followed the news in Newtown, Mrs. Miller said she was deeply saddened, but not depressed or unable to function.

“The shootings in Aurora, this, it doesn’t send me back to reliving it,” she said. “What I feel is an overwhelming sense of grief and sadness for the community and the survivors. But I’m not traumatized.”

    Children Can Usually Recover From Emotional Trauma, NYT, 17.12.2012,






With the Why Elusive, Two Boys, Two Burials


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Noah Pozner loved tacos, so much so that he talked of wanting to be the manager of a taco factory when he grew up; that way, he would be able to eat a taco whenever he wanted. He had a way of charming his elders and loved his siblings, including a twin sister who was in another classroom that day.

Jack Pinto adored the New York Giants and proudly wore a red Little League cap adorned with a large N for the name of his hometown. He was a spinning top of a boy, bouncing from one activity to the next, as if the day could never contain all the fun to be had.

The people of Newtown buried these two boys under an ashen sky on Monday afternoon, in the first of the many funerals to follow last week’s massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. They were both 6 years old.

The realization that Jack and Noah were gone settled like the December chill upon the Honan Funeral Home in Newtown, where a Christian service was held for Jack, and upon the Abraham L. Green and Sons Funeral Home in Fairfield, where a Jewish service was held for Noah.

An 8-year-old boy named Nolan Krieger, dressed in khaki pants and a plaid dress shirt, captured the intensifying sense of loss as he left the service for his friend Jack. “I used to do everything with him,” Nolan said, rubbing his eyes. “We liked to wrestle. We played Wii. We just played all the time. I can’t believe I’m never going to see him again.”

The how of their deaths is, by now, internationally known. A 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother on Friday morning. Then, armed with an assault rifle and two handguns, he shot his way into the elementary school and killed 20 first-grade children and six school officials, all women, before killing himself.

The why of their deaths, though, is still being pieced together. The school remains a crime scene, and law enforcement officials said they expected to spend weeks, if not months, investigating angles and interviewing witnesses — including children — to develop the complete, unsettling picture.

First, though, there was Monday, just after Hanukkah, a week before Christmas Eve — and what was supposed to be the first school day after the devastation in the classroom on Friday.

In Fairfield, about 25 miles south of Newtown, mourners formed a somber queue outside the two-story, white-clapboard Green funeral home. Many were from Temple Adath Israel, the Pozner family’s Conservative synagogue in Newtown. Dannel P. Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, and one of its United States senators, Richard Blumenthal, were also there.

A little girl in a pink hooded coat, clutching a floppy stuffed animal, served as a reminder of the innocence lost, as a couple of bomb-sniffing dogs did, in their own way.

Lt. James Perez of the Fairfield Police Department said that nonspecific threats of protests at the funeral home, coupled with “stupid comments” on the Internet and on social media, had prompted the unusually large police presence. “You have to prepare,” the officer said. “Newtown wasn’t warned either.”

Lieutenant Perez said that he had been inside, and had spoken with the family — as best as he could. “To see it be a child, it’s just beyond — ” he said, adding, “I didn’t have any words.”

During the service, Noah’s teenage brother, Michael, spoke for himself and for his other siblings. Diane Buchanan, the mother of one of Michael’s friends, said the young man had to pause to gather his emotions as he spoke. “We no longer have a brother,” she recalled him saying, “but now we have a guardian angel.”

Noah’s mother, Veronique, also eulogized Noah, and talked of his boundless aspirations. In addition to a taco-factory manager, she said, he also wanted to be a doctor. Throughout, observers said, she spoke with a remarkable poise that seemed meant to help others cope with the loss.

“But the main thing she left was one point,” said Rabbi Edgar Gluck, who splits his time between Krakow, Poland, and Borough Park in Brooklyn. “She said that whenever she told him ‘I love you,’ his answer to her was: ‘Not as much as I love you.’ ”

Ms. Buchanan said that as Noah’s mother spoke, “There wasn’t a man, woman or child who had a dry eye. And it was beautiful.”

Meanwhile, to the north, the final respects being paid to another boy were creating a pause in everyday life along Main Street in Newtown.

A sign on the front door of the general store said that someone was treating everyone to coffee. Nearby, in the old town hall, a woman talked into her cellphone about ways to help children in their grieving. And right outside, police officers directed traffic in front of the Honan funeral home — two-story and white-clapboard, just like the funeral home in Fairfield.

Before the service, Shannon Krieger, a close friend of Jack Pinto’s family, talked about how wonderful it was that Victor Cruz, the New York Giants wide receiver, had written tributes to Jack, including “Jack Pinto My Hero,” on his cleats and gloves. Then she walked into the funeral home, holding poster-board photographs of Jack in one hand and wiping tears with the other.

For nearly two hours, mourners waited in line outside the funeral home, their breaths forming puffs in the chilly, wet air. Many adults kept a hand on the head, or shoulder, of the children beside them.

Many of the mourners were boys, often wearing shirts and wind breakers that announced their Newtown allegiance. Some wore expressions of confused loss. Others, especially the younger ones — at the age of 6, say — played out their nervousness, dodging around a tree, stepping on one another’s shoes, being boys.

At the side of the funeral home, a group of young African-American men and women sang a sweet, even soothing, version of “Amazing Grace.” After a while, the group, from Huntsville, Ala., walked down the street, still singing, and piled into a white van.

“We’re going to another funeral,” said one of the singers, Adrian Rolle. “A boy named Noah.”

Inside, another friend of the Pinto family, a bereavement counselor named Mary Radatovich, eulogized Jack. She talked of how he commanded all attention the moment he was born, signaling that “I am here and I am something special.” She recalled his moments of boyness that led to all those visits to the emergency room.

And she spoke to Jack’s 10-year-old brother. “Now he will be with you, Ben, for the rest of your life,” she said. “Think of him every time you catch a football, hit a baseball, or hug your mom and dad.”

The service ended. A police officer stepped out into Main Street, raised a hand, and stopped a Ford Focus station wagon. A black hearse and a long trail of cars pulled out.

Past the old town hall. Past the Cyrenius H. Booth Library. Past the American flag at half-staff, and the soaring white spire of the Newtown Meetinghouse, and New England houses with candles in the windows.

Past the “Pray for Newtown” signs and the makeshift memorials, to the Newtown Village Cemetery, and thoughts of tombstones with a birth year that seems like yesterday: 2006.

    With the Why Elusive, Two Boys, Two Burials, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Seeking Comfort in Song Amid the Whiz of Bullets


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


The second graders had just finished their yoga poses and jumping jacks when the gunshots began.

Their teacher, Carol Wexler, herded the children — 18 of them — into a corner of the room, near their coat hooks, away from the hallway and the spasm of violence there.

She hurried back to the classroom door, but was unable to lock it. She shut off the lights.

She had been trained for an emergency. Yet had she known the truth, she may well have frozen in fear.

The principal and the school psychologist lay dead in the corridor, killed by bullets fired by Adam Lanza, a troubled 20-year-old who lived nearby.

He had entered a classroom filled with first graders and opened fire. And then he began heading to other rooms. Mrs. Wexler’s was just across the hall.

The first accounts of the massacre at the school in Newtown, Conn., were terrifying: 26 dead, including 20 young children. But new disclosures about how much ammunition Mr. Lanza was carrying have cast the events Friday in an even grimmer light. The authorities said Sunday that he had hundreds of unspent rounds, raising the prospect that had he not killed himself as the police approached, the number of victims could have been far higher.

The scene inside Sandy Hook Elementary School after Mr. Lanza began firing with a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle was pieced together from numerous interviews with school officials, the police and parents.

In the second-grade classroom, Mrs. Wexler, 52, raced back to her pupils.

She told them that they should all be very quiet, and to keep looking at her.

Some of the children reached into their backpacks for objects that brought them comfort — dolls, stuffed animals, worn blankets — which Mrs. Wexler always encouraged them to bring to school.

“They were just hoping and praying no one would come through that door,” said Heidi Werner, whose daughter, Grace, was in the class.

The children hid on the floor, amid their puffy winter jackets. One girl cried, and Mrs. Wexler held her in her lap.

In an office, someone had flipped on the main control for the intercom, and disturbing sounds were coming from it.

Mrs. Wexler, who spent 20 years in corporate finance before turning to teaching, began to sing holiday songs in a whisper.

The children whispered along.

“Jingle Bells.” “Silent Night.” “I Have a Little Dreidel.”

They did not pause when they heard shots or screams.

In a nearby classroom, Lauren Rousseau, 30, was a substitute teacher who had begun working full time only recently.

Mr. Lanza killed her, along with another teacher, and all of the children.

Everyone in the room was shot many times, the authorities said.

Victoria Soto’s class was next door.

Ms. Soto, 27, was youthful, energetic and a favorite among first graders. Her daily “morning meeting” with her children had just ended.

What happened next has been retold from the mouths of 6-year-olds, imperfect in their precise detail.

Children thought the gunshot sounds over the intercom were hammers falling or pots and pans clanging. One boy said he saw bullets flying past in the hallway.

Some said Ms. Soto rushed children into closets and cupboards. Others described a more chaotic scene of terrified children huddled along the far wall.

Ms. Soto slammed the door shut, but it was no obstacle.

Aidan, a 6-year-old boy, told his mother everything later.

“He said the gunman burst into the room,” his mother, Diane Licata, said. “He shot Ms. Soto and then began shooting the children.”

Aidan was screaming.

“He was running around, as were many of the children,” his mother said.

Some dashed behind the gunman, lunging for the door.

“They just ran,” Ms. Licata said.

Before reaching the hallway, Aidan paused to hold the door for his friend Emma.

In another classroom, a music teacher herded the children into a closet filled with instruments. To occupy their hands, she gave them lollipops.

All around the school, teachers were desperately trying to hide and soothe children.

A teacher read a story in a kindergarten class.

A librarian pulled out crayons and paper and told pupils, “Our job is just to be quiet.”

In an art classroom, the door would not shut, so the teacher rushed the children into a small office. One girl, Vanessa Bajraliu, 9, thought a wild animal was inside the building.

“Like a deer,” she said later.

But she heard screaming on the intercom, and gunshots, and became afraid.

She sat on the floor in silence.

“I was just thinking,” she said.

As for the other children, “They were just leaning on each other,” Vanessa said.

“They were whispering about, ‘I wonder who it is,’ or, ‘I wonder if somebody got killed.’ ”

Their teacher taped over the door’s clear windows with pictures and drawings. They waited.

The police arrived.

The school’s front windows were shattered. Officers approached a conference room, guns drawn, and told the several adults who had gathered there for a parent-teacher conference to stay put. One woman had been shot and wounded. Paramedics wheeled her out on an office chair.

The last gunshot had already been fired. Mr. Lanza was dead by his own hand.

“We have a suspect down,” a police officer, his voice cracking, said over the radio. He struggled to catch his breath.

“Be advised ... be advised we do have multiple weapons, including one rifle and one shotgun.”

His voice cracked again.

“Be advised, we need buses here ASAP,” he said, referring to ambulances. “Call Danbury if you have to.”

Across the school, students stayed huddled in their classrooms, fearful that the gunfire would resume.

Someone banged on the classroom doors: “Newtown police!”

In one room, a teacher refused to open the door, unsure whether the siege was over. The police pushed it open.

Run outside, the officer said, and keep your eyes shut.

With their hands on the shoulders of the children in front of them, the children hurried past bodies and pools of blood, but it was hard to run with their eyes closed.

Vanessa said she opened hers once.

“Police,” she said, describing what she saw.

Other children saw more. They later asked their parents why some of the children sprawled on the floor looked that way.

A 9-year-old girl in the fourth grade named Emma, when she got home that day, marched straight to her room with a friend and emerged with a handwritten account of everything she had witnessed.

Her mother did not get past the title before breaking down.

It read, “The Shooting.”

    Seeking Comfort in Song Amid the Whiz of Bullets, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Silent Since Shootings,

N.R.A. Could Face Challenge to Political Power


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Until recently, Debra Maggart considered the National Rifle Association an ally. As chairwoman of the Republican caucus in the Tennessee House of Representatives, she was a lifetime N.R.A. member and steadfastly supported its agenda, even voting for a bill that allowed guns in bars.

“How much more pro-Second Amendment can you be when you allow guns in a place that’s serving tequila?” she asked.

But when she and other Tennessee Republicans decided earlier this year not to move forward with an N.R.A. bill that would have allowed people to keep firearms locked in their cars in parking lots, Ms. Maggart became an object lesson in how the organization deploys its political power.

Upset that the bill, which the N.R.A. called the “Safe Commute Act,” had stalled, the group began working to unseat Ms. Maggart, the only member of the House leadership with a primary opponent. Billboards with her picture next to President Obama’s went up in her district, along with radio ads, newspaper ads and mailings. The N.R.A. and the other groups that opposed her in the primary spent around $155,000, she estimated. It would hardly be enough to register in many political races these days, but it was more than enough to beat Ms. Maggart — and draw notice in the State Capitol.

“They said I was shredding the Constitution, I was putting your family in danger, I was for gun control, I like Barack Obama,” Ms. Maggart said.

Even when the N.R.A. is silent — as its Web site and Twitter feed remained Monday, after the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history — it wields one of the biggest sticks in politics: A $300 million budget, millions of members around the country and virtually unmatched ferocity in advancing its political and legislative interests.

Over the years, the N.R.A. has deployed armies of lobbyists around the country to knock back efforts to regulate guns and expand owners’ ability to carry concealed weapons in schools, parks, bars and churches. It has formed close partnerships with gun makers and business organizations around the country, working to protect manufacturers from liability and introduce model bills in state legislatures.

The group spent millions of dollars on political ads this year and, since the beginning of 2011, has spent 10 times more on lobbying than every gun control group combined. It claims majorities of lawmakers in both houses of Congress under the “pro-Second Amendment” banner. When Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced a measure last year to ban high-capacity magazines — used in Tucson by the gunman who shot her colleague, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in the head — more than 130 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors. Not a single Republican would.

Yet the crucible of Newtown, some opponents argue, may provide the N.R.A. with the first genuine test of its political power in over a decade.

Having already won their most important priority — Supreme Court recognition of an individual constitutional right to bear arms — gun rights groups are increasingly fighting on terrain where they have less support, including pushing bills at the state and local level to carry concealed weapons in virtually any public setting. The N.R.A. continues to fight aggressively to dismantle existing law enforcement gun databases and to defeat efforts to apply background checks to more gun purchasers, measures that typically have solid public support.

In the post-Citizens United world, where checks from a handful of billionaires can rival the fund-raising of an entire presidential campaign, the N.R.A.’s treasury gives it less clout than before. The group’s $17 million in outside spending in 2012 was a small fraction of the total spent by the big outside groups. Moreover, some opponents believe the N.R.A.’s ever-tighter relationships with Republican officials and an electorate that evermore comprises suburban and urban voters who are female and nonwhite, give it less leverage over Democrats, even in red states.

On Monday, two pro-gun-rights Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia, said they would consider supporting new measures to limit guns. Both have “A” ratings from the N.R.A.

But any such measures would face an uphill battle. In 2009, the N.R.A. failed to muster enough votes in the Senate to pass an amendment allowing anyone granted a concealed-weapons permit in any state to carry their gun in any other state. Gun control groups hailed it as the N.R.A.’s first defeat in a floor vote in years — but 58 senators voted for the amendment.

Over the years the N.R.A. has perfected its strategy for responding to mass shootings: Lie low at first, then slow-roll any legislative push for a response.

After the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, for example, an effort to close the so-called gun-show loophole, requiring unlicensed dealers at gun shows to run background checks, ultimately died in conference after being stalled for months.

After the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress did manage to pass a modest measure that was designed to provide money to states to improve the federal background check system. But the N.R.A. secured a broad concession in the legislation, which pushed states to allow people with histories of mental illness to petition to have their gun rights restored.

Gun control proponents say that perception of the N.R.A.’s vast political clout largely dates to the 1994 midterm elections, when Republicans seized control of the House and Senate after passage of an assault weapons ban under President Clinton. That image was further enhanced in the 2000 election, when the N.R.A. claimed credit for helping elect George W. Bush to the White House. But later studies of those elections have tempered these assessments of the N.R.A.’s decisiveness.

In 2012, the group’s $14 million effort to rally voters against President Obama — the N.R.A.’s most important political priority — failed. In Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, gun control advocates have a public face with a significant bully pulpit and the financial wherewithal to back it up. Mr. Bloomberg spent $10 million nationally on political advertising in 2012, hoping to boost centrist candidates and those favoring gay rights and gun control. One notable success: A $3.3 million campaign by Mr. Bloomberg’s “super PAC,” Independence USA, helped defeat Representative Joe Baca of California, an N.R.A. favorite. Perhaps tellingly, the ads attacked Mr. Baca over water pollution, not guns.

“I put $600 million of my own money into trying to stop the tobacco companies from getting kids to smoke and convincing adults that it’s not in their health,” Mr. Bloomberg said in an NBC interview on Sunday. “That’s one issue. Who knows with this?”

    Silent Since Shootings, N.R.A. Could Face Challenge to Political Power, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Computer in Connecticut Gunman’s Home Yields No Data,

Investigators Say


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Investigators have not managed to retrieve any data from a computer they took from the house where the gunman in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings lived with his mother because he had all but destroyed the hard drive, a senior law enforcement official said Monday.

“It looked like he took steps to damage it — he smashed it,” said the official, adding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had joined the State Police in an unsuccessful effort to recover data that might lead to some understanding of what might have prompted the gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, to go on a rampage.

He began at his own house, shooting his mother, Nancy Lanza, with one of the five weapons that were registered to her there, and then moved to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where he killed 20 first graders and 6 school employees with a semiautomatic assault rifle. Some were hit 11 times.

But the official said it did not appear that Mr. Lanza had left any letters or notes that would offer a motive for the killings, or explain why he had targeted the school.

As investigators continued to examine other evidence they had seized, the first funerals were held on a gloomy and chaotic day that brought word of a second survivor, a school employee who was wounded but had not been mentioned in earlier accounts of the carnage. Her name was not immediately released. The other survivor at Sandy Hook was identified as the school’s lead teacher, Natalie Hammond, 40.

The spokesman for the State Police, Lt. J. Paul Vance, said investigators would “examine everything and anything,” including cellphones, game consoles and “anything that can provide us with information” about Mr. Lanza and his motivations for the rampage.

But he provided no indication as to why Mr. Lanza, had trained such firepower on the students in two classrooms at the school. Lieutenant Vance said Mr. Lanza had “no connection” to the school.

Mr. Lanza, 20, lived with his mother in a house about five miles away. She owned the guns he fired and the car he drove to the school. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have determined that Mr. Lanza and his mother had visited firing ranges, sometimes together, sometimes separately, according to a federal law enforcement official. The agents have been interviewing firearm dealers in Connecticut to “get a clear picture of what activities took place” before the shooting, said the official, who would not identify the shooting ranges.

Monday brought a new and grim reality to schools across the country. In some places, armed officers greeted students amid tighter safety procedures, and education officials rethought their security policies. There was a large police presence outside a funeral home in Newtown after what Lt. James Perez of the Fairfield Police Department described as vague threats of protests and “stupid comments” on the Internet and on social media.

In Ridgefield, Conn., a half-hour’s drive from Newtown, the police received a call about a “suspicious” stranger dressed in black and carrying what appeared to be a rifle. He was said to be walking from a train station toward an elementary school before the school day had even begun.

Officials ordered a lockdown — effectively a lockout, since most of the students were on school buses that had not arrived yet. The buses were diverted to another school while the police searched the area. The students were let into the school about four hours later, and the police eventually arrested a suspect, Wilfredo M. Seda, 22, of Redding, Conn. He had an umbrella that “had the outward appearance of a Samurai sword,” the Ridgefield police said in a statement. He was charged with a breach of the peace.

In Newtown, classes were canceled on Monday, and it was not clear whether students would ever attend classes in the Sandy Hook building again. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy approved an arrangement for the students to use a surplus school building a few miles away, in Monroe, and the children’s desks from Sandy Hook were moved there.

Mr. Malloy held an emotional news conference in Hartford during which he described his decision to tell the last, desperate parents at the firehouse in Newtown on Friday that none of their loved ones had survived the massacre. Struggling to keep his composure, the governor said that it had become clear there was no protocol that could be followed, and that rather than relying on the traditional routine of having relatives identify a body, he felt the best thing to do was simply to tell them there was no hope.

“I made the decision that to have that go on any longer was wrong,” he said.

Mr. Lanza’s mother had divorced his father, Peter J. Lanza, in 2008, citing “irreconcilable differences” after 27 years of marriage. The couple had joint custody of Adam Lanza, but he was expected to “reside primarily with the mother,” according to divorce settlement papers filed in Stamford Superior Court.

The settlement was generous to Ms. Lanza and her sons — Adam had an older brother, Ryan. She got the family house, and Mr. Lanza was to provide $240,000 a year in alimony starting in 2010. The amount was to increase annually through 2015, when it was to reach $298,800.

But while the settlement said Peter Lanza was responsible for paying the two sons’ college tuition and for providing “a car for their son Adam” — if Adam wanted one, and if Ms. Lanza paid for the insurance — Ms. Lanza was responsible for unreimbursed medical expenses. Those, the settlement said, included “hospital, optical, psychiatric, psychological and nursing expenses.”

A mediator who worked with the couple told The Associated Press that they told her that Adam Lanza had received a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome.

Some details about Adam Lanza’s teenage years also emerged. Around the time the divorce was in the works, he attended Western Connecticut State University as a part-time student. He did not make much of an impression.

Prof. Renate Ludanyi, the director of the university’s German studies center, said that Mr. Lanza was a student in her class during spring 2009, according to her grade books. But she said her memories of him were faint. “If at all I remember a quiet kid, a quiet young man sitting by the door,” she said.

Mr. Lanza dropped out of the class before the final grades were compiled. His grades until then had been “medium to not very good,” she said.


Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Peter Applebome, Peter Baker, Kitty Bennett, Alison Leigh Cowan, Stephen Farrell, Joseph Goldstein, J. David Goodman, Michael M. Grynbaum, Amy Harmon, Kristin Hussey, Ariel Kaminer, Randy Leonard, Elizabeth Maker, Michael Moss, Jeremy W. Peters, William K. Rashbaum, Ray Rivera, Wendy Ruderman, Emily S. Rueb, Derek Willis and Vivian Yee.

    Computer in Connecticut Gunman’s Home Yields No Data, Investigators Say, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


LAST Wednesday night I listened to Andrew Solomon, the author of the extraordinary new book “Far From the Tree,” talk about the frequency of filicide in families affected by autism. Two days later, I watched the news media attempt to explain a matricide and a horrific mass murder in terms of the killer’s supposed autism.

It began as insinuation, but quickly flowered into outright declaration. Words used to describe the killer, Adam Lanza, began with “odd,” “aloof” and “a loner,” shaded into “lacked empathy,” and finally slipped into “on the autism spectrum” and suffering from “a mental illness like Asperger’s.” By Sunday, it had snowballed into a veritable storm of accusation and stigmatization.

Whether reporters were directly attributing Mr. Lanza’s shooting rampage to his autism or merely shoddily lumping together very different conditions, the false and harmful messages were abundant.

Let me clear up a few misconceptions. For one thing, Asperger’s and autism are not forms of mental illness; they are neurodevelopmental disorders or disabilities. Autism is a lifelong condition that manifests before the age of 3; most mental illnesses do not appear until the teen or young adult years. Medications rarely work to curb the symptoms of autism, but they can be indispensable in treating mental illness like obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Underlying much of this misreporting is the pernicious and outdated stereotype that people with autism lack empathy. Children with autism may have trouble understanding the motivations and nonverbal cues of others, be socially naïve and have difficulty expressing their emotions in words, but they are typically more truthful and less manipulative than neurotypical children and are often people of great integrity. They can also have a strong desire to connect with others and they can be intensely empathetic — they just attempt those connections and express that empathy in unconventional ways. My child with autism, in fact, is the most empathetic and honorable of my three wonderful children.

Additionally, a psychopathic, sociopathic or homicidal tendency must be separated out from both autism and from mental illness more generally. While autistic children can sometimes be aggressive, this is usually because of their frustration at being unable to express themselves verbally, or their extreme sensory sensitivities. Moreover, the form their aggression takes is typically harmful only to themselves. In the very rare cases where their aggression is externally directed, it does not take the form of systematic, meticulously planned, intentional acts of violence against a community.

And if study after study has definitively established that a person with autism is no more likely to be violent or engage in criminal behavior than a neurotypical person, it is just as clear that autistic people are far more likely to be the victims of bullying and emotional and physical abuse by parents and caregivers than other children. So there is a sad irony in making autism the agent or the cause rather than regarding it as the target of violence.

In the wake of coverage like this, I worry, in line with concerns raised by the author Susan Cain in her groundbreaking book on introverts, “Quiet”: will shy, socially inhibited students be looked at with increasing suspicion as potentially dangerous? Will a quiet, reserved, thoughtful child be pegged as having antisocial personality disorder? Will children with autism or mental illness be shunned even more than they already are?

This country needs to develop a better understanding of the complexities of various conditions and respect for the profound individuality of its children. We need to emphasize that being introverted doesn’t mean one has a developmental disorder, that a developmental disorder is not the same thing as a mental illness, and that most mental illnesses do not increase a person’s tendency toward outward-directed violence.

We should encourage greater compassion for all parents facing an extreme challenge, whether they have children with autism or mental illness or have lost their children to acts of horrific violence (and that includes the parents of killers).

Consider this, posted on Facebook yesterday by a friend of mine from high school who has an 8-year-old, nonverbal child with severe autism:

“Today Timmy was having a first class melt down in Barnes and Nobles and he rarely melts down like this. He was throwing his boots, rolling on the floor, screaming and sobbing. Everyone was staring as I tried to pick him up and [his brother Xander] scrambled to pick up his boots. I was worried people were looking at him and wondering if he would be a killer when he grows up because people on the news keep saying this Adam Lanza might have some spectrum diagnosis ... My son is the kindest soul you could ever meet. Yesterday, a stranger looked at Timmy and said he could see in my son’s eyes and smile that he was a kind soul; I am thankful that he saw that.”

Rather than averting his eyes or staring, this stranger took the time to look, to notice and to share his appreciation of a child’s soul with his mother. The quality of that attention is what needs to be cultivated more generally in this country.

It could take the form of our taking the time to look at, learn about and celebrate each of the tiny victims of this terrible shooting. It could manifest itself in attempts to dismantle harmful, obfuscating stereotypes or to clarify and hone our understanding of each distinct condition, while remembering that no category can ever explain an individual. Let’s try to look in the eyes of every child we encounter, treat, teach or parent, whatever their diagnosis or label, and recognize each child’s uniqueness, each child’s inimitable soul.


Priscilla Gilman is the author of “The Anti-Romantic Child:

A Memoir of Unexpected Joy.”

    Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Pro-Gun Democrats Signaling Openness to Limits


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Demonstrating rapidly shifting attitudes toward gun control in the aftermath of a massacre in a Connecticut school, many pro-gun Congressional Democrats — including Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader and a longstanding gun rights supporter — signaled an openness Monday to new restrictions on guns.

White House officials remained vague and noncommittal about how President Obama would translate into action his soaring rhetoric Sunday in Newtown, when he appeared to presage an effort to curb access to guns. But many Democrats, including several from conservative states, said Congress should take up the issue next year, and one Senate chairman promised hearings.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, an advocate of gun rights who drew attention in 2010 by running a commercial that showed him firing a rifle into a piece of legislation serving as a target, said “everything should be on the table” as gun control is debated in the coming weeks and months.

The receptiveness to new gun laws from figures like Mr. Manchin suggested the National Rifle Association, long one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, would face a strong test of its influence in the coming months if it sought to fend off tougher restrictions. Leaders of the organization have declined interview requests since the shootings, the group’s Twitter account has gone silent, and it has deactivated its Facebook page.

As the criminal inquiry proceeded, investigators studying a computer taken from the house of the Connecticut gunman, Adam Lanza, said it was so badly damaged that they were not optimistic that they would be able to get any information from it, a law enforcement official said Monday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has more expertise in computer forensics than Connecticut’s state forensic laboratory, has been part of the effort to recover data from the computer, the official said.

A federal law enforcement official said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had determined that Mr. Lanza and his mother, Nancy Lanza, visited firing ranges together and separately in recent years, with one known occasion of their going together. It was not clear whether they had both fired weapons on that visit.

The White House offered no elaboration on Monday of the president’s thinking or the options he would consider; it tried to tamp down expectations of quick action.

In part, that reflected the complicated politics of gun control, as the president’s advisers weighed whether the horror of Newtown had changed the dynamics in Washington enough to make possible measures that were earlier deemed very unlikely to pass.

And in part, that reflected the reality that the president and his top aides are consumed with negotiating a potentially landmark budget bargain with Congressional Republicans to head off a fiscal crisis at the end of the year.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Obama met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and three cabinet officials — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.; Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services; and Arne Duncan, the education secretary — to “begin looking at ways the country can respond to the tragedy in Newtown,” an administration official said.

The official declined to give specifics on the state of the discussions other than to say “the work will continue.”

Several people familiar with the deliberations at the White House in recent days said the administration, for now, was pursuing a strategy of taking time to develop a holistic response that could potentially be announced all at once, an executive order and a legislative proposal, rather than rushing to put out an executive order alone.

The thinking behind that approach, they said, was that the actions the president could take by himself — ordering federal agencies like the Social Security Administration to provide information to the background check system when benefits recipients have been deemed mentally ill or when employees and job applicants fail drug tests — would have only a minor impact relative to things that Congress could do, and that issuing such an order by itself could reduce momentum for greater action.

“It’s a complex problem that will require a complex solution,” the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said in a news conference on Monday. “I don’t have a specific agenda to point you to today.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats made it clear that they were ready to consider changes after years of pointedly avoiding fights over gun laws lest they face adverse political consequences in swing states and districts.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who has the strong backing of the N.R.A., said Monday that there should be “stricter rules on the books” regarding guns, and he called the school shootings “a game changer.”

Representative Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who will join the Senate in January and has long advocated a strong pro-gun agenda, said in an e-mail on Monday that “all parties must come to the table” to ponder legislation.

Representative John A. Yarmuth, a moderate Democrat from Kentucky, said he had been “largely silent on the issue of gun violence over the past six years,” adding, “I am now as sorry for that as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy.”

Senator Reid, who has long viewed control efforts as a political liability for his party, said, “In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow.”

Democrats seemed to be hoping to seize on the momentum from the shooting, in which 20 first graders were killed, and the resulting outrage and despondency of millions of Americans, to gingerly build a coalition of lawmakers who might be able to create some form of compromise limits on gun sales or types.

The swift and decisive tone of lawmakers like Mr. Manchin, Mr. Reid and other gun rights supporters in Congress differed notably from reactions after other recent shootings.

Some lawmakers will introduce bills to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition clips are expected to surface during the continuing lame duck session or, more likely, in the 113th Congress, which begins in January.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who has resisted some tighter gun laws, said on the Senate floor Monday that his committee would hold hearings next year “to help in the search for understanding and answers.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has said she will introduce legislation that would reinstate a ban on the sale and possession of large clips of ammunition. Mr. Reid supports the efforts and has indicated to some Democrats he would seek floor time for her measure. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, said he would reintroduce his high-capacity magazine ban legislation in January.

Many Congressional Republicans would almost certainly balk at any effort to impose major new restrictions on gun sales and ownership. A spokesman for Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said Mr. Rubio “remains a strong supporter of the Second Amendment right to safely and responsibly bear arms, but he has also always been open to measures that would keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, on Monday echoed Mr. Obama in praising the “self-sacrificing love” of those school staff members who tried to protect the attacked children. Mr. McConnell made no mention of the role of Congress.

Despite pressure to move quickly, the White House is gambling that it can wait awhile, possibly until the new year, and still have enough political momentum from the anger and grief over the shootings to overcome deep opposition to gun control. “It’s hard to imagine people in any near term somehow forgetting the rawness of what happened on Friday,” Mr. Carney said.

But others were not so sure. Other mass shootings have prompted waves of grief and resolve to take action, only to fade in relatively short order. Some advocates of gun control, like Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson and cabinet secretary under President Jimmy Carter, suggested that Mr. Obama had just a brief opportunity to press his case while public attention was focused on television images of children clutching teddy bears.

    Pro-Gun Democrats Signaling Openness to Limits, NYT, 17.12.2012,






What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Tuscaloosa, Ala.

WHAT do Mir Aimal Kansi, Ali Abu Kamal, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet and Nidal Malik Hasan have in common with Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho and Adam Lanza? The first four claimed to be fighting the American government’s unholy oppression of Muslims; they struck the C.I.A. headquarters, the Empire State Building, Los Angeles International Airport and the Army base at Fort Hood, Tex., respectively. The last four seemed to be driven by personal motives; they shot up a high school, a university and an elementary school.

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that suicide terrorists are rational political actors, while suicidal rampage shooters are mentally disturbed loners. But the two groups have far more in common than has been recognized.

Over the last three years, I have examined interviews, case studies, suicide notes, martyrdom videos and witness statements and found that suicide terrorists are indeed suicidal in the clinical sense — which contradicts what many psychologists and political scientists have long asserted. Although suicide terrorists may share the same beliefs as the organizations whose propaganda they spout, they are primarily motivated by the desire to kill and be killed — just like most rampage shooters.

In fact, we should think of many rampage shooters as nonideological suicide terrorists. In some cases, they claim to be fighting for a cause — neo-Nazism, eugenics, masculine supremacy or an antigovernment revolution — but, as with suicide terrorists, their actions usually stem from something much deeper and more personal.

There appears to be a triad of factors that sets these killers apart. The first is that they are generally struggling with mental health problems that have produced their desire to die. The specific psychiatric diagnoses vary widely, and include everything from clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder to schizophrenia and others forms of psychosis. The suicide rate was 12.4 per 100,000 people in the United States in 2010 (the highest in 15 years). Suicide is relatively rare, but it is rarer still in most Muslim countries. This is a very limited pool from which most suicide terrorists and rampage shooters come.

The second factor is a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him. Not surprisingly, the presence of mental illness can inflame these beliefs, leading perpetrators to have irrational and exaggerated perceptions of their own victimization. It makes little difference whether the perceived victimizer is an enemy government (in the case of suicide terrorists) or their boss, co-workers, fellow students or family members (in the case of rampage shooters).

The key is that the aggrieved individual feels that he has been terribly mistreated and that violent vengeance is justified. In many cases, the target for revenge becomes broader and more symbolic than a single person, so that an entire type or category of people is deemed responsible for the attacker’s pain and suffering. Then, the urge to commit suicide becomes a desire for murder-suicide, which is even rarer; a recent meta-analysis of 16 studies suggests that only two to three of every one million Americans commit murder-suicide each year.

The third factor is the desire to acquire fame and glory through killing. More than 70 percent of murder-suicides are between spouses or romantic or sexual partners, and these crimes usually take place at home. Attackers who commit murder-suicide in public are far more brazen and unusual. Most suicide terrorists believe they will be honored and celebrated as “martyrs” after their deaths and, sure enough, terrorist organizations produce martyrdom videos and memorabilia so that other desperate souls will volunteer to blow themselves up.

Similarly, rampage shooters have often been captivated by the idea that they will become posthumously famous. “Isn’t it fun to get the respect that we’re going to deserve?” the Columbine shooter Eric Harris remarked. He had fantasized with his fellow attacker, Dylan Klebold, that the filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino would fight over the rights to their life story.

Although we can only speculate, Adam Lanza’s decision to target elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., may have been a calculated attempt to get as much attention as possible. Despite misconceptions to the contrary, many mentally ill people are quite capable of staging their attacks for symbolic effect. In 2002, the Washington-area snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo shot a middle schooler, then taunted the police with a note that said “Your children are not safe anywhere at any time.” Mr. Lanza may have realized that the only thing that generates more attention than killing random innocent adults is killing random innocent children.

It is tempting to look back at recent history and wonder what’s wrong with America — our culture and our policies. But underneath the pain, the rage and the desire to die, rampage shooters like Mr. Lanza are remarkably similar to aberrant mass killers — including suicide terrorists — in other countries. The difference rests in how they are shaped by cultural forces and which destructive behaviors they seek to copy. The United States has had more than its share of rampage shootings, but only a few suicide attacks. Other countries are regularly plagued by suicidal explosions, but rarely experience a school shooting.

I can’t help but wonder about Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho and Adam Lanza. If they had been born in Gaza or the West Bank, shaped by terrorist organizations’ hateful propaganda, would they have strapped bombs around their waists and blown themselves up? I’m afraid the answer is yes.


Adam Lankford, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama,

is the author of the forthcoming book “The Myth of Martyrdom:

What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters,

and Other Self-Destructive Killers.”

    What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Obama’s Gun Test


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


LONDON — President Obama made a good speech in Arizona almost two years ago after a lone gunman — another troubled young American male wielding a semiautomatic weapon — killed six people and wounded many others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

His theme was American reconciliation worthy of the hopes of a nine-year-old girl killed that day. But he also sounded a steely note: “We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.”

The president has uttered more moving words, and shed tears, since a 20-year-old gunman — having murdered his mother and grabbed her ample arsenal — blasted his way into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, last week and slaughtered 20 children aged 6 and 7, as well as six members of staff. Again Obama spoke of prayer and community. Again he made the vague promise of “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.”

The Newtown slaughter is many things: evil, unconscionable, literally unbearable. Who can look into the innocent eyes of 20 first-graders and execute them? The temptation is to say only a monster, but of course the answer is a human being.

The way to curtail humans’ ineradicable potential for evil is not soaring rhetoric or heartfelt prayer, but effective laws that govern the interaction of citizens in society. The horror of Newtown is a political failure. It is a failure of American will. That will is personified by the president. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, was right to chide Obama: “He’s the commander in chief as well as the consoler in chief.”

And command he should on gun control. The issue centers on a handful of words adopted 221 years ago. The Second Amendment reads (every facet of it, including the punctuation, is disputed): “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This single sentence has become the rickety basis of an ideology backed by the millions-strong gun lobby. It holds that the right of individuals to bear arms is indivisible from the essence of American liberty. Any attempt to curtail that right is somehow anti-American. In this view, the gun becomes guarantor of vigor and democracy: Feeble Europeans cede their rights to Big Government (their new religion) whereas tough God-fearing Americans believe their government should serve them.

Europeans look on in incomprehension. In many respects European and American cultures intertwine. They diverge over guns and God. The United States has more guns and does more God — a sign of vitality and the absence of European cynicism to some Americans, but a dangerous combination in the eyes of Europeans.

What does young Adam Lanza, armed with a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, have to do with anything “well regulated,” or with a “Militia,” or with “security,” or with a “free State” or with “the people”?


The Second Amendment cannot be an untrammeled gun license, the passport to the kind of unregulated ownership of weapons that facilitates mass shootings. James Madison had order in mind not mayhem.

Yet, between Obama’s Arizona speech and this massacre, U.S. gun laws have become less not more restrictive. Old assumptions have not been “challenged” but reinforced. The gun culture runs deep.

Ever since his much-criticized remarks about rural folk “clinging to” guns and God — seen as patronizing liberal snobbery — Obama has been passive (his word) on the gun issue. But these 20 dead children in a year of repeated mass shootings demand that he now push hard to make access to guns “well regulated” — through thorough background checks, waiting periods to allow such investigations to happen, referees for would-be buyers, restrictions on the weapons available and whatever legislation really supports “the security of a free State.”

Responsible gun owners would only benefit. The United States would not be turned overnight into Europe by stripping the Second Amendment of the anti-historical confabulations that have made life far more dangerous for America’s children than it need be.

When young children are slaughtered en masse, it is a moment of reckoning for any society. To dismiss this as the act of a madman is unacceptable when it forms part of a pattern, part of a culture. The question to ask is not whether stricter laws would have prevented this but whether current laws and attitudes enabled it.

Even the Nazis struggled with the enormity of slaughtering children. To overcome the psychological barrier in the Baltic states in 1941, they often hired local police or militias to kill Jewish kids. The subsequent gas chambers were designed for efficiency. They were also a means to avoid doing what Lanza did: look doomed children in the eye.

Fine words and lofty prayer pack up like cheap umbrellas in a storm. What is needed is the political resolve to confront a scourge. Newtown has become a decisive test of whether second-term Obama is different. The signs are not good. His Newtown speech did not contain two essential words: guns and laws.


You can follow me on Twitter or join me on Facebook.

    Obama’s Gun Test, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Let’s Get M.A.D.D. About Guns


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


On May 3, 1980, a 13-year-old girl named Cari Lightner was killed by a drunken driver. A terrible alcoholic, the man had three prior drunken driving convictions. He had just come from a bar, on the back end of a three-day binge.

Within weeks, Cari’s mom, Candy Lightner, co-founded M.A.D.D., or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. All over the country, mothers fed up with the unwillingness of politicians to do anything about drunken driving flocked to the organization. Within a few years, M.A.D.D. had persuaded President Ronald Reagan to support a national drinking age of 21, and it had pushed through state laws toughening the penalties for driving while intoxicated. Perhaps most important, M.A.D.D. turned a dangerous behavior that had long been socially acceptable into a taboo.

I was out of town on Friday, when the Newtown, Conn., massacre took place and could only connect to my loved ones by phone. My fiancée wept uncontrollably: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to drop Mackie off at school, and never see him again,” she said, referring to our 2-year-old son. My grown daughter also cried.

Listening to them — and seeing how powerfully affected the country has been by this horrible slaughter of children and their teachers — I couldn’t help thinking about M.A.D.D. Its success came about because its founders tapped into a wellspring of anger that had been quietly building — just like the current anger over the recent spate of mass killings. But it also came about because mothers could give a human face to the consequences of political inaction: their own children. How do you trump that?

Sadly, thanks to the elementary school shootings on Friday, children are now inexorably linked with the kind of mass killing that has become far too common. On Sunday, at the vigil in Newtown, President Obama explicitly cast the country’s lax gun laws as a failure to protect children. I have no doubt his remarks were heartfelt, but they were also politically shrewd. Rarely has the National Rifle Association been so silent.

One absurd argument some gun extremists are already making is that, instead of tightening gun laws, we should go in the other direction, and start packing heat. That way, you see, we can mow down the bad guy before he gets us.

In Michigan, a bill to allow concealed weapons to be brought into public schools, day-care centers and churches has been approved by the Legislature and is awaiting the signature of that state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. In the most recent issue of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the country is so “saturated” with guns — some 300 million — that it’s pointless to try to put controls on gun ownership. Besides, he says, “people should have the ability to defend themselves.” A Texas congressman, Louie Gohmert, said that if only the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School “had an M4 in her office,” she could have stopped Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman.

But the experience of other countries puts the lie to that argument. In Australia, in 1996, a man killed 35 people in the course of an afternoon rampage. Australia soon went from having relaxed gun laws to having tough gun laws, including such common-sense measures as character witnesses for people who want to own a gun, and the purchase of a safebolted to the wall or floor. There are still plenty of hunters in Australia, but it hasn’t had a mass killing since.

South Africa may be an even better example. For many years, South Africa was a country every bit as gun-soaked as America. I have a friend, Greg Frank, a hedge fund manager in Charlottesville, Va., who lived in Johannesburg during a time when it had become so crime-ridden that people felt the need to own guns to protect themselves. He, too, owned a gun as a young man: “I made the excuse that I needed it for self-protection.”

The guns didn’t make anybody safer. People who were held up while waiting at a red light rarely had time to pull out their guns. And the fact that so many homes had guns became an incentive for criminals, who would break in, hold the family hostage, and then order that the safe with the guns be opened. “Everyone knew someone who had family or friends who had experienced gun violence,” he said.

Finally, he says, people got fed up. In 2004, the laws changed, requiring annual relicensing, character witnesses and other measure to keep guns out of the wrong hands. There was also an appeal to voluntarily surrender guns.

“I took my gun to the police station,” recalls Frank. “The cop receiving it wrote down the serial number, took my ID, and I was gone. It felt transformational, like a huge weight off my shoulders.”

It will for us, too, when we finally get serious about stopping gun violence.

    Let’s Get M.A.D.D. About Guns, NYT, 17.12.2012,






The Bullet’s Legacy


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


Hillside, N.J.

Before Monday morning I hadn’t seen Matt Gross in more than 15 years. That last time, in the spring of 1997, I’d watched as someone tried to teach him to shave. Reteach, I should say. Matt was then 28 and had once known how, but you lose things — memories, skills — when a bullet tunnels through your brain.

The one that tunneled through Matt’s destroyed about half of his left frontal lobe. This happened at the Empire State Building. I’m not talking about the shooting there earlier this year, on the sidewalk, but about the prior one, on the Observation Deck. We’ve now had so many gun-related blood baths in this country that we’re into reruns.

Matt was clean-shaven when I reconnected with him. Somewhere along the way, he told me, he’d figured out anew how to use a razor, though he can’t recall when.

But he recalls Friday. He recalls the news from Newtown, to which he paid rapt attention.

“They’re saying that this is the 9/11 of shootings in this country,” he observed, laughing a bitter laugh. “The 9/11 of shootings happened years and years and years ago.”

He meant that there have been massacres aplenty to rouse Americans from their complacency and lawmakers from their torpor. And yet...nothing.

“It’s a travesty,” he said.

Matt was shot by a recent immigrant who illegally bought a semiautomatic handgun in Florida using a motel room as his address. He killed one of Matt’s best friends and injured five people in addition to Matt.

Afterward, Matt, his two brothers and his parents allowed me into their lives for a story in The Times about his vibrant past and uncertain future. He’d been a force of nature: the president of the student council at Montclair High School in New Jersey; a double major at Bennington College; the lead vocalist in a progressive rock band, the Bushpilots, that was just starting to make some headway in Manhattan.

If you’d told me back when I was chronicling his recovery that 15 years later, gun laws in this country would be less stringent, not more, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But that’s the case, despite what happened on the Observation Deck and then at Columbine, at Virginia Tech, in Tucson, in Aurora.

In 2004 the federal ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire. In 2009 President Obama signed legislation allowing concealed guns in national parks. Between the mid-1990s and today, the number of privately owned guns in this country is believed to have risen to about 270 million from nearly 200 million. And the number of states with prohibitions on carrying concealed firearms dropped to one from seven. Illinois remains the holdout, but perhaps not for long: a court just struck down its ban.

Matt, meantime, has been trying to piece together a new life. In most ways he’s made an astonishing comeback, his reading skills sharp, his speech articulate, his guitar playing fluid.

But his memory is spotty, his energy diminished, his concentration flawed and his self-expression labored. “In the last 16 years, I’ve written maybe four songs,” he said. “I used to write four a day.”

He has off-kilter emotional reactions, laughing at things that are sad and crying when there’s no cause to. He’s sometimes blunt in unintended ways.

Dating used to be easy but isn’t anymore. He’s at once wholly aware that he has a different personality and utterly unable to retrieve the old one. He said he missed it.

Now 43, he shares a state-subsidized apartment with another man who suffered a brain injury, and he takes a special bus three days a week to a job at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, where his chores include pest control and sweeping floors. That’s where I spoke with him.

He wishes he could afford a place of his own. He wishes he could perform “Jingle Bells” — which he will, at the food bank’s holiday party — without a sheet of lyrics.

The shooting, he said, “ruined my life. I wouldn’t be working here. I’d be putting out albums. I’d be touring the world.” His voice was matter-of-fact.

“A lot of what he was has been taken forever,” said his older brother, Dan, the current president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But what’s left, Dan said, “is pretty amazing.”

That includes a son, age 7. Matt fathered him for an unmarried family friend who “knew that I was talented and funny,” Matt said. “And the kid is all of those things.” Matt showed me a picture of the thin blond boy, who now lives in California, and beamed.

Dan, noting that Matt’s struggles have nothing to do with heredity, said: “To all of us, and I hope to him, there’s some deep fulfillment in the fact that the stuff that made him great is being passed along in pure form to this new life.”

    The Bullet’s Legacy, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Reason to Hope After the Newtown Rampage


December 17, 2012
The New York Times


This is a country that has a history of facing tragedy and becoming better for it. It is a country that recoiled in horror at the Triangle shirtwaist factory and took steps to protect the lives of factory workers. It is a country able to rethink deeply seated beliefs — as it did with discrimination against blacks and women and is now doing with antigay discrimination.

Americans are ready to shoulder burdens — as we did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by accepting increased security when we travel and military actions we might previously have avoided. The current atmosphere in Washington — where lawmakers looked at the challenge of a struggling economy and dissolved into partisan bickering — is not the old normal, and there is no reason we should settle for it as the new normal.

So we have found real reason to find hope in the determination to effect change that followed the murders of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., last Friday. President Obama said it unequivocally on Sunday — the enormity of controlling the culture of guns and the epidemic of gun violence “can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

Yes, Mr. Obama has said that before, after two previous mass killings during his tenure, and did nothing. The hurdles are just as big as they were before, but there are signs that people are willing to rethink their views.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia, Democrats with “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association, have both said it is time to talk about restrictions on gun sales and ownership. Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and now morning host on MSNBC, said Monday that the Newtown killings had changed his mind about gun control.

And some lawmakers are already preparing to take action, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who plans to submit a bill in the next Congress that would update and tighten the loophole-riddled 1994 assault weapons bill that she wrote and that remained law until it expired in 2004.

In that spirit, we are devoting this page to the gun epidemic, and the violence it has caused, and plan to return to the subject frequently, analyzing the challenge but mostly looking at solutions — all of which start with the hard truth that it is past time for both sides of the gun debate to be less inflexible on the issue of a Constitutionally mandated right to bear arms.

Those who believe, as we do, that the Second Amendment does not provide each American with an absolute right to own guns, must recognize that this position can alienate sympathetic listeners and is not likely to prevail any time soon. We must respect the legitimate concerns of law-abiding, safety conscious gun owners, in order to find common ground against unyielding ideologues.

The challenge for the antigun-control side was put well by Mr. Scarborough, who said Monday that he had changed his view of the gun debate as a question of individual rights versus government control, and now sees it as an issue of public safety. There are no rights granted by the Constitution that are so absolute that they erase concerns about public safety and welfare.

There is reason, this time around, to hope that both parties can shake off the N.R.A. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York pointed out on Sunday that the lobby had failed to defeat Mr. Obama this year. And Representative John Yarmuth, a moderate Democrat from Kentucky, said: “The National Rifle Association has spent untold millions of dollars instilling fear in our citizens and our politicians. I believe it is more rational to fear guns far more than the illusory political power of the N.R.A.”

In fact, poll after poll has shown that N.R.A. members themselves are not opposed to measures like criminal background checks on gun sellers and gun buyers.

Read related editorials on gun control: constitutional issues and legislation abroad.

    Reason to Hope After the Newtown Rampage, NYT, 17.12.2012,






Senator Manchin, Defender of Gun Rights, Shifts His View


December 17, 2012
10:14 am
The New York Times


Joe Manchin III, the pro-gun-rights West Virginia senator who drew attention in 2010 after running a commercial that showed him firing a rifle at an environmental bill, said on Monday that "everything should be on the table" as gun control is debated in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Manchin, a Democrat and an avid hunter with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, indicated that he supported re-evaluating laws that permit people to have clips that hold dozens of rounds of ammunition and to own assault rifles.

"I don't know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle," Mr. Manchin said, speaking on the MSNBC program "Morning Joe."

"I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about," he added.

While Mr. Manchin stopped short of saying what, if any, changes to gun laws he would support, his words amounted to one of the strongest signals yet that in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., longtime gun rights supporters are taking a more measured approach to Second Amendment issues.

Gun control has been something of a third rail for many lawmakers, including President Obama, who critics say has not pushed for any meaningful reforms. Any effort to rewrite gun laws in Congress would certainly be a complicated and difficult task.

But, as Mr. Manchin said on Monday, the Newtown shooting has caused many like him to pause and rethink the issue.

"Millions and millions of people are proud gun owners, and they do it responsibly," he said. "Seeing the massacre of so many innocent children, it's changed - it's changed America. We've never seen this happen."

The National Rifle Association's political fund has praised Mr. Manchin for taking various steps to protect gun owners, like signing a law prohibiting the confiscating of guns during a state of emergency while he was governor of West Virginia.

In his comments on Monday, Mr. Manchin was careful to note that the dialogue would have to take place in a way that reassured the N.R.A. and others that their right to bear arms was not in jeopardy. He said he would be approaching the N.R.A. to discuss the issue soon.

"I'll go over and sit down with them and say, 'How can we take the dialogue to a different level?'" he said. "How can we sit down and make sure that we're moving and not be afraid that someone's going to attack our freedoms and our rights?"

Politicians, lobbyists and policy experts continued on Monday to discuss the prospect of new limitations on firearms, with stronger support and even some indications of softening opposition to gun control in the aftermath of the mass killing.

Joe Scarborough, the host of "Morning Joe" and a former Republican congressman from Florida who highlighted his support of gun rights, also made comments on the program calling for action from Washington on several fronts.

"The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon, to movie theaters in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut, is being spawned by the toxic view of a violent popular culture, a growing mental health crisis and the proliferation of combat-style weapons," Mr. Scarborough said.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who is about to leave Congress, was among those calling for restrictions on assault weapons, a position favored by many Democrats. He is also calling for a commission to look broadly at the problem of gun violence and its causes.

Several Democrats said they would like to reinstitute a ban on the sale of assault weapons, or make it harder for people with serious or dangerous mental health problems to obtain firearms.

Mr. Lieberman repeated his views that assault weapons "were weapons created by the U.S. military for use in war."

"When it comes to mental health, this is complicated," he continued. "We've got to find a way to create a society in which those closest to people in trouble, mentally, acknowledge that" and help them secure assistance.

As for violence in the entertainment and video game industry, which Mr. Lieberman has also said may contribute to a culture of violence, he said, "I think we really do have to reopen the conversation and go back and ask ourselves, 'Is there more we can do?'"

    Senator Manchin, Defender of Gun Rights, Shifts His View, NYT, 17.12.2012,






In Town at Ease With Its Firearms,

Tightening Gun Rules Was Resisted


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


People in the rural, hilly areas around Newtown, Conn., are used to gunfire. In one woodsy stretch, southeast of downtown, the Pequot Fish and Game Club and the Fairfield County Fish and Game Protective Association, where members can fish in ponds and hunt pheasant, lie within a mile of each other, and people who live nearby generally call them good neighbors.

But in the last couple of years, residents began noticing loud, repeated gunfire, and even explosions, coming from new places. Near a trailer park. By a boat launch. Next to well-appointed houses. At 2:20 p.m. on one Wednesday last spring, multiple shots were reported in a wooded area on Cold Spring Road near South Main Street, right across the road from an elementary school.

Yet recent efforts by the police chief and other town leaders to gain some control over the shooting and the weaponry turned into a tumultuous civic fight, with traditional hunters and discreet gun owners opposed by assault weapon enthusiasts, and a modest tolerance for bearing arms competing with the staunch views of a gun industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has made Newtown its home.

The place that witnessed one of the worst mass killings in United States history on Friday, leaving 20 schoolchildren and 8 adults dead, is a bucolic New England town comfortable with its firearms, and not an obvious arena for the nation’s debate over gun control. But the legislative battle right here shows how even the slightest attempts to impose restrictions on guns can run into withering resistance, made all the more pointed by the escalation in firepower.

“Something needs to be done,” said Joel T. Faxon, a hunter and a member of the town’s police commission, who championed the shooting restrictions. “These are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war.”

The gunman’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had collected several weapons, including powerful handguns and a semiautomatic rifle that she and her son, Adam, were fond of shooting, and it remains unclear where they took their target practice. Much of the gunfire and the explosions reported by residents to the police in recent months came from a spot less than three miles from their house. Police logs identified the spot as one of the town’s many unlicensed gun ranges, where the familiar noise of hunting rifles has grown to include automatic gunfire and explosions that have shaken houses.

“It was like this continuous, rapid fire,” said Amy Habboush, who was accustomed to the sound of gunfire but became alarmed last year when she heard what sounded like machine guns, though she did not complain to the police. “It was a concern. We knew there was target practice, but we hadn’t heard that noise before.”

Earlier this year, the Newtown police chief, Michael Kehoe, went to the Town Council for help. The town had a 20-year-old ordinance aimed at hunters that included a ban on shooting within 500 feet of occupied dwellings, but the chief complained that the way the law was written had left him powerless to enforce the rules or otherwise crack down on the riskiest shooting.

The police department logged more than 50 gunfire complaints this year through July, double the number for all of 2011, records show. Some of the complaints raised another issue. Gun enthusiasts here, as elsewhere in the country, have taken to loading their targets with an explosive called Tannerite, which detonates when bullets strike it, sending shock waves afield. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, Tannerite is legal in Connecticut, but safety concerns led Maryland this year to ban it.

Mr. Faxon, the police commission member, who is a lawyer, said he wrote the new ordinance, which would have imposed additional constraints on shooting, including limited hours, and a requirement that any target shooting range, and the firearms that would be used there, be approved by the chief of police to make sure they were safe. This was no liberal putsch, Mr. Faxon said; three of the five commission members are Republicans, and two members are police officers.

“I’ve hunted for many years, but the police department was getting complaints of shooting in the morning, in the evening, and of people shooting at propane gas tanks just to see them explode,” Mr. Faxon said.

The proposal was submitted to the council’s ordinance committee, whose chairwoman, Mary Ann Jacob, would play a heroic role on Friday. Ms. Jacob is a librarian aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where she is credited with protecting many lives by throwing two rooms crowded with children into lockdown as the gunfire erupted.

“We’re growing,” Ms. Jacob said in an interview on Saturday, describing a town where hikers and mountain bikers now compete with gun owners for use of the many trails and wooded areas. “The police chief is not looking to change behavior or go after a group of people, but rather he’s trying to give his officers the ability, if an incident occurs, to react appropriately. Right now, if you’re standing on your property and my house is 20 feet away, you can shoot.”

The first meeting took place on Aug. 2, with about 60 people crowding into the room. Some spoke in favor of the new rules, the meeting minutes show. But many voiced their opposition, citing the waiting lists at established gun ranges. Among the speakers was a representative of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, who was described as saying he believed there was a greater danger of swimming accidents. “No privileges should be taken away from another generation,” he said.

The president and spokesman of the group did not respond to messages left Sunday. Citing the continuing investigation, the group said on its Web site it would not be commenting on the massacre, but that “our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community.”

A second committee gathering in September drew such a large crowd that the meeting was moved into a high school cafeteria, where the opposition grew fierce. “This is a freedom that should never be taken away,” one woman said. Added another, “Teach kids to hunt, you will never have to hunt your kids.”

“No safety concerns exist,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman said, according to the minutes.

The proposed ordinance was shelved, and Ms. Jacob said the committee was in the midst of researching a more limited rule, perhaps one restricted to making the existing ban on firing weapons within 500 feet of an occupied building more enforceable.

“Five hundred feet!” Mr. Flaxon said in an interview. “A BB gun can go that far.”

Newtown residents said many of the ranges in the area have long waiting lists of people eager to join, which has led to the profusion of informal ranges.

On High Rock Road, where many gunfire complaints originated, what appeared to be three or more gun ranges were set back from the road.

The owner of one, Scott Ostrosky, said he and his friends had been shooting automatic weapons since he bought the 23-acre property more than 12 years ago. It is safe, he said, because his land is sandwiched between two other gun ranges, the 123-acre Pequot hunting club and the 500-acre Fairfield club.

The explosions his neighbors hear are targets that are legally available at hunting outlets. “If you’re good old boys like we are, they are exciting,” he said. He said he was distraught at the school massacre but said guns should not be made the “scapegoat.”

“Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” he said. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.”



Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Alison Leigh Cowan,

Robert Davey, Joseph Goldstein, Kia Gregory, Raymond Hernandez, Thomas Kaplan,

Randy Leonard, Andy Newman, William K. Rashbaum, Michael Schwirtz,

Michael D. Shear, Ravi Somaiya and Vivian Yee.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 17, 2012

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of an owner of a gun range

on High Rock Road. He is Scott Ostrosky, not Ostrovsky.

    In Town at Ease With Its Firearms, Tightening Gun Rules Was Resisted, NYT, 16.12.2012,






The Nation Heads Back to School

With New Worries About Safety


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


In Boston, the public schools have asked the police to step up visits to elementary schools throughout the day on Monday.

In Denver, psychologists and social workers were prepared to visit students.

Schools in New York City were encouraged to review safety measures, which include posting security officers in lobbies and requiring identification from all visitors.

And the Chicago school district urged principals to conduct lockdown drills, with reminders to stay low, keep quiet and turn off classroom lights.

Parents, teachers and school administrators in Newtown, Conn., confront the most immediate and raw tasks of helping children respond to the horrifying killings of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But across the nation, as schools prepared to resume on Monday, officials and parents spent the weekend worrying about not only how to talk to students about what happened, but also how best to discourage its happening again.

Tom Boasberg, the superintendent of schools in Denver, said he had not yet determined whether to ramp up drills. “When you read the story of what happened at Sandy Hook, you realize, ‘Holy cow, they did a lot of things right,’ ” he said.

As in Newtown, Mr. Boasberg said, many schools in Denver already have intercoms, buzzers and surveillance cameras mounted at their primary doors, and voters passed a bond measure last month to raise money so all campuses could have security equipment. But he added, “We’re not going to turn our schools into police bunkers.”

School officials in Newtown announced Sunday that students from Sandy Hook Elementary would be relocated indefinitely to an unused school in a neighboring town, Monroe. Newtown officials said all of the public schools would be closed Monday, though they would continue to offer counseling. Students were invited to a sports center Monday to see friends and play games.

Parents and school leaders were concerned about how to help children talk about their emotions or deal with questions nobody can answer.

In the Sandy Hook firehouse on Friday, Rashi Ray was one of the lucky ones. She flew to her 7-year-old son, shaken with fear from the long wait and almost trembling with joy at the sight of him. At home, her son, Saahil, napped, something he had not done since he was a toddler. Mrs. Ray let him sleep, knowing there was worse to come. What would she tell him about his principal, his friends, his school?

“He’s just a 7-year-old boy,” she said. “And slowly, he has a lot of questions, so we try and answer them to the best of our ability.”

Many schools and districts around the country sent out letters to parents over the weekend with advice on how to talk to children about violence and trauma.

At Harvard/Kent Elementary School in Boston, Jason Gallagher, the principal, said teachers would be encouraged to talk about safety at “open circle” meetings with students, but for children from kindergarten through third grade, teachers were asked not to specifically mention the events in Newtown.

“There are a lot of tricky places that it could take you,” Mr. Gallagher said.

If children bring it up, he said, teachers will be instructed to keep conversations focused on general safety principles, or to let the children guide discussions, with questions like “Can you tell me how that made you feel?”

He said he was dispatching art, gym and other specialized teachers to join classroom teachers in the morning so that no instructor would have to confront difficult questions alone.

Carol Johnson, the Boston superintendent, said older children might have a more urgent desire to talk about Sandy Hook.

“I think middle and high school students will have very strong and different opinions about the causes of violence in the community,” she said. “And they will want to have much more in-depth conversations about why.”

Parents were making their own delicate calculations of whether or how much to talk to their children about the shooting. In some cases, decisions were forced upon them.

Shannon Casey, a mother of two in Mountain View, Calif., said that by the time she picked up her 12-year-old daughter on Friday, the girl had already seen the news on her iPad.

Ms. Casey said she advised her to avoid constantly reading about the tragedy on social media, and reminded her 9-year-old son about what to do if someone showed up with a gun. She talked to them about “the heroism of the teachers, and how much their teachers show up for them on a daily basis and will protect them if something happens.”

Tenecia H. Valerio, a mother of three children ages 6 and under in Summit, N.J., said she initially vowed not to tell them anything. But she found herself tearing up throughout the day on Friday and finally decided to tell them she was so sad because “a whole bunch of people had died.”

Her family made a memorial with candles and stuffed animals to set on the porch, and she planned to keep it at that. But when her 6-year-old son asked more detailed questions, she told him a “man did a really horrible, mean thing and he went to the school and he hurt and killed people including little children.”

“I would rather me explain it to him as a mother and be there to help him process the information,” Ms. Valerio said, “as opposed to him hearing it somewhere else and me not being able to talk to him or give him a hug when he needs it.”

As it was, he responded with the heartbreaking innocence of a 6-year-old. “He said, ‘I’m glad my school has a camera and a buzzer,’ ” Ms. Valerio recalled.

And then he asked: “ ‘Can we get Dunkin’ Donuts?’ ”


Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Alison Leigh Cowan,

Robert Davey, Joseph Goldstein, Kia Gregory, Raymond Hernandez,

Thomas Kaplan, Randy Leonard, Andy Newman, William K. Rashbaum,

Michael Schwirtz, Michael D. Shear, Ravi Somaiya and Vivian Yee.

    The Nation Heads Back to School With New Worries About Safety, NYT, 16.12.2012,






The Freedom of an Armed Society


December 16, 2012
1:00 pm
The New York Times


In the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and the resulting renewed debate on gun control in the United States, The Stone will publish a series of essays this week that examine the ethical, social and humanitarian implications on the use, possession and regulation of weapons.


The night of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I was in the car with my wife and children, working out details for our eldest son's 12th birthday the following Sunday - convening a group of friends at a showing of the film "The Hobbit." The memory of the Aurora movie theatre massacre was fresh in his mind, so he was concerned that it not be a late night showing. At that moment, like so many families, my wife and I were weighing whether to turn on the radio and expose our children to coverage of the school shootings in Connecticut. We did. The car was silent in the face of the flood of gory details. When the story was over, there was a long thoughtful pause in the back of the car. Then my eldest son asked if he could be homeschooled.

That incident brought home to me what I have always suspected, but found difficult to articulate: an armed society - especially as we prosecute it at the moment in this country - is the opposite of a civil society.

The Newtown shootings occurred at a peculiar time in gun rights history in this nation. On one hand, since the mid 1970s, fewer households each year on average have had a gun. Gun control advocates should be cheered by that news, but it is eclipsed by a flurry of contrary developments. As has been well publicized, gun sales have steadily risen over the past few years, and spiked with each of Obama's election victories.

Furthermore, of the weapons that proliferate amongst the armed public, an increasing number are high caliber weapons (the weapon of choice in the goriest shootings in recent years). Then there is the legal landscape, which looks bleak for the gun control crowd.

Every state except for Illinois has a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons - and just last week, a federal court struck down Illinois' ban. States are now lining up to allow guns on college campuses. In September, Colorado joined four other states in such a move, and statehouses across the country are preparing similar legislation. And of course, there was Oklahoma's ominous Open Carry Law approved by voters this election day - the fifteenth of its kind, in fact - which, as the name suggests, allows those with a special permit to carry weapons in the open, with a holster on their hip.

Individual gun ownership - and gun violence - has long been a distinctive feature of American society, setting us apart from the other industrialized democracies of the world. Recent legislative developments, however, are progressively bringing guns out of the private domain, with the ultimate aim of enshrining them in public life. Indeed, the N.R.A. strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal, a fixture even, of any visit to the coffee shop or grocery store - or classroom.

As N.R.A. president Wayne LaPierre expressed in a recent statement on the organization's Web site, more guns equal more safety, by their account. A favorite gun rights saying is "an armed society is a polite society." If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed - like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example - they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however - even brandishing weapons on the street - this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

And yet, gun rights advocates famously maintain that individual gun ownership, even of high caliber weapons, is the defining mark of our freedom as such, and the ultimate guarantee of our enduring liberty. Deeper reflection on their argument exposes basic fallacies.

In her book "The Human Condition," the philosopher Hannah Arendt states that "violence is mute." According to Arendt, speech dominates and distinguishes the polis, the highest form of human association, which is devoted to the freedom and equality of its component members. Violence - and the threat of it - is a pre-political manner of communication and control, characteristic of undemocratic organizations and hierarchical relationships. For the ancient Athenians who practiced an incipient, albeit limited form of democracy (one that we surely aim to surpass), violence was characteristic of the master-slave relationship, not that of free citizens.

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name - that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.'s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly - not make any sudden, unexpected moves - and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment - they don't mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

I often think of the armed protestor who showed up to one of the famously raucous town hall hearings on Obamacare in the summer of 2009. The media was very worked up over this man, who bore a sign that invoked a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, accusing the president of tyranny. But no one engaged him at the protest; no one dared approach him even, for discussion or debate - though this was a town hall meeting, intended for just such purposes. Such is the effect of guns on speech - and assembly. Like it or not, they transform the bearer, and end the conversation in some fundamental way. They announce that the conversation is not completely unbounded, unfettered and free; there is or can be a limit to negotiation and debate - definitively.

The very power and possibility of free speech and assembly rests on their non-violence. The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the Arab Spring protests, stemmed precisely from their non-violent nature. This power was made evident by the ferocity of government response to the Occupy movement. Occupy protestors across the country were increasingly confronted by police in military style garb and affect.

Imagine what this would have looked like had the protestors been armed: in the face of the New York Police Department assault on Zuccotti Park, there might have been armed insurrection in the streets. The non-violent nature of protest in this country ensures that it can occur.

Gun rights advocates also argue that guns provide the ultimate insurance of our freedom, in so far as they are the final deterrent against encroaching centralized government, and an executive branch run amok with power. Any suggestion of limiting guns rights is greeted by ominous warnings that this is a move of expansive, would-be despotic government. It has been the means by which gun rights advocates withstand even the most seemingly rational gun control measures. An assault weapons ban, smaller ammunition clips for guns, longer background checks on gun purchases - these are all measures centralized government wants, they claim, in order to exert control over us, and ultimately impose its arbitrary will. I have often suspected, however, that contrary to holding centralized authority in check, broad individual gun ownership gives the powers-that-be exactly what they want.

After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism - I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings - and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be. The N.R.A. would have each of us steeled for impending government aggression, but it goes without saying that individually armed citizens are no match for government force. The N.R.A. argues against that interpretation of the Second Amendment that privileges armed militias over individuals, and yet it seems clear that armed militias, at least in theory, would provide a superior check on autocratic government.

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than "individualization," since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that - community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power - and one another - and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don't require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force. Arendt and Foucault reveal that power does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly - and everything conducive to that.



Firmin DeBrabander is an associate professor of philosophy

at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore

and the author of "Spinoza and the Stoics."

    The Freedom of an Armed Society, NYT, 16.12.2012,






Rifle Used in Killings,

America’s Most Popular,

Highlights Regulation Debate


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


It comes in black, tan and camouflage. A pink version was once raffled by a gun store to raise money for breast cancer research.

Favored by target shooters in competitions and by hunters who stalk small game and sometimes deer, its customizable features — stocks, grips, sights, barrel lengths — are endlessly discussed in online forums. It ranks high among the firearms bought for self-defense.

But the AR-15 style rifle — the most popular rifle in America, according to gun dealers — was also the weapon of choice for Adam Lanza, who the police said used one made by Bushmaster on Friday to kill 20 young children and six adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in a massacre that has horrified the nation.

The increasing appearance of the rifle in rampage killings — an AR-15 was used by James E. Holmes, who is accused of opening fire and killing 12 people in a movie theater in Colorado in July, police officials say, and by Jacob Roberts, who shot and killed two people and then took his own life in a shopping mall last week near Portland, Ore. — has rekindled the debate about its availability and its appeal to killers bent on mass slaughter.

It has also starkly highlighted the chasm between those who favor tighter regulations for firearms and those who believe that guns like the AR-15 are widely misunderstood and wrongly blamed for the actions of a few individuals.

Gun control advocates contend that semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M-16 and M-4, are a logical choice for anyone whose goal is to kill a lot of people in a short time because of their ability to rapidly fire multiple high-velocity rounds.

“The people we’re talking about, once they get into ‘I want to kill a lot of people,’ it’s not a leap for them to see that these guns are made and designed for war,” said Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Violence Policy Center. “And if you look at the industry advertising, that is a consistent theme.”

AR-15s are not the only weapons used by rampaging shooters. Semiautomatic handguns are also frequently employed. In Newtown, in addition to the Bushmaster M-4 carbine, two handguns were found at the scene, a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer, although the rifle is what Mr. Lanza used, pumping up to 11 bullets into each victim’s body, according to the medical examiner. All three guns belonged to his mother, officials said.

In Colorado, Mr. Holmes carried two Glock handguns and a shotgun, the authorities said, as well as the AR-15. A Glock and a Walther were used by Seung-Hui Cho to kill 32 people and wound 17 at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Mr. Diaz said semiautomatic weapons, including the AR-15, are increasingly being used in the killings of police officers, whose vests often provide little protection against such firearms.

Since the Newtown shooting, Mr. Diaz and others have called for a ban on high-capacity magazines, which feed 20 or 30 rounds at a fast pace. (In Colorado, officials said Mr. Holmes used a 100-round drum magazine that gun dealers say is primarily a novelty item that is likely to jam, as Mr. Holmes’s rifle apparently did.)

Some advocates have also argued for banning assault rifles, though some of them also acknowledge that the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, was inadequate and largely ineffective.

Defenders of the firearm, however, say that it is misguided to blame a gun that is used by millions of owners across the country in a responsible manner.

They argue that unlike the AR-15’s military counterparts, the civilian models are almost all semiautomatic, not fully automatic, and so should not be classified as assault rifles.

Critics describe them as high-power weapons — in addition to firing multiple rounds quickly, they have a higher muzzle velocity than traditional rifles. But defenders say that most AR-15s are chambered for .223 or 5.56 ammunition, low-caliber rounds that are less deadly than those used in many handguns. And they cite statistics indicating that unlike handguns or shotguns, rifles of any type account for only a fraction of homicides in the United States — of 12,664 murder victims last year, 323 were killed with rifles, according to the F.B.I.’s Uniform Crime Report.

“They get a lot of coverage when there’s a tragedy with one, but the number of people unlawfully killed with them is small,” said Stephen Halbrook, a constitutional lawyer in Virginia who has argued high-profile Second Amendment cases and represented the National Rifle Association.

What neither side questions is the popularity of AR-15s, which dealers say fairly leap off the shelves. Richard Taylor, the manager of the Firing-Line in Aurora, Colo., said the store each year sells several hundred of the rifles, which range from $600 to more than $2,000. At least 60 companies manufacture AR-15s or AR-15 accessories. The AR-15 was first built by ArmaLite, and the name was trademarked by Colt, which bought the design, but it is widely used to describe all brands and models of the rifle.

“The distributors aren’t sitting on inventory,” said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has its headquarters in Newtown. He added that sales of AR-15 rifles went up in 2004, after the expiration of the assault weapons ban, and again in 2008.

Gun makers do not release sales figures for specific types of firearms. But Mr. Halbrook, who compiled manufacturing estimates for a lawsuit, said that by a conservative estimate, 3.3 million to 3.5 million AR-15s were made in the United States from 1986 through the first half of this year and were not exported. A similar estimate, for manufacturing from 1986 through 2009, was summarized by a District of Columbia circuit court judge as sufficient evidence that the rifles were in “common use.”

Enthusiasts praise the AR-15 rifle as lightweight, durable, accurate and, compared with other long guns, gentle in its kick. They describe the rifle as a gadget geek’s dream — the “Barbie doll” of firearms, as one gun dealer described it — because of an array of accessories that allow it to be easily customized.

“The average person can change stocks, they can put lasers on them, they can put locks on them,” said Tony Dee, the chief gunsmith at The Gun Store in Las Vegas. “It’s just endless. It’s like building a custom car. You can just accessorize it to your own personal taste.”

Mr. Dee said his wife owned a pink, chrome-plated AR-15. “It’s blinged out pretty good.”

Although in some states, AR-15s with certain cosmetic features are banned from sale — in Connecticut, the guns cannot be sold with collapsible stocks or removable muzzle brakes — manufacturers continue to sell models without such features in those states. Buyers who want those features can easily add them by themselves: in one video on YouTube, a gun owner demonstrates how to quickly replace a fixed stock with a collapsible one without the aid of a gunsmith.

In a survey conducted by the shooting sports foundation, gun dealers reported that in 2011, 49.1 percent of the AR-15-style rifles they sold were bought for target shooting, up from 46.3 percent in 2009. Hunting accounted for 22.8 percent of sales, and personal protection 28.1 percent.

Yet even some gun sellers acknowledge that some of their customers choose AR-15s for reasons that have little to do with plinking cans or hunting prairie dogs.

The optional grenade launchers offered on some models have a particular appeal, one gun salesman said. He added that although he did not want to make his customers sound crazy, the different types of ammunition available for AR-15s made them attractive to people “who want to be prepared for an Armageddon-type situation.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 16, 2012

An earlier version of this article included a link to a YouTube video

that did not match the article’s description:

it showed how to replace a collapsible stock on an AR-15 with a fixed stock.

    Rifle Used in Killings, America’s Most Popular, Highlights Regulation Debate, NYT, 16.12.2012,






Gunman Took Big Supply of Ammunition to School

After Killing Mother at Home


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


The gunman responsible for the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday first shot his mother multiple times in her home, then drove to the school armed with four weapons and a large supply of ammunition, officials said on Sunday.

These and additional details of the horrific rampage were disclosed as saddened residents of Newtown streamed to church services and took part in vigils seeking outlets for their grief and some sliver of understanding.

In one more affront to the community, a death threat that proved unfounded marred a midday church service, forcing worshipers to evacuate.

Around dusk, President Obama arrived in Newtown and met with families of the victims and first responders. Later, at an interfaith service, he gave a powerful address which, while it stopped short of an explicit call for new gun controls, seemed to hint strongly at fresh efforts. Mr. Obama spoke of the four shooting massacres during his presidency and promised to "use whatever power this office holds," to prevent another. Condolences flowed into Newtown from around the world. When he made his customary Sunday appearance at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow and said he was praying for the families of victims.

The coming days are not likely to become any easier for the pained families. Relatives began to claim the bodies of the dead, and on Monday the first group of funerals — of three 6-year-old children — are to be held. Two are to be in Newtown and the third in nearby Fairfield.

Though there has been no doubt about the killer, for the first time since the attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Connecticut State Police officially confirmed his identity as Adam Lanza, 20. The police said Mr. Lanza shot himself with a handgun after taking the lives of 26 other people, 20 of them first-grade students, at the school.

The police did not say where Nancy Lanza, 52, the gunman’s mother, was in her house when she was shot or what weapon had been used.

But they did give the specifics of the arsenal that her son brought to the school and gave a sense of the vast quantity of ammunition that he had. Lt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, said most of the shots were fired from a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, a military-style assault weapon. Mr. Lanza was also carrying two semiautomatic pistols, a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer. A shotgun was found in the car.

The guns were legally acquired and registered by Ms. Lanza, who had sometimes taken her son to shooting ranges, according to law enforcement officials and her friends. Mr. Lanza, who former classmates said had had a developmental disorder, lived with his mother.

While Lieutenant Vance said he did not yet know how many bullets had been fired, he did say investigators recovered “numerous” empty 30-round magazines for the Bushmaster rifle. The .223-caliber bullet is a small, high-velocity round that has been used by Western military forces for decades, in part because it inflicts devastating wounds.

Some of the bullets fired inside the school, according to a law enforcement official, “penetrated the glass windows of the classrooms and went into vehicles in the parking lot.”

In addition to multiple high-capacity magazines for the rifle, Lieutenant Vance said the gunman had brought a number of magazines for both pistols.

Collectively, he said, there were hundreds of unfired bullets.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said Mr. Lanza had killed himself as police officers entered the school, suggesting that he was prepared to take more lives had they not arrived.

“We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently, at that, decided to take his own life,” Mr. Malloy said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Officials did not make any public statements about Mr. Lanza’s motivation.

A post-mortem examination of Mr. Lanza and his mother has been completed, according to a statement from Connecticut State Police. A spokesman for the state medical examiner’s office said late Sunday that nobody had yet come forward to claim their bodies.

    Gunman Took Big Supply of Ammunition to School After Killing Mother at Home, NYT, 16.12.2012,






A Painful Duty:

Consoling a Town Preparing to Bury Its Children


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


Rabbi Shaul Praver watched closely as the grieving mother stepped into the funeral home where her son, Noah, 6, lay.

It was early Sunday, the first time that Veronique Pozner had seen the boy’s body since he was shot to death in his first-grade classroom two days before. A sheet covered his body up to his neck, and a social worker had urged Ms. Pozner not to remove it. She obliged, but began to wail, alternately telling her son to leave this “dark, horrible world,” and beseeching him to come back.

Rabbi Praver began to speak softly, he recalled. He told her that though Noah had physically left this world, he was not lost to them because his soul lived on. He asked her if she remembered her 6-year-old self and when she said she did, he told her that “when we become adults, our 5- and 6-year-olds didn’t die with us; they’re contained within a larger vessel.”

He was offering, he said, a kind of “spiritual morphine.”

“She understood,” recalled the rabbi, who has led Temple Adath Israel for 11 years, adding, “We were able to leave the room, and talk about making arrangements for the casket, and shiva, and the memorial services.”

The small-town clergy of Newtown, Conn. — home to one temple, one Catholic church and half a dozen other congregations — is accustomed to tending its flock in birth, death and ritual. But this week, they are preparing to bury 20 children, a wrenching task that includes helping secure tiny coffins and eulogizing lives that had just begun.

The funerals will fall one after the other in a grim, almost relentless succession, beginning Monday. According to The Associated Press and The Monroe Courier, the service for Noah, Newtown’s youngest victim, will be at 1 p.m. At the same hour, at the Honan Funeral Home, a funeral will be held for his schoolmate, Jack Pinto, 6. A wake will be held Monday evening for James Mattioli, 6. Both he and Jessica Rekos, 6, will be buried Tuesday after their funerals at St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic church where Mass was evacuated on Sunday after a bomb threat.

The clergy members of Newtown are “very close,” Rabbi Praver said, and since the shootings they have been in constant contact, grappling with the logistics of planning multiple funerals, providing spiritual relief, and handling news media requests. The demands are almost overwhelming: by midday Sunday, Rabbi Praver had 107 voice mail messages on his phone.

During more ordinary times, when people died in Newtown, their families often turned to the Honan Funeral Home, the white Colonial-style building in the tiny downtown on Main Street, blocks from the Newtown General Store. The Honans will handle 11 funerals this week, all for children, according to Pasquale Folino, president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.

But given the enormity of what has happened, 100 funeral directors from across Connecticut have signed up to help, providing use of their hearses and cars and working in shifts in teams of six to eight over the next week to help with the arrangements. Manufacturers have donated the child-size coffins.

Clergy leaders, meanwhile, hope to offer some wisdom along with eulogies. Some of those they are to bury, they knew well; others they glimpsed through their parents or older sisters and brothers. The Pozners are among 100 families that make up the congregation of Temple Adath Israel.

While the rabbi did not know Noah or his twin sister, Arielle, who was in a nearby classroom during the shooting, he had bar mitzvahed the family’s oldest son and taught the oldest daughter. After the shootings on Friday, he was summoned, along with the rest of the town’s clergy, to Newtown’s firehouse, where families of the missing schoolchildren had gathered. He spotted Ms. Pozner right away amid the group of parents half out of their minds awaiting news of their children’s fates. She was the lone member of his congregation in the room. He walked up to her, held her hand and laid consoling arms around her shoulders as she retreated behind a wall of stone, a near comatose state of shock.

He began searching for ways to console her. Tending to the grief stricken, he says, rests less in searching for the perfect words than in listening. Ms. Pozner seemed to find a deep if fleeting peace after he told her that while Noah was no longer with them on earth, his soul lived on. Her warm reaction to that idea helped him plan for what he would say at the boy’s funeral.

“She found a lot of consolation in the idea that death doesn’t really exist — it’s just a transformation because we all come from God and everything in the world is from God,” he said. “Noah wasn’t lost.”

The clergy leaders of various faiths also gathered Sunday at 3 p.m. to plan their roles in the interfaith ceremony that evening. Rabbi Praver sang Psalm 46 shortly before President Obama addressed the grieving residents.

Even though they found themselves in the town’s bleakest hour, the rabbi said that clergy members kept remarking to one another about the profound spiritual intimacy that had been born. It was, he said, a much needed comfort.

“At the same time we’re in a very dark place, we’re in a very sacred place,” he said. “Everybody, for the last two days, are brothers and sisters. You can hug strangers in the street.

“Everybody,” he said, “is so close to each other.”



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 16, 2012

An earlier version of this article misidentified in a subsequent reference

the name of the rabbi helping a mother through the loss of her son.

He is Rabbi Shaul Praver, not Rabbi Povich.

    A Painful Duty: Consoling a Town Preparing to Bury Its Children, NYT, 16.12.2012,






‘These Tragedies Must End,’ Obama Says


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — President Obama vowed on Sunday to “use whatever power this office holds” to stop massacres like the slaughter at the school here that shocked the nation, hinting at a fresh effort to curb the spread of guns as he declared that there was no “excuse for inaction.”

In a surprisingly assertive speech at a memorial service for the 27 victims, including 20 children, Mr. Obama said that the country had failed to protect its young and that its leaders could no longer sit by idly because “the politics are too hard.” While he did not elaborate on what action he would propose, he said that “these tragedies must end.”

The speech, a blend of grief and resolve that he finished writing on the short Air Force One flight up here, seemed to promise a significant change in direction for a president who has not made gun issues a top priority in four years in office. After each of three other mass killings during his tenure, Mr. Obama has renewed calls for legislation without exerting much political capital, but the definitive language on Sunday may make it harder for him not to act this time.

“No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.” He added that “in the coming weeks I’ll use whatever power this office holds” in an effort “aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.”

“Because what choice do we have?” he added. “We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Mr. Obama, speaking on a stark stage before a table of votive candles for each victim, mixed his call to action with words of consolation for this bereaved town. When he read the names of teachers killed defending their students, people in the audience gasped and wept.

The service came as new details emerged about the terrifying moments at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Authorities said Sunday that the gunman, Adam Lanza, shot his mother multiple times in the head before his rampage at the school and that he still had hundreds of rounds of ammunition left when he killed himself. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said Mr. Lanza shot himself as the police were closing in, suggesting that he may have intended to take more lives had he not been interrupted.

The president’s trip here came amid rising pressure to push for tighter regulation of guns in America. The president offered no specific proposals, and there were no urgent meetings at the White House over the weekend to draft legislation. Administration officials cautioned against expecting quick, dramatic action, especially given the end-of-the-year fiscal crisis consuming most of Mr. Obama’s time.

But the administration does have the makings of a plan on the shelf, with measures drafted by the Justice Department over the years but never advanced. Among other things, Democrats said they would push to renew an assault rifle ban that expired in 2004 and try to ban high-capacity magazines like those used by Mr. Lanza in Newtown. The president also said he would work with law enforcement and mental health professionals, as well as parents and educators.

The streets outside the memorial service and the airwaves across the nation were filled with voices calling for legislative action. By contrast, the National Rifle Association and its most prominent supporters in Congress were largely absent from the public debate.

“These events are happening more frequently,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, said here before the service began, “and I worry that if we don’t take a thoughtful look at them, we’re going to lose the pain, the hurt and the anger that we have now.”

Governor Malloy said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that when someone can burst into a building with “clips of up to 30 rounds on a weapon that can almost instantaneously fire those, you have to start to question whether assault weapons should be allowed to be distributed the way they are in the United States.”

The grieving in this small New England town, aired nonstop on national television, adding emotional energy to the pressure on a newly re-elected Democratic president who has largely avoided the issue during four years in the White House. Mr. Obama has long supported the restoration of the assault weapon ban, which first passed in 1994 only to set off a backlash among supporters of gun rights that helped cost Democrats control of Congress. Given that political history, he has never made a robust, sustained lobbying effort for it.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, appearing on the NBC program “Meet the Press,” all but demanded that Mr. Obama confront the prevalence of firearms in the nation. Mr. Bloomberg, an independent who gave his support to the president shortly before the November election partly on the basis of gun control, bluntly said he expected more of Mr. Obama.

“It’s time for the president to stand up and lead,” he said. “This should be his No. 1 agenda. He’s president of the United States. And if he does nothing during his second term, something like 48,000 Americans will be killed with illegal guns” in the next year.

Mr. Bloomberg added that it was no longer enough that Mr. Obama shared his position on banning assault weapons. “The president has to translate those views into action,” he said. “His job is not just to be well-meaning. His job is to perform and to protect the American public.”

While the Sunday programs were filled with politicians, mainly Democrats like Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, demanding stronger gun control, supporters of gun rights were noticeably absent. David Gregory, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” said his program invited 31 senators who support gun rights to appear on Sunday. “We had no takers,” he said.

The National Rifle Association’s headquarters was closed Sunday and a spokesman could not be reached. A spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, said he had no comment, while Representative Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, could not be reached.

Robert A. Levy, chairman of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute and one of the organizers behind a Supreme Court case that in 2008 enshrined a Second Amendment right for individuals to own guns, said Sunday that with more than 250 million guns already in circulation in the United States, restrictions on new weapons would make little difference. He said by e-mail that tough gun laws did not stop a mass shooting in Norway or regular violence in places like the District of Columbia.

“I’m skeptical about the efficacy of gun regulations imposed across the board — almost exclusively on persons who are not part of the problem,” he said. “To reduce the risk of multivictim violence, we would be better advised to focus on early detection and treatment of mental illness. An early detection regime might indeed be the basis for selective gun access restrictions that even the N.R.A. would support.”

Attention focused mainly on Mr. Obama, who has shied away from a major push on gun control, even after events like the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson last year and the mass killing at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., this year. Some Democrats said the number of children involved in the Newtown massacre might change the dynamic but only if the president seizes the moment.

“Nothing’s going to happen here unless Obama decides to put it front and center,” said Steve Elmendorf, who was a top Democratic congressional aide in 1994 when lawmakers passed the now-expired assault weapon ban. “He’s not running for re-election. This is one of those moments where you have to decide, ‘I’m not going to sit here and examine the politics and I’m going to do what’s right.’ ”

In the interfaith ceremony here, clergy members quoted from Psalm 23, a Hebrew memorial chant and a Muslim prayer. The Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church, said the message of the service was that “these darkest days in the life of our community will not be the final words heard from us.”

Some of the children in the audience of 1,700 clutched stuffed puppies handed out to them by the Red Cross. Some talked excitedly to one another about the coming holidays, their laughter a counterpoint to the sorrow of the service that followed.

In his 19-minute remarks, Mr. Obama said he had been reflecting on whether “we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm.” He concluded: “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough.”

He concluded with biblical references and said the town reminds Americans of what should really matter. “Let the little children come to me, Jesus said, and do not hinder them,” Mr. Obama said. “For such belongs to the kingdom of Heaven.”

He then slowly read the names of the children who were killed on Friday as some in the audience sobbed, a haunting roll call of a class that will never convene again.

“God has called them all home,” the president said. “For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on.”


Mark Landler reported from Newtown, Conn., and Peter Baker from Washington.

    ‘These Tragedies Must End,’ Obama Says, NYT, 16.12.2012,






Media Spotlight Seen as a Blessing, or a Curse,

in a Grieving Town


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Wolf Blitzer understands that his presence here is not appreciated by some local people, who wish that the TV satellite trucks, and the reporters who have taken over the local Starbucks, would go away and leave them to ache, grieve and mourn in peace.

But he also knows that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School ranks with the national tragedies he has covered: Oklahoma City, Sept. 11, Virginia Tech. So for now the most intimate and heartbreaking of catastrophes and the insatiable, unwieldy beast of global news media are locked in an awkward union in a bucolic New England town that never expected to encounter either.

Mr. Blitzer, the longtime CNN anchor, said the few exhortations to go home he had heard while working here had been far outnumbered by comments from people who thank him for telling Newtown’s story sensitively and who want the world to know what happened here. Still, he said, Newtown is providing a particularly vivid laboratory of how the media report this kind of tragedy.

“If you have people bringing dolls or flowers to makeshift memorials and they’re crying, that’s a powerful image, it’s part of this story, it’s part of our history right now, and we have to deal with it,” he said on Sunday.

This town, of course, has been transformed by unimaginable tragedy. But in a more mundane and presumably transitory way, Newtown and particularly the small community of Sandy Hook have also been transformed by those coming to report on it, a news media presence that has clogged quiet roads, established glowing encampments of lights and cameras, and showed up in force at church services and public memorials.

Nearly every newscast on CNN since Friday night has been broadcast from Newtown. The same has been true for nearly every network television morning and evening newscast. Coverage of other events has been minimized if not scrapped entirely, at least for a few days — sometimes with breathlessly inaccurate results about the massacre. On Friday, there was a succession of reports about the shooting and the gunman that turned out to be wrong: reports about the gunman’s name, about his mother’s occupation, about how he got into the building.

The confusion continued into Saturday when NBC broadcast an exclusive report that the gunman had an altercation with four staff members at the school the day before the shootings, according to state and federal officials. A revised account played down the possibility of an altercation.

Reporters like NBC News’s justice correspondent, Pete Williams, tried to be transparent about the fact that many initial details about the shooting came from anonymous and occasionally contradictory sources.

When Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan’s name circulated widely as the gunman’s name on Friday afternoon, he said “we are being told the name Ryan,” but cautioned that “at the end of the day that name might be wrong.”

Despite the errors, Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, the nonprofit journalism organization, said he was “touched and impressed by the nonstop coverage so far.” He said he had not seen any children interviewed without a parent nearby.

Some news organizations said they had specific rules about such interviews. A spokeswoman for CBS News said that its policy “is not to interview children under the age of 18 before getting permission from a parent.”

While police officials have asked — at times almost begged — the news media to respect the privacy of families that have lost a loved one, reporters and bookers do have to ask. Thus the sight of big-name anchors going door to door this weekend, seeking interviews. They said they know when no means no.

“We are always extremely sensitive to the feelings and the wishes of loved ones,” said Tom Cibrowski, the executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” But, he added, “There is a time when some do choose to honor their child or the victim, and we can provide a forum.”

Most moving, perhaps, was the eloquent tribute that Robbie Parker paid Saturday in front of TV cameras to his dead 6-year-old daughter, Emilie Alice. Nonetheless, in Newtown, a police officer has been assigned to keep unwelcome visitors away at the homes of the families of each of the dead children.

Some here have had gripes about individual reporters pushing cameras and microphones into the faces of unwilling residents, particularly those leaving the firehouse in grief on Friday after receiving news about what happened at the school.

Still, Michael Burton, the second assistant chief at the firehouse, who said he witnessed some intrusive reporters, also said the coverage has been a blessing beyond sharing the town’s grief.

A fire department in Texas, learning of the Christmas tree sale at his firehouse, bought the two trees that became the center of a memorial at the bridge leading up to the school. Someone in North Carolina bought another 26, one for each of the slain children and school personnel, all now adorned in a green tribute leading up to the school.

“If not for the media coverage, none of that would have happened,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Eric Mueller, an art teacher at a private school in New Haven, began hammering 27 wooden angels that he and eight friends had constructed into the ground in front of his house in Newtown. Within minutes, he was joined by more than a dozen reporters and photographers. “My wife said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t talk to the press,’ ” he said.

He said his gesture was for the residents of Newtown, not for the world. But he said he had no problem with the news media descending on the town.

“I’m fine with it right now. I’ll go back in the house and be done with it and let the angels speak for themselves.”


Peter Applebome reported from Newtown, Conn., and Brian Stelter from New York.

    Media Spotlight Seen as a Blessing, or a Curse, in a Grieving Town, NYT, 16.12.2012,






Worshippers Hurry From Conn. Church, Cite Threat


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Worshippers hurriedly left a church Sunday, saying they were told there was a bomb threat not far from the elementary school where 20 kids and six adults were massacred.

At least a dozen police in camouflage SWAT gear and carrying guns arrived at the St. Rose of Lima Church. An Associated Press photographer saw police leave carrying something in a red tarp.

Guns drawn, they surrounded the rectory across the parking lot from the main church building. A large crowd of parishioners gathered outside.

There was no official report from police about the threat or evacuation.

Shooter Adam Lanza, his mother and eight of the child victims attended St. Rose of Lima. It is a Roman Catholic Church with an adjacent school, which Lanza attended briefly.

It's not clear if there actually was a threat or if, like many tragedies, whether it was a hoax or the result of a community on edge.

The church hosted overflow crowds at all three morning masses Sunday.

    Worshippers Hurry From Conn. Church, Cite Threat, NYT, 16.12.2012,






A Sunday of Sorrow in Newtown


December 16, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Seeking solace amid overwhelming grief, residents of Newtown flocked to church services and vigils on Sunday, struggling to comprehend a tragedy that left so many children dead, even as the national conversation turned sharply toward gun control.

At the pulpit of the Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, the Rev. Peter Cameron looked out over the packed pews, which included the husband of a teacher killed in the shooting, and summed up the despair with a question: “How do we rejoice in the face of so much sorrow?”

It is a question that has been asked repeatedly in the two days since a gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School here and then sprayed classrooms with bullets, hitting some children as many as 11 times.

All of the children killed in the massacre — 12 girls and 8 boys — were first graders. One girl had just turned 7 on Tuesday. The seven adults killed, including the mother of the shooter, were all women.

The state’s chief medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, said all of the 20 children and 6 adults killed at the school had been struck more than once.

He said their wounds were “all over, all over.”

“This is a very devastating set of injuries,” Dr. Carver said at a news briefing on Saturday. When he was asked if they had suffered after being hit, he said, “Not for very long.”

Condolences have been pouring in from around the world. In Moscow, Russians piled flowers outside the American Embassy. And on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, crosses were placed in the sand to honor the dead. At the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sorrow and said he was praying for the families of victims.

President Obama is expected to arrive in Newtown later on Sunday to meet with the families of victims and to join in the mourning at an evening vigil, the White House announced.

But even before his arrival, there have been calls for the president to take more decisive action. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, an outspoken proponent of stricter gun regulations, criticized Mr. Obama on Sunday for failing to act on past promises made in the wake of other tragedies.

“The president should console the country, but he’s the commander in chief as well as the consoler in chief, and he calls for action, but he called for action two years ago,” Mr. Bloomberg said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. He urged Mr. Obama to order government agencies to enforce gun laws more aggressively and to press Congress into action, calling it “common sense” to place restrictions on assault weapons with large magazines. He also urged officials to break with the National Rifle Association, calling its influence a “myth.”

“It’s time for the president to stand up, I think, and lead and tell this country what we should do,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “This should be his No. 1 agenda.”

Also on “Meet the Press,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said she planned to introduce a bill on the opening day of the next Congress that would limit the sale of assault weapons and restrict high-capacity magazines.

“It can be done,” she said.

As families have begun to claim the bodies of lost loved ones, some have sought privacy. Others have spoken out. Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, was among the dead, choked back tears as he described her as “bright, creative and very loving.”

But, he added, “as we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let us not let it turn into something that defines us.”

There were reports that at least one funeral would be held on Sunday.

Amid the anguish and mourning, other details have begun to emerge about how, but not why, the devastating attack had happened, turning a place where children were supposed to be safe into a national symbol of heartbreak and horror.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut said Sunday that the gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, 20, had apparently used his weapon to blast through the entrance of the school and committed suicide after he heard police approaching.

“He discharged to make an opening and then went through it, went to the first classroom, as you know, went to the second classroom,” Mr. Malloy said on “This Week” on ABC. “We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that decided to take his own life.”

The Newtown school superintendent said on Saturday that the principal and the school psychologist had been shot as they tried to tackle the gunman in order to protect their students.

That was just one act of bravery during the maelstrom. There were others, said the superintendent, Janet Robinson. She said one teacher had helped children escape through a window. Another shoved students into a room with a kiln and held them there until the danger had passed.

It was not enough: First responders described a scene of carnage in the two classrooms where the children were killed, with no movement and no one left to save, everything perfectly still.

Mr. Lanza, 20, grew up in Newtown and had an uncle who had been a police officer in New Hampshire. The uncle, James M. Champion, issued a statement expressing “heartfelt sorrow,” adding that the family was struggling “to comprehend the tremendous loss we all share.”

A spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, Lt. J. Paul Vance, said investigators continued to press for information about Mr. Lanza, and had collected “some very good evidence.” He also said that the one survivor of the shootings, a woman who was wounded at the school, would be “instrumental” in piecing together what had happened.

But it was unclear why Mr. Lanza had gone on the attack. A law enforcement official said investigators had not found a suicide note or messages that spoke to the planning of such a deadly attack. And Ms. Robinson, the school superintendent, said they had found no connection between Mr. Lanza’s mother and the school, in contrast to accounts from the authorities on Friday that said she had worked there.

Dr. Carver said it appeared that all of the children had been killed by a “long rifle” that Mr. Lanza was carrying; a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle was one of the several weapons police found in the school. The other guns were semiautomatic pistols, including a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer.

The bullets Mr. Lanza used were “designed in such a fashion the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullet stays in,” resulting in deep damage, Dr. Carver said. As to how many bullets Mr. Lanza had fired, Dr. Carver said he did not have an exact count. “There were lots of them,” he said. Lieutenant Vance, of the Connecticut State Police, said investigators were attempting to trace the weapons’ history “all the way back to when they were on the workbench being assembled.”

Dr. Carver said parents had identified their children from photographs to spare them from seeing the gruesome results of the rampage. He said that 4 doctors and 10 technicians had done the autopsies and that he had personally performed seven, all on first graders.

“This is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen,” said Dr. Carver, who is 60 and has been Connecticut’s chief medical examiner since 1989.

He said that only Mr. Lanza and his first victim — his mother, Nancy Lanza — remained to be autopsied. He said he would do those post-mortems on Sunday.

Officials said the killing rampage began early on Friday at the house where the Lanzas lived. There, Mr. Lanza shot his mother in the face, making her his first victim, the authorities said. Then, after taking three guns that belonged to her, they said, he climbed into her car for the short drive to the school.

Outfitted in combat gear, Mr. Lanza shot his way in, defeating a security system requiring visitors to be buzzed in. This contradicted earlier reports that he had been recognized and allowed to enter the one-story building. “He was not voluntarily let into the school at all,” Lieutenant Vance said. “He forced his way in.”

The lieutenant’s account was consistent with recordings of police dispatchers who answered call after call from adults at the school. “The front glass has been broken,” one dispatcher cautioned officers who were rushing there, repeating on the police radio what a 911 caller had said on the phone. “They are unsure why.”

The dispatchers kept up a running account of the drama at the school. “The individual I have on the phone indicates continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire,” one dispatcher said.

Soon, another dispatcher reported that the “shooting appears to have stopped,” and the conversation on the official radios turned to making sure that help was available — enough help.

“What is the number of ambulances you will require?” a dispatcher asked.

The answer hinted at the unthinkable scope of the tragedy: “They are not giving us a number.”

Another radio transmission, apparently from someone at the school, underlined the desperation: “You might want to see if the surrounding towns can send E.M.S. personnel. We’re running out real quick, real fast.”

Inside the school, teachers and school staff members had scrambled to move children to safety as the massacre began. Maryann Jacob, a library clerk, said she initially herded students behind a bookcase against a wall “where they can’t be seen.” She said that spot had been chosen in practice drills for school lockdowns, but on Friday, she had to move the pupils to a storage room “because we discovered one of our doors didn’t lock.”

Ms. Jacob said the storage room had crayons and paper that they tore up for the children to color while they waited. “They were asking what was going on,” she said. “We said: ‘We don’t know. Our job is just to be quiet.’ “ But she said that she did know, because she had called the school office and learned that the school was under siege.

It was eerily silent in the school when police officers rushed in with their rifles drawn. There were the dead or dying in one section of the building, while elsewhere, those who had eluded the bullets were under orders from their teachers to remain quiet in their hiding places.

The officers discovered still more carnage: After gunning down the children and the school employees, the authorities said, Mr. Lanza had killed himself.

The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and the psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56, were among the dead, as were the teachers Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; and Victoria Soto, 27. Lauren Rousseau, 30, had started as a full-time teacher in September after years of working as a substitute. “It was the best year of her life,” The News-Times quoted her mother, Teresa, a copy editor at the newspaper, as saying.

Ms. Soto reportedly shooed her first graders into closets and cabinets when she heard the first shots, and then, by some accounts, told the gunman the youngsters were in the gym. Her cousin, James Willsie, told ABC News that she had “put herself between the gunman and the kids.”

“She lost her life protecting those little ones,” he said.

School officials have said there are no immediate plans to reopen Sandy Hook Elementary. Staff members will gather at the high school on Monday to discuss what happened, and students will be assigned to attend other schools by Wednesday.

Dorothy Werden, 49, lives across the street from Christopher and Lynn McDonnell, who lost their daughter Grace, 7, in the rampage. Ms. Werden remembered seeing Grace get on a bus Friday, as she did every morning at 8:45. Shortly afterward, she received a call that there had been a lockdown at the school — something that happens periodically, she said, because there is a prison nearby. It was only when she saw police cars from out of town speed past her that she knew something was seriously wrong.

Like the rest of the nation, she said, local residents were struggling with a single question: Why?

“Why did he have to go to the elementary school and kill all of those defenseless children?” Ms. Werden asked.


Randy Leonard reported from Newtown, Conn.,

and James Barron from New York.

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from New York.

    A Sunday of Sorrow in Newtown, NYT, 16.12.2012,






How Not to Talk With Children

About the Sandy Hook Shooting


December 15, 2012
6:17 pm
The New York Times


"First, find out what they have heard." That's the first line of Benedict Carey's article on how to talk to your children about the mass shooting that took place Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut. I received a similar e-mail from my own children's school, encouraging parents consider our individual children and their needs as we try to find words. How to talk to our kids is paramount, but I found myself focused on a different side of the question: how not to.

Part of me wants to talk to my children. I want to tell them what happened, and then drill them wildly on how to protect themselves. I want to promise them that it could never happen here, and at the same time reassure myself.

"First, find out what they have heard" is advice that puts the focus where it needs to be: on the child, not on the parent. Many of us think our children will be thinking and worrying about what happened in Newtown because we can't avoid thinking about it ourselves. But what if the answer is that they know very little? What if the child in front of you doesn't appear worried at all? Do we have to "talk to our children" about every tragedy? As awash in information as adults are, many children, especially younger ones, simply aren't in that position. It may be difficult, but also unnecessary, to protect them from hearing about a news event at all. And a child whose television comes from Disney and whose primary use of a mobile device involves throwing birds at pigs may not be inundated with information in the ways we fear.

"Most kids are pretty self-centered," Nancy Rappaport, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of school-based programs for the Cambridge Health Alliance, said. "Some may be more vulnerable to these kinds of fears, but many may just say, 'Oh, that's too bad,' and move on." This is a reaction that's hard to understand for an adult, but fine, Dr. Rappaport said, for children whose focus is still naturally on themselves.

So as a parent, you're left with the question not just of how to talk to your child about tragedy, but of whether you're talking to your child for your child - or for yourself. There's the question of what to say, but also when, and if, you should say it. "If you're feeling panicked, and like there's no place safe in the world, then that's a good time to step back and get those thoughts in order," Dr. Rappaport suggested. "But if we try to wait until we've fully come to terms with something like this, then we'll never be able to talk. In fact, we'd never be able to get out of bed in the morning."

She brought up a strategy that's commonly used for anxiety in children: "worried thought, brave thought." "We teach kids to counter a worried thought with a brave thought," she said, and to "know that although the worried thought may come back, the brave thoughts are always there as well." A worried thought might be "A shooter will come to my children's school and there is nothing I can do about it," with the brave counter "School shootings are still rare, and countless people are working to make them rarer still."

If you're going to talk to your children, start with a brave thought, she said. If the worried thoughts return while you're talking, acknowledge them - out loud, with your child. It's all right to show that you, too, worry. But then bring a brave thought back again. If you sense anxiety in your child, you could even share the same strategy. And remember that you don't have to get it right in one single talk. In fact, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that "talking to" your children isn't the goal. It's talking with your children that will matter in the long run.

More immediately, though, I keep coming back to the question of whether this a conversation that you have to have at all. Do you have to tell a small child what's happened, on the theory that her equally small classmates may be chattering about it on Monday, or might you just be creating an anxiety that never existed to begin with - making yours the child who begins the chattering? I don't know. My own children had a half day on Friday, and came home just as this news began to appear. Judicious management of the car radio and any newspapers means it really was up to me to decide whether and what to tell them before Monday. (They're 11, 8, 7 and 6, only watch children's networks on television and are completely uninterested in social media.)

Ultimately, I told them, fairly simply. We did talk about what you'd do, a little bit, if you wanted to get away from "someone bad." And then we left it. (I had a slightly more nuanced discussion with my oldest later, but because he seemed truly unconcerned, I let it go for now.) I suspect they won't be thinking about it at all when they go to school on Monday morning, and I hope that if their classmates bring it up, my kids will know enough to manage any fears.

But I'll be thinking about it, and so, if you're a parent, will you. I don't know how sending all of our children back to school this week can be done without those "worried thoughts" rushing in hard and fast. If one of my children asks, I'll admit it. I'll try to find a "brave thought" to back it up. And if (when) words fail me, I'll remember that a hug sometimes says the only reassuring thing there is to say.

    How Not to Talk With Children About the Sandy Hook Shooting, NYT, 15.12.2012,






The Loss of the Innocents


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn., is about 20 miles from the town where my wife grew up. It’s the kind of place that rewards rambling New England drives: there are big old Victorian houses flanking the main street, a hill with a huge flagpole rising in the center of town, and a large pasture just below, with shaded side roads radiating outward from the greensward, and then horse farms in the hills beyond.

When you live in a hectic, self-important city, it’s easy to romanticize a town like Newtown, and maybe imagine escaping there someday, children in tow. The last time we drove through was more than a year ago: it was a summer dusk, and there were families out everywhere — kids on bikes, crowds around the ice cream stand, the images of small town innocence flickering past our car windows like slides on a carousel.

Any grown-up knows that such small-town innocence is illusory, and that what looks pristine to outsiders can be as darkened by suffering as any other place where human beings live together, and alone.

But even so, the illusion has real power, not least because the dream of small-town life makes the whole universe seem somehow kinder and homier. If only a Bedford Falls or Stars Hollow or Mayberry existed somewhere, we tend to feel — in New England or Nebraska, the present or the past — then perhaps there’s some ultimate hope for the rest of us as well. Maybe the universe really was meant to be a home to humanity, and not just a blindly cruel cosmos in which a 6-year-old’s fate is significant to his parents but no more meaningful in absolute terms than the cracking of a seashell or an extinction of a star.

But if the ideal of the Good Place, the lost Eden or Arcadia, can stir up the residue of religious hopes even in hardened materialists, the reality of what transpired in the real Newtown last week — the murder in cold blood of 20 small children — can make Ivan Karamazovs out of even the devout.

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel, Ivan is the Karamazov brother who collects stories of children tortured, beaten, killed — babes caught on the points of soldiers’ bayonets, a serf boy run down by his master’s hounds, a child of 5 locked in a freezing outhouse by her parents.

Ivan invokes these innocents in a speech that remains one of the most powerful rebukes to the idea of a loving, omniscient God — a speech that accepts the possibility that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.

“Can you understand,” he asks his more religious sibling, “why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark and the cold, and weep her meek unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? ... Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted? Without it, I am told, man could not have existed on earth, for he could not have known good and evil. Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much?”

Perhaps, Ivan concedes, there will be some final harmony, in which every tear is wiped away and every human woe is revealed as insignificant against the glories of eternity. But such a reconciliation would be bought at “too high a price.” Even the hope of heaven, he tells his brother, isn’t worth “the tears of that one tortured child.”

It’s telling that Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, offered no direct theological rebuttal to his character’s speech. The counterpoint to Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness.

In this, the Russian novelist was being true to the spirit of the New Testament, which likewise seeks to establish God’s goodness through a narrative rather than an argument, a revelation of his solidarity with human struggle rather than a philosophical proof of his benevolence.

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

    The Loss of the Innocents, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


IN the harrowing aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, one thought wells in my mind: Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?

The fundamental reason kids are dying in massacres like this one is not that we have lunatics or criminals — all countries have them — but that we suffer from a political failure to regulate guns.

Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence.

So let’s treat firearms rationally as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes. The United States realistically isn’t going to ban guns, but we can take steps to reduce the carnage.

American schoolchildren are protected by building codes that govern stairways and windows. School buses must meet safety standards, and the bus drivers have to pass tests. Cafeteria food is regulated for safety. The only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.

We even regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips — but lawmakers don’t have the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists and regulate real guns as carefully as we do toys. What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.?

As one of my Facebook followers wrote after I posted about the shooting, “It is more difficult to adopt a pet than it is to buy a gun.”

Look, I grew up on an Oregon farm where guns were a part of life; and my dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I understand: shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?

And don’t say that it won’t make a difference because crazies will always be able to get a gun. We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths, any more than we have eliminated auto accidents. But if we could reduce gun deaths by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved annually.

Likewise, don’t bother with the argument that if more people carried guns, they would deter shooters or interrupt them. Mass shooters typically kill themselves or are promptly caught, so it’s hard to see what deterrence would be added by having more people pack heat. There have been few if any cases in the United States in which an ordinary citizen with a gun stopped a mass shooting.

The tragedy isn’t one school shooting, it’s the unceasing toll across our country. More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

So what can we do? A starting point would be to limit gun purchases to one a month, to curb gun traffickers. Likewise, we should restrict the sale of high-capacity magazines so that a shooter can’t kill as many people without reloading.

We should impose a universal background check for gun buyers, even with private sales. Let’s make serial numbers more difficult to erase, and back California in its effort to require that new handguns imprint a microstamp on each shell so that it can be traced back to a particular gun.

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” President Obama noted in a tearful statement on television. He’s right, but the solution isn’t just to mourn the victims — it’s to change our policies. Let’s see leadership on this issue, not just moving speeches.

Other countries offer a road map. In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands.

The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.

Or we can look north to Canada. It now requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them.

For that matter, we can look for inspiration at our own history on auto safety. As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.”

Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s.

Some of you are alive today because of those auto safety regulations. And if we don’t treat guns in the same serious way, some of you and some of your children will die because of our failure.


I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground.

Please also join me on Facebook and Google+,

watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

    Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Children Were All Shot Multiple Times With a Semiautomatic,

Officials Say


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


The gunman in the Connecticut shooting blasted his way into the elementary school and then sprayed the children with bullets, first from a distance and then at close range, hitting some of them as many as 11 times, as he fired a semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition designed for maximum damage, officials said Saturday.

The state’s chief medical examiner, H. Wayne Carver II, said all of the 20 children and 6 adults gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had been struck more than once in the fusillade.

He said their wounds were “all over, all over.”

“This is a very devastating set of injuries,” he said at a briefing in Newtown. When he was asked if they had suffered after they were hit, he said, “Not for very long.”

The disclosures came as the police released the victims’ names. They ranged in age from 6 to 56.

The children — 12 girls and 8 boys — were all first-graders. One little girl had just turned 7 on Tuesday. All of the adults were women.

The White House announced that President Obama would visit Newtown on Sunday evening to meet with victims’ families and speak at an interfaith vigil.

On Saturday, as families began to claim the bodies of lost loved ones, some sought privacy. Others spoke out. Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, was among the dead, choked back tears as he described her as “bright, creative and very loving.”

But, he added, “as we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let us not let it turn into something that defines us.”

On a day of anguish and mourning, other details emerged about how, but not why, the devastating attack had happened, turning a place where children were supposed to be safe into a national symbol of heartbreak and horror.

The Newtown school superintendent said the principal and the school psychologist had been shot as they tried to tackle the gunman in order to protect their students.

That was just one act of bravery during the maelstrom. There were others, said the superintendent, Janet Robinson. She said one teacher had helped children escape through a window. Another shoved students into a room with a kiln and held them there until the danger had passed.

It was not enough: First responders described a scene of carnage in the two classrooms where the children were killed, with no movement and no one left to save, everything perfectly still.

The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, 20, had grown up in Newtown and had an uncle who had been a police officer in New Hampshire. The uncle, James M. Champion, issued a statement expressing “heartfelt sorrow,” adding that the family was struggling “to comprehend the tremendous loss we all share.”

A spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, Lt. J. Paul Vance, said investigators continued to press for information about Mr. Lanza, and had collected “some very good evidence.” He also said that the one survivor of the killings, a woman who was shot and wounded at the school, would be “instrumental” in piecing together what had happened.

But it was unclear why Mr. Lanza had gone on the attack. A law enforcement official said investigators had not found a suicide note or messages that spoke to the planning of such a deadly attack. And Ms. Robinson, the school superintendent, said they had found no connection between Mr. Lanza’s mother and the school, in contrast to accounts from authorities on Friday that said she had worked there.

Dr. Carver said it appeared that all of the children had been killed by a “long rifle” that Mr. Lanza was carrying; a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle was one of the several weapons police found in the school. The other guns were semiautomatic pistols, including a .10 mm Glock and a .9 mm Sig Sauer.

The bullets Mr. Lanza used were “designed in such a fashion the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullet stays in,” resulting in deep damage, Dr. Carver said. As to how many bullets Mr. Lanza had fired, Dr. Carver said he did not have an exact count. “There were lots of them,” he said.

He said that parents had identified their children from photographs to spare them from seeing the gruesome results of the rampage. He said that 4 doctors and 10 technicians had done the autopsies and that he had personally performed seven, all on first-graders.

“This is probably the worst I have seen or the worst that I know of any of my colleagues having seen,” said Dr. Carver, who is 60 and has been Connecticut’s chief medical examiner since 1989.

He said that only Mr. Lanza and his first victim — his mother, Nancy Lanza — remained to be autopsied. He said he would do those post-mortems on Sunday.

Officials said the killing spree began early on Friday at the house where the Lanzas lived. There, Mr. Lanza shot his mother in the face, making her his first victim, the authorities said. Then, after taking three guns that belonged to her, they said, he climbed into her car for the short drive to the school.

Outfitted in combat gear, Mr. Lanza shot his way in, defeating a security system requiring visitors to be buzzed in. This contradicted earlier reports that he had been recognized and allowed to enter the one-story building. “He was not voluntarily let into the school at all,” Lieutenant Vance said. “He forced his way in.”

The lieutenant’s account was consistent with recordings of police dispatchers who answered call after call from adults at the school. “The front glass has been broken,” one dispatcher cautioned officers who were rushing there, repeating on the police radio what a 911 caller had said on the phone. “They are unsure why.”

The dispatchers kept up a running account of the drama at the school. “The individual I have on the phone indicates continuing to hear what he believes to be gunfire,” one dispatcher said.

Soon, another dispatcher reported that the “shooting appears to have stopped,” and the conversation on the official radios turned to making sure that help was available — enough help.

“What is the number of ambulances you will require?” a dispatcher asked.

The answer hinted at the unthinkable scope of the tragedy: “They are not giving us a number.”

Another radio transmission, apparently from someone at the school, underlined the desperation: “You might want to see if the surrounding towns can send E.M.S. personnel. We’re running out real quick, real fast.”

Inside the school, teachers and school staff members had scrambled to move children to safety as the massacre began. Maryann Jacob, a library clerk, said she initially herded students behind a bookcase against a wall “where they can’t be seen.” She said that spot had been chosen in practice drills for school lockdowns, but on Friday, she had to move the pupils to a storage room “because we discovered one of our doors didn’t lock.”

Ms. Jacob said the storage room had crayons and paper that they tore up for the children to color while they waited. “They were asking what was going on,” she said. “We said: ‘We don’t know. Our job is just to be quiet.’ ” But she said that she did know, because she had called the school office and learned that the school was under siege.

It was eerily silent in the school when police officers rushed in with their rifles drawn. There were the dead or dying in one section of the building, while elsewhere, those who had eluded the bullets were under orders from their teachers to remain quiet in their hiding places.

The officers discovered still more carnage: After gunning down the children and the school employees, the authorities said, Mr. Lanza had killed himself.

The principal, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and the psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56, were among the dead, as were the teachers Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; and Victoria Soto, 27. Lauren Rousseau, 30, had started as a full-time teacher in September after years of working as a substitute. “It was the best year of her life,” The News-Times quoted her mother, Teresa, a copy editor at the newspaper, as saying.

Ms. Soto reportedly shooed her first graders into closets and cabinets when she heard the first shots, and then, by some accounts, told the gunman the youngsters were in the gym. Her cousin, James Willsie, told ABC News that she had “put herself between the gunman and the kids.”

“She lost her life protecting those little ones,” he said.

School officials have said there are no immediate plans to reopen Sandy Hook Elementary. Staff members will gather at the high school on Monday to discuss what happened, and students will be assigned to attend other schools by Wednesday.

Dorothy Werden, 49, lives across the street from Christopher and Lynn McDonnell, who lost their daughter Grace, 7, in the rampage. Ms. Werden remembered seeing Grace get on a bus Friday, as she did every morning at 8:45. Shortly afterward, she received a call that there had been a lockdown at the school — something that happens periodically, she said, because there is a prison nearby. It was only when she saw police cars from out of town speed past her that she knew something was seriously wrong.

Like the rest of the nation, she said, local residents were struggling with a single question: Why?

“Why did he have to go to the elementary school and kill all of those defenseless children?” Ms. Werden asked.


Reporting was contributed by Matt Flegenheimer, Thomas Kaplan and Ray Rivera

from Connecticut, and Joseph Goldstein, N. R. Kleinfield, William K. Rashbaum,

Marc Santora, Michael Schwirtz and Wendy Ruderman from New York

and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.

    Children Were All Shot Multiple Times With a Semiautomatic, Officials Say, NYT, 15.12.2012,






A Mother, a Gun Enthusiast and the First Victim


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Nancy Lanza loved guns, and often took her sons to one of the shooting ranges here in the suburbs northeast of New York City, where there is an active community of gun enthusiasts, her friends said. At a local bar, she sometimes talked about her gun collection.

It was one of her guns that was apparently used to take her life on Friday. Her killer was her son Adam Lanza, 20, who then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 26 more people, 20 of them small children, before shooting himself, the authorities said.

Ms. Lanza’s fascination with guns became an important focus of attention on Saturday as investigators tried to determine what caused Mr. Lanza to carry out one of the worst massacres in the nation’s history.

Investigators have linked Ms. Lanza to five weapons: two powerful handguns, two traditional hunting rifles and a semiautomatic rifle that is similar to weapons used by troops in Afghanistan. Her son took the two handguns and the semiautomatic rifle to the school. Law enforcement officials said they believed the guns were acquired legally and were registered.

Ms. Lanza, 52, had gone through a divorce in 2008 and was described by friends as social and generous to strangers, but also high-strung, as if she were holding herself together. She lived in a large Colonial home here with Adam Lanza, and had struggled to help him cope with a developmental disorder that often left him reserved and withdrawn, according to relatives, friends and former classmates.

At some point, he had dropped out of the Newtown school system. An older son, Ryan, did not live with Ms. Lanza.

In a statement on Saturday night, her ex-husband, Peter Lanza, an executive at General Electric, said he was cooperating with investigators. “We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can,” he said. “We, too, are asking why.”

He added: “Like so many of you, we are saddened but struggling to make sense of what has transpired.”

Ms. Lanza’s brother James Champion, a former police officer who lives in Kingston, N.H., said on Saturday that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had questioned family members on Friday night.

Mr. Champion would not discuss whether Adam Lanza had a developmental disorder or mental illness.

“On behalf of Nancy’s mother and siblings, we reach out to the community of Newtown to express our heartfelt sorrow for the incomprehensible loss of innocence that has affected so many,” Mr. Champion said in a statement.

He said Ms. Lanza had grown up and lived in Kingston with her husband and sons before they left in 1998. He said he had not seen Adam Lanza in eight years.

Ms. Lanza’s sister-in-law Marsha Lanza, who lives in Illinois, said Adam Lanza had been home-schooled for a time because his mother was not “satisfied with the school.”

Former classmates here described him as nervous, with a flat affect.

“He was always different — keeping to himself, fidgeting and very quiet,” said a classmate, Alex Israel. “But I could always tell he was a supersmart kid, maybe just socially awkward, something just off about him. The same went for when I went to his house. His mother was always nice to me; she was a kind, typical suburban mom as far as I remember. As time went on, he continued to keep to himself and I branched out more, so not much contact with him after middle school.

“By the time high school came around, he did sort of disappear,” she added. “I’d see him in the halls walking quickly with his briefcase he carried, but I never had a class with him and never saw him with friends. I was yearbook editor and I remember he declined to be photographed or give us a senior quote or baby picture.”

Some former classmates said they had been told that Mr. Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome, which is considered a high-functioning form of autism.

News reports on Friday suggested that Ms. Lanza had worked at the elementary school where the shooting occurred, but on Saturday the school superintendent said there was no evidence that she had ever worked there.

The authorities said it was not clear why Mr. Lanza had gone to the school.

Ms. Lanza was a slender woman with blond shoulder-length hair who enjoyed craft beers, jazz and landscaping. She often went to a local restaurant and music spot, My Place, where at beer tastings on Tuesday evenings, she sometimes talked about her gun collection, recalled an acquaintance, Dan Holmes, the owner of a landscaping company in Newtown.

“She had several different guns,” Mr. Holmes said. “I don’t know how many. She would go target shooting with her kids.”

Many of those who knew Ms. Lanza in Newtown were at a loss to describe what she did for a living. Her brother in New Hampshire said she had not been working, but had once been a stockbroker.

Louise Tambascio, owner of My Place, said Ms. Lanza volunteered occasionally.

“She stayed with Adam,” Ms. Tambascio said, adding that, as a younger child, he “couldn’t get along with the kids in school.”

Ms. Lanza spoke often of her landscaping, Mr. Holmes recalled, and later hired him to do work on her home.

He recently dispatched a team to put up Christmas decorations at her house — garlands on the front columns and white lights atop the shrubbery.

After the work was complete, Ms. Lanza sent Mr. Holmes a text: “That went REALLY well!”

Jim Leff, a musician, often sat next to her at the bar and made small talk, he said in an interview on Saturday.

On one occasion, Mr. Leff said, he had gone to Newtown to discuss lending money to a friend. As the two men negotiated the loan, Ms. Lanza overheard and offered to write the man a check.

“She was really kind and warm,” Mr. Leff said, “but she always seemed a little bit high-strung.”

He declined to elaborate, but in a post on his personal Web site, he said he felt a distance from her that was explained when he heard, after the shootings, “how difficult her troubled son,” Adam, “was making things for her.”

She was “handling a very difficult situation with uncommon grace,” he wrote.

She was “a big, big gun fan,” he added on his Web site.

There are many gun enthusiasts in this area, residents said.

When some people who live near the elementary school heard the shots fired by Mr. Lanza on Friday, they said they were not surprised.

“I really didn’t think anything of it,” said a resident, Ray Rinaldi. “You hear gun shots around here all the time.”

Neighbors recalled Ms. Lanza as a regular at Labor Day picnics and “ladies’ nights out” for a dice game called bunco.

“We would rotate houses,” said Rhonda Cullens, 52. “I don’t remember Nancy ever having it at her house.”

Ms. Cullens said Ms. Lanza spoke often about gardening — exchanging the sorts of questions typical of the neighborhood: Is maintenance worth the trouble for a house like the Lanzas’, scarcely visible from the street?

But for many of those on Yogananda Street, where the Lanzas lived, the recollections about Ms. Lanza were incomplete.

“Who were they?” said Len Strocchia, 46, standing beside his daughter as camera crews came through the neighborhood. “I’m sure we rang their door bell on Halloween.”

He looked down the block, then turned back to his daughter. “I’m sure of it,” he said.

Ms. Lanza’s sister-in-law Marsha Lanza also struggled to make sense of events. “I just don’t have an answer,” she said, starting to cry. “I wish I had an answer for you. I wish somebody had saw it coming.”


Matt Flegenheimer reported from Newtown, Conn., and Ravi Somaiya from New York.

Reporting was also contributed by Susan Beachy, Thomas Kaplan, Elizabeth Maker,

Marina Villeneuve and Steven Yaccino.

    A Mother, a Gun Enthusiast and the First Victim, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Justice Dept. Shelved Ideas to Improve

Gun Background Checks


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — After the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and others at a supermarket in Tucson in early 2011, the Justice Department drew up a detailed list of steps the government could take to expand the background-check system in order to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally ill people and criminals.

Most of the proposals, though, were shelved at the department a year ago as the election campaign heated up and as Congress conducted a politically charged investigation into the Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case, according to people familiar with the internal deliberations. It is not clear which, if any, of the conclusions were relayed to the White House.

It is far from clear whether any of the proposals — which centered on improving the background check system, and did not call for banning weapons — could have prevented the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday. But the recommendations could provide a blueprint if the Obama administration chooses to take more aggressive steps to curb gun violence.

President Obama, in his weekly address on Saturday, said he wanted to take “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this; regardless of the politics.” He did not, however, give any details. The Justice Department’s list included several measures that, even if Congress did not act, Mr. Obama could enact by executive order.

It is far from certain, however, that the White House would be willing to wage a fight against the powerful gun-rights lobby or take attention from competing concerns, like negotiations over the looming fiscal deadline. While Mr. Obama’s words hinted at new steps to curb gun violence, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and other gun-control advocates said they fell short of a concrete response.

Political pressure on the White House is building in some quarters of the Democratic Party. Representative John B. Larson, Democrat of Connecticut, for example, called for Congress to pass measures requiring background checks on all gun sales, as well as banning assault rifles and high-capacity clips.

“To do nothing in the face of pending disaster is to be complicit,” Mr. Larson said. “It’s time to act. It’s time to vote.”

Americans remain closely divided on the issue of gun rights, but public support for stricter gun-control laws has waned since 2008, according to several polls taken before the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The Justice Department’s study, according to people familiar with the deliberations, did not focus on new restrictions on the kinds of weapons that most law-abiding Americans may purchase, on the premise that those would be nearly impossible to push through Congress.

Instead, it focused on ways to bolster the database the F.B.I. uses for background checks on gun purchasers, including using information on file at other federal agencies. Certain people are barred from buying guns, including felons, drug users, those adjudicated mentally “defective,” illegal immigrants and people convicted of misdemeanor offenses related to domestic violence.

For example, the study recommended that all agencies that give out benefits, like the Social Security Administration, tell the F.B.I. background-check system whenever they have made arrangements to send a check to a trustee for a person deemed mentally incompetent to handle his own finances, or when federal employees or job applicants fail a drug test. It also proposed setting up a system to appeal such determinations.

Although advocates for gun rights and privacy protection would probably object to the sharing of such information among agencies, the Justice Department concluded such activity would be lawful and appropriate.

The study also proposed Congressional action, including increasing grants to states as an incentive to voluntarily submit their own law enforcement information to the database — to about $100 million a year, up from about $11 million this year.

The recommendations also included asking Congress to enact a law to expand the list of transactions subject to background checks — currently required only for purchases from a licensed firearms dealer — by requiring private sellers to check buyers’ backgrounds too; the idea was to require them to go to a dealer and use its background check system for a small fee.

Finally, the study envisioned asking Congress to increase criminal penalties — with a mandatory minimum prison sentence — for people who act as “straw” buyers for others who would have been blocked by a background check.

The White House and Justice Department would not comment on the study.

The study’s recommendations are consistent with broad remarks by Mr. Obama in an opinion article published in The Arizona Daily Star in March 2011, about two months after the Tucson shooting involving Ms. Giffords. In it, Mr. Obama called for improvements in enforcing the existing ban on the sale of guns to certain categories of people.

He wrote that he was “willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners” would agree to “common sense” ideas, including “that we should check someone’s criminal record before he can check out at a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to buy a gun so easily; that there’s room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety and are fully compatible with a robust Second Amendment.”

Mr. Obama made similar comments in a speech in July after another mass shooting, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

Back around March 2011, officials said, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asked Christopher Schroeder, then the assistant attorney general for legal policy, to examine gun control and background checks.

Mr. Schroeder and his aides, working with the criminal division and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, spent the next year developing ideas and recommendations. They also met with gun-safety advocates and police chiefs, and attended conferences about the F.B.I. database, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

They were said to have presented their recommendations in a series of meetings a year to nine months ago with senior department officials, including Mr. Holder and his deputy, James Cole. But the proposals were largely filed away without action amid a harsh political environment against gun control.

At the time, congressional Republicans and conservative news media outlets were carrying out a withering campaign against Mr. Holder based on accusations — found to be false by the department’s independent inspector general — that he had sanctioned the reckless “gun walking” tactics, not moving swiftly to interdict illegal weapons, used in the Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case, including floating theories that it was all part of a conspiracy meant to crack down on gun rights.

Still, an administration official pointed to smaller steps taken last spring to improve the background check system, including automating a system that feeds information about federal indictments, convictions and arrest warrants into the database; previously it was entered by hand.

Mr. Schroeder, who stepped down from his position last month to return to teaching at Duke University law school, confirmed that he had conducted the larger project.

“We have identified ways to improve the effectiveness of the background check system that we concluded would be positive and constructive and help meet the president’s objective of keeping more guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals,” Mr. Schroeder said. “I’m hopeful that some of these can move forward and actually be implemented.”

Some of the proposals would attempt to improve on longstanding ideas. For example, after a Virginia Tech student killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in 2007, it emerged that a state judge had deemed him mentally ill, but that information was not in the F.B.I. database.

In 2008, Congress called upon federal agencies that might know whether someone is mentally ill to make sure the F.B.I. database had that information. But most agencies that have such information — as varied as Social Security and the Railroad Retirement Board — have yet to comply.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, by contrast, does share its data about instances in which benefit checks are sent to a trustee because a recipient has been deemed mentally incompetent. Republicans in Congress have introduced a bill, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act, that would end the practice.


Mark Landler contributed reporting.

    Justice Dept. Shelved Ideas to Improve Gun Background Checks, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Debate on Gun Control Is Revived,

Amid a Trend Toward Fewer Restrictions


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


The day before a gunman massacred 20 schoolchildren in their classrooms in Connecticut on Friday, lawmakers in Michigan passed a bill — over the objections of the state’s school boards — that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in schools.

That same day, Ohio lawmakers passed a bill that would allow guns in cars at the Statehouse garage. Earlier in the week, a federal appeals court struck down a ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois. And Florida officials announced that they would soon issue their millionth concealed weapon and firearm license — or, as a state news release put it, the program would be “One Million Strong.”

The legal and political debate over the nation’s gun laws was following a familiar trajectory: toward fewer restrictions. Now, as the country absorbs news of yet another mass shooting, this one claiming the lives of young children, both supporters and opponents of stricter gun laws are asking whether the carnage might change that pattern at the state or national levels.

As President Obama used his weekly Saturday address to repeat his impassioned but vague call to take “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this,” some gun control advocates said they hoped the shooting would be a catalyst for change.

“We genuinely believe that this one is different,” Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s different because no decent human being can look at a tragedy like this and not be outraged by the fact that it can happen in our nation. And because this time, we’re really poised to harness that outrage and create a focused and sustained outcry for change.”

But supporters of gun control sounded similar notes after other recent mass shootings — including one early last year in Tucson in which six people were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was wounded — only to see little or no action. And as governors condemned the Connecticut shooting and expressed sympathy for its victims, their statements, from Democrats and Republicans alike, were more likely to mention prayer than gun laws.

One exception was in Colorado, which had started a debate on gun laws earlier in the week. Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, had said on Wednesday that he believed “the time is right” for state lawmakers to consider new gun restrictions.

Mr. Hickenlooper, who had appeared cool to the idea immediately after the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora that killed 12 people and wounded dozens, said he hoped lawmakers would take up the issue in the next legislative session, when Democrats will control both houses.

“After the shootings happened in Aurora in July, everyone was just so empty that it didn’t feel appropriate to start talking about racing right into the sometimes contentious arguments of appropriate gun control or inappropriate gun control, depending on which side of the fence you’re on,” Mr. Hickenlooper said Saturday. He added that he hoped lawmakers would examine issues like public access to assault weapons, magazines that hold a great deal of ammunition and armor-piercing bullets, and how the state can help the mentally ill and keep them from doing harm.

Mr. Hickenlooper said he had received heated responses from supporters and opponents of gun control, including from some Democrats who oppose restrictions. But as news of the Connecticut shooting spread, he said, the volume of e-mail and phone calls he received doubled, with many people thanking him for raising the issue. He noted that many of the nation’s worst mass shootings had occurred in recent years. “That can’t fail to get people’s attention,” he said.

Otherwise, much of the initial reaction to Friday’s shooting hewed more closely to the contours established by previous mass shootings. Mayors who have long pushed for more restrictive gun laws reiterated their call. Some Democratic governors, but not many, echoed them. And opponents of gun restrictions condemned the shooting and offered condolences.

Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Democrat, pledged to push for stricter gun laws. “As governor and as a parent, I intend to spearhead passage of strict laws that will protect our children and the people of Illinois from gun violence.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, another Democrat, called the shooting a “wake-up call for aggressive action.”

Republicans were more likely to draw other lessons from the shooting, at least in their initial responses. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, an outspoken supporter of gun rights, issued a statement asking the state’s school districts “to review their emergency operation plans to ensure all schools are prepared to respond to potential threats like today’s tragic school shooting.”

The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington and in statehouses across the nation, said it would not comment on the shooting “until the facts are thoroughly known.”

But the group had been gearing up to oppose any efforts to tighten the nation’s gun laws. After Mr. Obama’s re-election, the association’s president, David A. Keene, wrote, “We have to be prepared to fight him on each front, rally friendly elected officials, persuade those in the middle and let all of them know that gun owners will not stand idly by as our constitutional rights are stripped from us.”

With gun control efforts seen as unlikely in Washington, where the Republicans who control the House oppose them, the next frontiers of the debate may be in states like Michigan, where the bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in school is being weighed by Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican.

Don Wotruba, the deputy director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, said the group was calling on the governor to veto the bill. “Putting children in closer proximity with more guns is a risk that shouldn’t be taken,” he said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for the governor, Sara Wurfel, said the bill would go through a careful review and analysis. Asked if the school shooting in Connecticut would be a factor, she said in an e-mail that the governor had said that “these situations always must and should give pause as they’re so tragic, but that we can’t jump to conclusions, either.”

    Debate on Gun Control Is Revived, Amid a Trend Toward Fewer Restrictions, NYT, 15.12.2012,






China Calls for ‘No Delay’ on Gun Controls in U.S.


December 15, 2012
11:31 pm
The New York Times


HONG KONG - The state news agency in China, the official voice of the government, has called for the United States to quickly adopt stricter gun controls in the aftermath of the shooting rampage in Connecticut that left 28 people dead, including 20 schoolchildren.

According to the state medical examiner who was overseeing autopsies of the children, all of them had been hit multiple times. At least one child had been shot 11 times.

All of the children were in the first grade.

"Their blood and tears demand no delay for U.S. gun control," said the news agency, Xinhua, which listed a series of shootings this year in the United States.

"However, this time, the public feels somewhat tired and helpless," the commentary said. "The past six months have seen enough shooting rampages in the United States."

China suffered its own school tragedy on Friday - a man stabbed 22 children at a village elementary school in Henan Province. An 85-year-old woman also was stabbed.

There were no fatalities, although Xinhua reported that some of the children had had their fingers and ears cut off. The attacker, a 36-year-old man, was reportedly in custody. There was no immediate explanation for his possible motives.

On Sunday, the Web site China Smack compiled a range of comments on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like service in China. One said: "They should issue a bulletproof vest to every American elementary school student as their school uniform."

Another comment related to President Obama fighting back tears while addressing the nation on Friday:

In the face of Henan children suffering harm, did our country's leaders shed a tear!? Why is it that when this kind of incident happens, they always pretend to be deaf and mute!? I'm not saying that our leaders have to be like Obama shedding tears, but can we at least be like others in facing the incident? Instead of the mainstream media not even covering it, hiding it, attempting to avoid it every time the country has a "special incident."

China experienced a spate of attacks on schoolchildren in 2010, with almost 20 deaths and more than 50 injuries. In the fourth of the assaults, a crazed man beat five toddlers with a hammer, then set himself on fire while holding two youngsters.

In another of those attacks in 2010, Zheng Minsheng, 42, stabbed and killed eight primary school students in Fujian Province. Five weeks later, after a quick trial, he was executed.

My colleague Michael Wines reported at the time: "Some news reports stated that Mr. Zheng had mental problems, but most state media said no such evidence existed. Mental illness remains a closeted topic in modern China, and neither medication nor modern psychiatric treatment is widely used."

"Most of the attackers have been mentally disturbed men involved in personal disputes or unable to adjust to the rapid pace of social change in China," The Associated Press reported Saturday, adding that the rampages pointed to "grave weaknesses in the antiquated Chinese medical system's ability to diagnose and treat psychiatric illness."

Private ownership of guns - whether pistols, rifles or shotguns - is almost unheard of in China. Handgun permits are sometimes (but rarely) given to people living in remote areas for protection against wild animals.

The Chinese school assaults were carried out with knives, kitchen cleavers or hammers, the usual weapons of choice in mass attacks in China. As a precaution before the recent Communist Party Congress in Beijing, the sale of knives was banned in the central area of the capital.

Dr. Ding Xueliang, a sociologist at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong, speaking about the Chinese tragedy on Friday, told CNN that "the huge difference between this case and the U.S. is not the suspect, nor the situation, but the simple fact he did not have an effective weapon.

"In terms of the U.S., there's much easier availability of killing instruments - rifles, machine guns, explosives - than in nearly every other developed country."

In a blog on the Web site of The New Yorker, the magazine's China correspondent, Evan Osnos, wrote:

It takes a lot to make China's government - beset, as it is, by corruption and opacity and the paralyzing effects of special interests - look good, by comparison, in the eyes of its people these days. But we've done it.

When Chinese viewers looked at the two attacks side by side, more than a few of them concluded, as one did that, "from the look of it, there's no difference between a 'developed' country and a 'developing' country. And there's no such thing as human rights. People are the most violent creatures on earth, and China, with its ban on guns, is doing pretty well!"

Japan, too, has a near-total ban on private gun ownership, and the infrequent mass attacks there - which included a tragic rampage at a primary school in 2001- typically have involved knives.

"Almost no one in Japan owns a gun," said Max Fisher, writing in The Atlantic in July. "Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country's infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories."

In 2006, Japan had two gun-related homicides. "And when that number jumped to 22 in 2007," Mr. Fisher said, "it became a national scandal."

"East Asia, despite its universally restrictive domestic gun policies, hosts some of the world's largest firearm exporters and emerging industry giants: China, South Korea and Japan," according to GunPolicy.org, a comprehensive global database maintained by the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

In recent weeks, Chinese police officials in Jiangsu Province seized more than 6,000 illegal guns from two underground workshops and warehouses; a retired prison guard in Hong Kong was jailed for 18 months for keeping an arsenal of guns, silencers, grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his public-housing apartment; and 17 suspected gun smugglers went on trial in Shanghai as part of a joint investigation with U.S. law enforcement officials.

In the Shanghai case, more than 100 semiautomatic handguns, rifles, shotguns and gun parts were express-mailed to China from the United States. One of the masterminds on the American end was Staff Sgt. Joseph Debose, 30, a soldier with a Special Forces National Guard unit in North Carolina. He pleaded guilty to federal charges in September.

"The defendant traded the honor of his position in the National Guard for the money he received for smuggling arms to China," said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "In blatant disregard for everything he was sworn to uphold, the defendant placed numerous firearms into a black market pipeline from the United States to China."

What's your view? Would the United States do well to emulate China and Japan,

with their comprehensive bans on guns?

Or is America a special case because of its Constitutional protections

of gun ownership? And apropos of the Fujian attack described above,

would you support similarly speedy trials and the death penalty

for mass murderers of children?

    China Calls for ‘No Delay’ on Gun Controls in U.S., NYT, 15.12.2012,






In a Town of Traditions, Grief Engulfs Holiday Joy


December 15, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — The phone rang just after 10 on Saturday morning in an old farmhouse along Walnut Tree Hill Road. Julia Wasserman had been undecided about even going to the farm, which she and her husband bought decades ago, and where people still come to cut their own Christmas trees. She answered.

Yes, she said, the farm was open.

After she was finished, Ms. Wasserman shrugged her shoulders. “I wasn’t even going to come today,” she said. “I didn’t know what the right thing to do was. I still don’t know. But the man said he wanted to come, to bring his kids out. That they needed it.”

People everywhere in Newtown — a classic New England small town — struggled with whether, and how, to go on with something that seemed like normal life. Even as Ms. Wasserman tended to the tree farm, the State Police gathered at a park across town to brief reporters from around the world on the latest grim details of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As much as anyplace, Newtown digs into its public rituals, celebrating Fourth of July and Labor Day and Halloween with gatherings in the tiny downtown. Earlier this month, the lighting of the grand Christmas tree seemed to bring out nearly every person under age 12 for miles around. The roads were lined with lighted candles in paper bags.

“With Christmas-tree shapes cut into the bags,” Lenie Urbina, 9, noted.

On Saturday, on a pole beside the village Christmas tree, there were messages from before and after the horror. A season of celebration had halted, almost instantly, and there was no instruction book on how to handle that moment. Everyone and everything was raw to the touch, even the glance. “Our hearts are with you,” read one sign, cut in the shape of a heart and pasted at the structure’s base.

Birgitta Cole, in a white ski jacket, walked her Yorkie. “Christmas is so big here, and now people don’t know what to do,” Ms. Cole said. “Everyone decorates their house and puts up lights. Last night we were thinking: Should we turn on the lights? Is that the right thing to do? Finally we decided to do it. Life is for the living. But it’s so hard to know what to do.”

It was not simply a question of rescheduling a ritual, a party or a gathering; these celebrations, from all the faiths and from none, push back against the dominance of the long winter night. No one is more essential to them than humans between, say, ages 5 and 9, who are balanced between the world of reason and the world of magic.

“All of these babies,” Jennifer Zulli, mother of a 5-year-old daughter, said. “We need to find peace for them, for the whole world.”

Ms. Zulli runs a meditation and healing space in Sound Center for Arts, the old Hawleyville Chapel that she and her husband restored. The grand opening, with family songs, had been scheduled for Saturday morning. The signs announcing the opening lay on the floor in the vestibule.

“I canceled, of course, but I can’t not open the doors,” she said. “We want to be a place for healing.”

A friend arrived and fell, weeping, into Ms. Zulli’s arms. “It’s never going to be the same,” the friend said.

The Toy Tree, a shop on Church Hill Road, opened as usual on Saturday morning. Pink Santa ornaments were on display, along with a “Star Wars” Lego set, a stuffed penguin and polyester bootees — “kids sizes 9-10.”

Behind the counter, a computer screen carried a live feed of the shooting coverage, with images of cameramen huddled a short distance from the shop’s doors. Around 9:45 a.m., a woman entered, asking if the shop carried snow globes. No, she was told, as the shopkeeper knelt distractedly near a small chalkboard. Sorry.

Moments later, the proprietor etched a message on the board, in neat handwriting and yellow chalk. “Our love, thoughts and prayers are with our community,” she wrote. She nodded, and the sign was placed outside.

Newtown, incorporated in 1711, takes its child-friendly, Norman Rockwell ambience seriously. The all-purpose landmark is the downtown flagpole, which dates to 1876. Fat and packed with small-town ephemera, including weekly equestrian news, The Newtown Bee dates to 1877. Scrabble was developed in Newtown by a local lawyer, James Brunot, in 1948, who adapted an earlier version and changed its name from “Criss-Cross Words” to “Scrabble.”

Late Friday evening, the Blue Colony Diner, just off Route 84, was still busy. It is a classic, with a menu the size of an encyclopedia and desserts lighted in a refrigerated display case. Heaped along the ceilings, like drifts of snow, were white Christmas lights. A fat Santa figure stood in a stack of bread, holding a chalked sign that read: “Challah Bread, $3.95.”

“They’ve already started putting things on the door,” the man behind the cash register said to the manager.

The manager stepped out to look at them.

People had turned over place mats and made crayon drawings on the backs: a purple angel, hovering over words written in green, “RIP Children & Adults of Newtown.” They were taped to the entryway window.

The manager came back inside. “Leave them there,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” the cashier said.

The manager spoke again, his voice flat: “We have to leave them.”

A decade ago, Ms. Wasserman gave 100 of her trees to the Sandy Hook fire department, propelling an annual fund-raiser.

Now the fire department runs one of the largest tree-selling operations in the vicinity. Last week, Ms. Zulli and her family drove home from the firehouse with their tree.

On Friday, beneath a big wreath hung from its cupola, the firehouse became a refuge for evacuated children; for parents, it was a vestibule between reunion or loss.

By Saturday, the remainder of this year’s trees were heaped in their ranks, six-foot balsams, seven-foot firs, the piles untouched, all promise of celebration vanished. Escorted by the police, a car rolled past the trees in the brilliant afternoon sunshine. On the door was the decal of a funeral home chain.


Peter Applebome and Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting.

    In a Town of Traditions, Grief Engulfs Holiday Joy, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Death in Connecticut


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


Each slaughter of innocents seems to get more appalling. A high school. A college campus. A movie theater. People meeting their congresswoman. A shopping mall in Oregon, just this Tuesday. On Friday, an elementary school classroom.

People will want to know about the killer in Newtown, Conn. His background and his supposed motives. Did he show signs of violence? But what actually matters are the children. What are their names? What did they dream of becoming? Did they enjoy finger painting? Or tee ball?

All that is now torn away. There is no crime greater than violence against children, no sorrow greater than that of a parent who has lost a child, especially in this horrible way. Our hearts are broken for those parents who found out their children — little more than babies, really — were wounded or killed, and for those who agonized for hours before taking their traumatized children home.

President Obama said he had talked to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut and promised him the full resources of the federal government to investigate the killer and give succor to his victims. We have no doubt Mr. Obama will help in any way he can, for now, but what about addressing the problem of guns gone completely out of control, a problem that comes up each time a shooter opens fire on a roomful of people but then disappears again?

The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it.

Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control. After each tragedy, including this one, some people litter the Internet with grotesque suggestions that it would be better if everyone (kindergarten teachers?) were armed. Far too many Democrats also live in fear of the gun lobby and will not support an assault weapons ban, or a ban on high-capacity bullet clips, or any one of a half-dozen other sensible ideas.

Mr. Obama said Friday that “we have been through this too many times” and that “we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

When will that day come? It did not come after the 1999 Columbine shooting, or the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, or the murders in Aurora last summer.

The more that we hear about gun control and nothing happens, the less we can believe it will ever come. Certainly, it will not unless Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders show the courage to make it happen.

    Death in Connecticut, NYT, 14.12.2012,






Nation’s Pain Is Renewed,

and Difficult Questions Are Asked Once More


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


On Friday, as Newtown, Conn., joined the list of places like Littleton, Colo., and Jonesboro, Ark., where schools became the scenes of stunning violence, the questions were familiar: Why does it happen? What can be done to stop it?

The questions have emerged after all of the mass killings in recent decades — at a Virginia college campus, a Colorado movie theater, a Wisconsin temple — but they took on an added sting when the victims included children.

The fact that the Newtown massacre, with 26 killed at the school, along with the gunman, was the second deadliest school shooting in the country’s history — after the 32 people killed at Virginia Tech in 2007 — once again made this process of examination urgent national business as details emerged from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

This painful corner of modern American history does offer some answers: Many of the mass killers had histories of mental illness, with warning signs missed by the people who knew them and their sometimes clear signs of psychological deterioration left unaddressed by the country’s mental health system.

The shootings almost always renew the debate about access to guns, and spur examination of security practices and missed warning signals in what were damaged lives.

Research on mass school killings shows that they are exceedingly rare. Amanda B. Nickerson, director of a center that studies school violence and abuse prevention at the University at Buffalo, said studies made clear that American schools were quite safe and that children were more likely to be killed outside of school.

But, she said, events like the Sandy Hook killings trigger fundamental fears. “When something like this happens,” she said, “everybody says it’s an epidemic, and that’s just not true.”

Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, may have earned singular infamy with the killing of 12 other students and a teacher from Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, but there have been others who breached the safety of American schoolhouses over the decades.

In 1927, a school board official in Bath, Mich., killed 44 people, including students and teachers, when he blew up the town’s school.

Even before Columbine in the late 1990s, school shootings seemed to be a national scourge, with killings in places like Jonesboro, Ark., and Springfield, Ore. In 2006, a 32-year-old man shot 11 girls at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pa., killing 5 of them.

Often in a haze of illness, the schoolhouse gunmen are usually aware of the taboo they are breaking by targeting children, said Dewey G. Cornell, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project. “They know it’s a tremendous statement that shocks people,” Dr. Cornell said, “and that is a reflection of their tremendous pain and their drive to communicate that pain.”

After 14-year-old Michael Carneal opened fire on a prayer group at Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., in 1997, it came out that he had made no secret of his plans. “He told me, once or twice, that he thought it would be cool to walk — or run — down the halls shooting people,” a friend from the school band testified later. Five Heath students were wounded; three were killed.

But some experts on school violence said Friday that it was not so much the character of the relatively rare schoolhouse gunman as it was the public perception of the shootings that transformed them into national and even international events. Dunblane, Scotland, is remembered for the day in 1996 when a 43-year-old man stormed a gym class of 5- and 6-year-olds, killing 16 children and a teacher.

Over the years there have been some indications of what warning signs to look for. The New York Times published an analysis in 2000 of what was known about 102 people who had committed 100 rampage killings at schools, job sites and public places like malls.

Most had left a road map of red flags, plotting their attacks and accumulating weapons. In the 100 rampage killings reviewed, 54 of the killers had talked explicitly of when and where they would act, and against whom. In 34 of the cases, worried friends or family members had desperately sought help in advance, only to be rebuffed by the police, school officials or mental health workers.

After the deaths in Sandy Hook on Friday, there was new talk of the need to be vigilant. But there has also been talk of the sober reality that it is hard to turn the ordinary places of life into fortresses.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, who is the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and has worked on school violence issues, said there were steps that could be taken to try to limit school violence, like limiting entry, developing an explicit disaster plan that includes strategies to lock down schools and pursuing close ties with the local police.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “random acts of severe violence like this are not possible to entirely prevent.”

    Nation’s Pain Is Renewed, and Difficult Questions Are Asked Once More, NYT, 14.12.2012,






At Brooklyn Gun Buyback,

Shooting Is Not Far From the Minds of Participants


December 15, 2012
5:44 pm
The New York Times


The shootings in Connecticut sent a few ripples into a Brooklyn church on Saturday, with at least some people saying that they gave up their weapons after learning about what happened in Newtown.

The church, Mount Ollie Baptist in Brownsville, was one of two places in the borough that took part in a gun buyback program run by the Police Department and the Brooklyn district attorney's office.

"That took a little toll on me," Samuel Price, 56, said of the Connecticut slayings. He had brought in a .38 caliber revolver that he said he found in a drawer used by a grandson.

The weapon might not have been his, but Mr. Price said that mattered little: "I did the right thing."

Nearby, the church's pastor, the Rev. Reginald Lee Bachus, said that a woman turned in three guns that had belonged to her husband. "Because of what happened yesterday," he added. "She did not want that on her conscience."

Outside the church, a man who declined to give his name said that what happened in Newtown was "a bit of a catalyst."

Under the buyback program, participants are paid up to $200 a weapon. As participants entered the church they turned over the weapons, many in plastic shopping bags, to uniformed police officers, who took the guns to a separate area where they were inspected and, if necessary, unloaded. People then waited for payment in the church basement where red and gold tinsel covered the walls.

Those who had turned in functioning weapons were given a debit card worth $200. Guns that did not function were good for $20.

On Saturday evening, the Brooklyn district attorney's office reported that the police had accepted 134 working guns, including 80 revolvers,
31 semi-automatic pistols, four rifles, three shotguns and a sawed-off shotgun.

One woman who turned over a pistol said she had been spurred by cases of children being shot much closer to home.

"In our area there have been many incidents," she said. "Here it's been more than twenty."

    At Brooklyn Gun Buyback, Shooting Is Not Far From the Minds of Participants, NYT, 15.12.2012,






Two Educators Went the Extra Mile for Students


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


One dressed up in goofy costumes to make her students smile.

Another was a psychologist — preparing to retire — who had seen generations of students through their parents’ divorces and difficult days.

Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist, were among the six adults killed at the school in the mass shooting on Friday, educators gunned down alongside the children they cared for as if they were their own.

Authorities did not release an official list of the victims’ names, but the other four were believed to be school staff members.

The unimaginable loss of 20 children consumed much of the nation on Friday. But in Newtown, Conn., a tight-knit community of about 25,000 bonded by its schools, a profound, personal ache was felt also for the school staff members who were killed.

Ms. Sherlach, 56, was remembered for her many years of helping students cope with problems that they were unprepared to handle.

And Ms. Hochsprung, 47, was mourned as a creative and dedicated educator who had quickly won over children and adults alike.

“I’m not surprised she gave her life in this fashion, trying to protect her students,” said Gerald Stomski, the first selectman of Woodbury, Conn., who knew Ms. Hochsprung.

Grief-stricken Sandy Hook parents spoke of the elementary school as an extension of their own homes, a haven of support for children and their families.

That environment was fostered by Ms. Hochsprung, who began her job there in 2010 and had used the time since then to tamp down any nervousness children felt approaching the proverbial “principal’s office.” Before taking the job at Sandy Hook, she had worked at other schools in Connecticut.

“She was not the kind of principal I remembered as a kid,” said Diane Licata, the mother of a first grader and a second grader at the school. “She really reached out to the students and made them feel comfortable with her. She definitely took that extra step.”

Ms. Hochsprung organized festive days she called Wacky Wednesdays, when students were encouraged to wear goofy clothes that did not match. She had students dress up as their favorite storybook characters, and she was known for dressing up herself. Sometimes, she brought her poodle to school.

She was no distant authority figure. Ms. Licata said her young children, who often skimped on details of their days, regularly came home with stories of what Ms. Hochsprung had done that day.

But for all the levity, Ms. Hochsprung also took education very seriously. She was the one who distributed long articles to colleagues about policy debates in Washington and highlighted news from the latest speech by Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.

She was also unusually tech savvy. She kept an active Twitter feed documenting the school — “In a fourth grade classroom right now,” she wrote in a recent message. She said she was impressed “by the caliber of instruction and by students’ deep thinking!”

Ms. Hochsprung believed that many students engaged better with electronic screens than with blackboards, and she made sure her teachers had iPads in the classroom. Then, she organized “Appy Hour” sessions to discuss the most useful teaching apps.

Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education, helped choose Ms. Hochsprung for the position. She recalled an eager applicant, filled with ideas and focused on “making sure we were turning out critical thinkers, making sure the children weren’t just turning out rote learning.”

Ms. Hochsprung and her husband had planned to retire someday to the Adirondacks, where they owned a home, a former neighbor, Bill LaCroix, said.

If Ms. Hochsprung was a relatively new face in the school, Ms. Sherlach was a fixture, a reliable ally for generations of children in need of counsel.

“When somebody had a personal tragedy in their lives that affected their children, then Mary would be a part of trying to help them come up with a solution for that child,” said Ms. Bittman, whose three children graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary.

Ms. Sherlach lived in Trumbull, Conn., with her husband, William, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley in Fairfield. The couple have two grown daughters, a high school choral teacher who lives in New Jersey and a chemistry doctoral student at Georgetown University, according to a biography of her husband posted on his company’s Web site.

As night fell on Friday, mourners streamed in and out of Ms. Sherlach’s home.

John Button, 57, a friend of Ms. Sherlach’s husband, said Ms. Sherlach was getting ready to retire.

“It was going to be her last year — that’s what she said,” he said. “She loved her job,” he added. “She’s done this for her whole career.”

He recalled vacationing in the Finger Lakes region of New York with the couple, who have a house there. He was supposed to play golf on Saturday morning with Mr. Sherlach.

“It’s ironic,” Mr. Button said. “At a time when kids need help, it was the school psychologist that was sacrificed.”

    Two Educators Went the Extra Mile for Students, NYT, 14.12.2012,






Why America Lets the Killings Continue


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


Gloucester, Mass.

MY wife and I learned about the Connecticut school shootings on our way home from the cemetery, where we had just finished observing the 20th anniversary of our son’s murder.

Our son Galen, who was 18, and a teacher were killed on Dec. 14, 1992, by a deranged student who went on a shooting rampage at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts. Galen was a gifted kid, and Simon’s Rock seemed like the perfect place for him. He’d never been happier. The killer had a vastly different reaction to this environment. After run-ins with college officials, he vowed to “bring the college to its knees.” He bought an SKS at a gun shop down the road, and obtained oversize clips and ammunition through the mail.

In the wake of Galen’s murder, I wrote a book about the shooting. In it I suggested that we view gun crime as a public health issue, much the same as smoking or pesticides. I spent a number of years attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, but eventually I gave up. Gun control, such a live issue in the “early” days of school shootings, inexplicably became a third-rail issue for politicians.

I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it. A terrible shame, but hey — didn’t some guy in China just do the same thing with a knife?

Still, whatever your position on gun control, it is impossible not to react with horror to news of the shootings in Connecticut. Our horror is nuanced by knowledge of what those families are going through, and what they will have to endure in years to come.

More horrible still — to me at least — is the inevitable lament, “How could we have let this happen?”

It is a horrible question because the answer is so simple. Make it easy for people to get guns and things like this will happen.

Children will continue to pay for a freedom their elders enjoy.


Gregory Gibson is the author of “Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth

in His Son’s Murder.”

    Why America Lets the Killings Continue, NYT, 14.12.2012,






Looking for America


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


“I’m sorry,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, her voice breaking. “I’m having a really tough time.”

She’s the former nurse from Long Island who ran for Congress in 1996 as a crusader against gun violence after her husband and son were victims of a mass shooting on a commuter train. On Friday morning, McCarthy said, she began her day by giving an interview to a journalist who was writing a general story about “how victims feel when a tragedy happens.”

“And then 15 minutes later, a tragedy happens.”

McCarthy, whose husband died and son was critically wounded, is by now a practiced hand at speaking out when a deranged man with a lot of firepower runs amok. But the slaughter of 20 small children and seven adults in Connecticut left her choked up and speechless.

“I just don’t know what this country’s coming to. I don’t know who we are any more,” she said.

President Obama was overwhelmed as well, when he attempted to comfort the nation. It was his third such address in the wake of a soul-wrenching mass shooting. “They had their entire lives ahead of them,” he said, and he had trouble saying anything more.

It was, of course, a tragedy. Yet tragedies happen all the time. Terrible storms strike. Cars crash. Random violence occurs. As long as we’re human, we’ll never be invulnerable.

But when a gunman takes out little children in a bucolic Connecticut suburb, three days after a gunman shot up a mall in Oregon, in the same year as fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, a coffee bar in Seattle and a college in California — then we’re doing this to ourselves.

We know the story. The shooter is a man, usually a young man, often with a history of mental illness. Sometimes in a rage over a lost job, sometimes just completely unhinged. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the air was full of experts discussing the importance of psychological counseling. “We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House.

Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god.

This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns. Over the past few years we’ve seen one shooting after another in which the killer was wielding weapons holding 30, 50, 100 bullets. I’m tired of hearing fellow citizens argue that you need that kind of firepower because it’s a pain to reload when you’re shooting clay pigeons. Or that the founding fathers specifically wanted to make sure Americans retained their right to carry rifles capable of mowing down dozens of people in a couple of minutes.

Recently the Michigan House of Representatives passed and sent to the governor a bill that, among other things, makes it easy for people to carry concealed weapons in schools. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger said that it might have meant “the difference between life and death for many innocent bystanders.” This is a popular theory of civic self-defense that discounts endless evidence that in a sudden crisis, civilians with guns either fail to respond or respond by firing at the wrong target.

It was perhaps the second-most awful remark on one of the worst days in American history, coming up behind Mike Huckabee’s asking that since prayer is banned from public schools, “should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

We will undoubtedly have arguments about whether tougher regulation on gun sales or extra bullet capacity would have made a difference in Connecticut. In a way it doesn’t matter. America needs to tackle gun violence because we need to redefine who we are. We have come to regard ourselves — and the world has come to regard us — as a country that’s so gun happy that the right to traffic freely in the most obscene quantities of weapons is regarded as far more precious than an American’s right to health care or a good education.

We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear.

Nearly two years ago, after Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in a mass shooting in Arizona, the White House sent up signals that Obama was preparing to do something. “I wouldn’t rule out that at some point the president talks about the issues surrounding gun violence,” said his press secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs.

On Friday, the president said: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

Time passes. And here we are.

    Looking for America, NYT, 14.12.2012,






A Gunman,

Recalled as Intelligent and Shy,

Who Left Few Footprints in Life


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


He carried a black briefcase to his 10th-grade honors English class, and sat near the door so he could readily slip in and out. When called upon, he was intelligent, but nervous and fidgety, spitting his words out, as if having to speak up were painful.

Pale, tall and scrawny, Adam Lanza walked through high school in Newtown, Conn., with his hands glued to his sides, the pens in the pocket of his short-sleeve, button-down shirts among the few things that his classmates recalled about him.

He did all he could to avoid attention, it seemed.

Until Friday.

The authorities said Mr. Lanza, 20, wearing combat gear, carried out one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history. He killed 20 children and six adults at the elementary school, they said. He then apparently turned his gun on himself. Earlier, the police said, he also killed his mother.

In his brief adulthood, Mr. Lanza had left few footprints, electronic or otherwise. He apparently had no Facebook page, unlike his older brother, Ryan, a Hoboken, N.J., resident who for several hours on Friday was misidentified in news reports as the perpetrator of the massacre.

Adam Lanza did not even appear in his high school yearbook, that of the class of 2010. His spot on the page said, “Camera shy.” Others who graduated that year said they did not believe he had finished school.

Matt Baier, now a junior at the University of Connecticut, and other high school classmates recalled how deeply uncomfortable Mr. Lanza was in social situations.

Several said in separate interviews that it was their understanding that he had a developmental disorder. They said they had been told that the disorder was Asperger’s syndrome, which is considered a high functioning form of autism.

“It’s not like people picked on him for it,” Mr. Baier said. “From what I saw, people just let him be, and that was that.”

Law enforcement officials said Friday that they were closely examining whether Mr. Lanza had such a disorder.

One former classmate who said he was familiar with the disorder described Mr. Lanza as having a “very flat affect,” adding, “If you looked at him, you couldn’t see any emotions going through his head.”

Others said Mr. Lanza’s evident discomfort prompted giggles from those who did not understand him.

“You could tell that he felt so uncomfortable about being put on the spot,” said Olivia DeVivo, also now at the University of Connecticut. “I think that maybe he wasn’t given the right kind of attention or help. I think he went so unnoticed that people didn’t even stop to realize that maybe there’s actually something else going on here — that maybe he needs to be talking or getting some kind of mental help. In high school, no one really takes the time to look and think, ‘Why is he acting this way?’ ”

Ms. DeVivo remembered Mr. Lanza from sixth grade and earlier, talking about aliens and “blowing things up,” but she chalked this up to the typical talk of prepubescent boys.

Still, after hearing of the news on Friday, Ms. DeVivo reconnected with friends from Newtown, and the consensus was stark. “They weren’t surprised,” she said. “They said he always seemed like he was someone who was capable of that because he just didn’t really connect with our high school, and didn’t really connect with our town.”

She added: “I never saw him with anyone. I can’t even think of one person that was associated with him.”

Mr. Baier, who sat next to Mr. Lanza in the back of their sophomore-year honors math class, said Mr. Lanza barely said a word all year, but earned high marks. He said he knew this only from peeking at Mr. Lanza’s scores when their teacher handed back their tests.

Out of view of his classmates, Mr. Lanza’s adolescence seemed to have been turbulent. In 2006, his older brother graduated high school and went to Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, leaving him alone with their parents — whose marriage was apparently coming apart.

In 2008, they divorced after 17 years, court records show. His father, Peter Lanza, a tax executive for General Electric, moved to Stamford, and in January 2011 married a woman who is a librarian at the University of Connecticut.

His mother, Nancy, kept their home in Newtown, a prosperous, hilly enclave of spacious, newer homes about five miles from the elementary school. Adam Lanza was thought to have been living in the house, too.

Friends remembered Ms. Lanza as being very involved in her sons’ lives.

“Their mother was very protective, very hands-on,” said Gina McDade, whose son was a playmate of Ryan Lanza’s and spent much time at his home, which she described as a two-story Colonial with a pool.

“It was a beautiful home,” Ms. McDade said. “She was a good housekeeper, better than me. You could tell her kids really came first.”

Beth Israel, 43, said she and her family lived down the street from the Lanzas, and her daughter went to school with Adam Lanza. She said she had not spoken to any members of the family in three years.

“He was a socially awkward kid,” Ms. Israel said. “He always had issues. He was kind of a loner. I don’t know who his friends were.”

She said she would speak with his mother on occasion, but said the family was not social.

On Friday, police officers and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation swarmed through the Lanzas’ neighborhood, blocking off streets and asking residents to leave their homes.

Throughout the afternoon, Ms. Lanza’s surviving son, Ryan, was named by some news outlets as the killer.

Ryan Lanza’s identification had been found on the body of his underage brother, leading to the mistaken reports.

Brett Wilshe, a neighbor of Ryan Lanza’s in Hoboken, said he communicated with him by instant message at 1:15 p.m.

“He said he thought his mom was dead, and he was heading back up to Connecticut,” Mr. Wilshe said. “He said, ‘It was my brother.’ ”

    A Gunman, Recalled as Intelligent and Shy, Who Left Few Footprints in Life, NYT, 14.12.2012,






‘Who Would Do This to Our Poor Little Babies’


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


NEWTOWN, Conn. — Gradually, the group of frantic parents shrank and was gently ushered to wait in a back room in the old brick firehouse around the corner from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The sounds of cartoons playing for restless children wafted incongruously through the air, but the adults were hushed. A police officer entered and put the parents’ worst fears into words: their children were gone. The wails that followed could be heard from outside, sounding the end of a horrifying shooting that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in the school.

It was about 9:30 a.m., when the school locks its doors to the outside world, demanding identification from visitors. What happened next sounded different depending on where you were in the school when a normal school day exploded.

Pops. Bangs. Thundering, pounding booms that echoed, and kept coming and coming. Screams and the cries of children ebbed, until there was only the gunfire.

Countless safety drills learned over generations kicked in. Teachers sprang to their doors and turned the locks tight. Children and adults huddled in closets, crawled under desks and crouched in classroom corners.

Laura Feinstein, a reading support teacher, reached for her telephone. “I called the office and said, ‘Barb, is everything O.K.?’ and she said, ‘There is a shooter in the building.’ ”

“I heard gunshots going on and on and on,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Even in the gym, the loudest room in any school on a given day, something sounded very wrong. “Really loud bangs,” said Brendan Murray, 9, who was there with his fourth-grade class. “We thought that someone was knocking something over. And we heard yelling and we heard gunshots. We heard lots of gunshots.”

“We heard someone say, “ ‘Put your hands up!’ ” Brendan said. “I heard, ‘Don’t shoot!’ We had to go into the closet in the gym.”

In the library, Yvonne Cech, a librarian, locked herself, an assistant and 18 fourth graders in a closet behind file cabinets while the sound of gunfire thundered outside.

Witnesses said later that they heard as many as 100 gunshots, but saw next to nothing in their hiding places. What was happening?

“Some people,” a little girl said later, searching for words, “they got a stomachache.”

The shooting finally stopped. Most teachers kept the children frozen in hiding. Some 15 minutes later, there was another sound, coming from the school intercom. It had been on the whole time. A voice said, “It’s O.K. It’s safe now.”

Brendan, in the gym, said, “Then someone came and told us to run down the hallway. There were police at every door. There were lots of people crying and screaming.”

The officers led children past the carnage. “They said ‘Close your eyes, hold hands.’” said Vanessa Bajraliu, 9. Outside, a nightmare version of the school was taking shape. Police officers swarmed with dogs and roared overhead in helicopters. There were armored cars and ambulances.

Inside, the librarians and children had been hiding in the closet for 45 minutes when a SWAT team arrived and escorted them out.

Word spread quickly through the small town. At nearby Danbury Hospital, doctors and nurses girded for an onslaught of wounded victims. “We immediately convened four trauma teams to be ready for casualties,” a spokeswoman, Andrea Rynn, said. Nurses, surgeons, internal medicine and imaging specialists, as well as staff members from pathology and the hospital lab, rushed to assemble in the emergency room to receive an influx of patients from the shooting. An influx that never arrived. Only three victims came to the hospital, two of whom did not survive. The rest were already dead.

“I’ve been here for 11 years,” Ms. Feinstein, the teacher, said. “I can’t imagine who would do this to our poor little babies.”

Another nurse who lives near the school hurried to the scene. “But a police officer came out and said they didn’t need any nurses,” she said. “So I knew it wasn’t good.”

Survivors gathered at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue station house, just down the street. Parents heard — on the radio, or on television, or via text messages or calls from an automated, emergency service phone tree — and came running. In the confusion, there were shrieks of joy as mothers and fathers were reunited with their children.

The parents whose children were unaccounted for were taken to the separate room, and a list of the missing was made. The pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church, Msgr. Robert Weiss, saw the list. “It was around, obviously, the number that passed away,” he said.

The Rev. Matthew Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church was there, too.

“It’s very agonizing for the families, but they are trying to be very meticulous,” he said. “But it is very difficult for people.”

A woman named Diane, a friend of a parent whose child was missing, said a state trooper had been assigned to each family. “I think there are 20 sets of parents over there,” she said.

In another room of the firehouse, there were the oddly joyous sounds of the cartoons. There were plates and pans of pizza and other donated food. No one touched it.

“There was a multifaith service with people sitting in folding chairs in a circle,” said John Woodall, a psychiatrist who lives nearby and went to the firehouse. “And after that, people milled around and waited for news.”

Outside, reunions continued. News, good and bad, was borne on the faces of the people around the school. Three women emerged with their arms around the one in the middle, protecting her. “We just want to get her home,” one said.

A few minutes later, a mother and father practically ran past in relief, a little girl in a light blue jacket riding on her father’s shoulders.

Brendan’s father had been at home about a mile away with his wife when the phone rang, a call from the automated alert system saying there was a lockdown at the school.

“At first we weren’t too nervous, because you hear of lockdowns happening all the time,” said his father, Sean Murray. “Like if there was a liquor store down here being robbed, all the schools would go into lockdown.”

They turned on the television and heard about the shooting, and how parents were being advised to stay away from the school. They ran to the car and went, and found Brendan waiting.

“It’s sick,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s sick that something like this could happen at an elementary school.”

Bonnie Fredericks, the owner of Sandy Hook Hair Company, said that many of the town’s children had gathered recently for the lighting of the village Christmas tree, down the street from her shop.

Twenty were gone now. “We’ll know all of them,” she said.

Beside her shop, a sandwich board outside a liquor store relayed a simple message, pasted over a sign advertising a beer special: “Say a prayer.”


Peter Applebome reported from Newtown, Conn.,

and Michael Wilson from New York City.

    ‘Who Would Do This to Our Poor Little Babies’, NYT, 14.12.2012,






Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children

at School in Connecticut


December 14, 2012
The New York Times


A 20-year-old man wearing combat gear and armed with semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle killed 26 people — 20 of them children — in an attack in an elementary school in central Connecticut on Friday. Witnesses and officials described a horrific scene as the gunman, with brutal efficiency, chose his victims in two classrooms while other students dove under desks and hid in closets.

Hundreds of terrified parents arrived as their sobbing children were led out of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in a wooded corner of Newtown, Conn. By then, all of the victims had been shot and most were dead, and the gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, had committed suicide. The children killed were said to be 5 to 10 years old.

A 28th person, found dead in a house in the town, was also believed to have been shot by Mr. Lanza. That victim, one law enforcement official said, was Mr. Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, who worked at the school. She apparently owned the guns he used.

The principal had buzzed Mr. Lanza in because she recognized him as the son of a colleague. Moments later, she was shot dead when she went to investigate the sound of gunshots. The school psychologist was also among those who died.

The rampage, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a gunman killed 32 people and then himself.

Law enforcement officials said Mr. Lanza had grown up in Newtown, and he was remembered by high school classmates as smart, introverted and nervous. They said he had gone out of his way not to attract attention when he was younger.

The gunman was chillingly accurate. A spokesman for the State Police said he left only one wounded survivor at the school. All the others hit by the barrage of bullets from the guns Mr. Lanza carried died, suggesting that they were shot at point-blank range. One law enforcement official said the shootings occurred in two classrooms in a section of the single-story Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Some who were there said the shooting occurred during morning announcements, and the initial shots could be heard over the school’s public address system. The bodies of those killed were still in the school as of 10 p.m. Friday.

The New York City medical examiner’s office sent a “portable morgue” to Newtown to help with the aftermath of the shootings, a spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, confirmed late Friday.

Law enforcement officials offered no hint of what had motivated Mr. Lanza. It was also unclear, one investigator said, why Mr. Lanza — after shooting his mother to death inside her home — drove her car to the school and slaughtered the children. “I don’t think anyone knows the answers to those questions at this point,” the official said. As for a possible motive, he added, “we don’t know much for sure.”

F.B.I. agents interviewed his brother, Ryan Lanza, in Hoboken, N.J. His father, Peter Lanza, who was divorced from Nancy Lanza, was also questioned, one official said.

Newtown, a postcard-perfect New England town where everyone seems to know everyone else and where there had lately been holiday tree lightings with apple cider and hot chocolate, was plunged into mourning. Stunned residents attended four memorial services in the town on Friday evening as detectives continued the search for clues, and an explanation.

Maureen Kerins, a hospital nurse who lives close to the school, learned of the shooting from television and hurried to the school to see if she could help.

“I stood outside waiting to go in, but a police officer came out and said they didn’t need any nurses,” she said, “so I knew it wasn’t good.”

In the cold light of Friday morning, faces told the story outside the stricken school. There were the frightened faces of children who were crying as they were led out in a line. There were the grim faces of women. There were the relieved-looking faces of a couple and their little girl.

The shootings set off a tide of anguish nationwide. In Illinois and Georgia, flags were lowered to half-staff in memory of the victims. And at the White House, President Obama struggled to read a statement in the White House briefing room. More than once, he dabbed his eyes.

“Our hearts are broken,” Mr. Obama said, adding that his first reaction was not as a president, but as a parent.

“I know there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same overwhelming grief that I do,” he said.

He called the victims “beautiful little kids.”

“They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” he said. Then the president reached up to the corner of one eye.

Mr. Obama called for “meaningful action” to stop such shootings, but he did not spell out details. In his nearly four years in office, he has not pressed for expanded gun control. But he did allude on Friday to a desire to have politicians put aside their differences to deal with ways to prevent future shootings.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who went to Newtown, called the shootings “a tragedy of unspeakable terms.”

“Evil visited this community today,” he said.

Lt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, described “a very horrific and difficult scene” at the school, which had 700 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It had a security protocol that called for doors to be locked during the day and visitors to be checked on a video monitor inside.

“You had to buzz in and out and the whole nine yards,” said a former chairwoman of the Newtown board of education, Lillian Bittman. “When you buzz, you come up on our screen.”

The lock system did not go into effect until 9:30 each morning, according to a letter to parents from the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, that was posted on several news Web sites. The letter was apparently written earlier in the school year.

It was Ms. Hochsprung, who recognized Mr. Lanza because his mother worked at the school, who let him in on Friday. Sometime later, she heard shots and went to see what was going on.

Lieutenant Vance said the Newtown police had called for help from police departments nearby and began a manhunt, checking “every nook and cranny and every room.”

Officers were seen kicking in doors as they worked their way through the school.

Lieutenant Vance said the students who died had been in two classrooms. Others said that as the horror unfolded, students and teachers tried to hide in places the gunman would not think to look. Teachers locked the doors, turned off the lights and closed the blinds. Some ordered students to duck under their desks.

The teachers did not explain what was going on, but they did not have to. Everyone could hear the gunfire.

Yvonne Cech, a school librarian, said she had spent 45 minutes locked in a closet with two library clerks, a library catalog assistant and 18 fourth graders.

“The SWAT team escorted us out,” she said, and then the children were reunited with their parents.

Lieutenant Vance said 18 youngsters were pronounced dead at the school and two others were taken to hospitals, where they were declared dead. All the adults who were killed at the school were pronounced dead there.

Law enforcement officials said the weapons used by the gunman were a Sig Sauer and a Glock, both handguns. The police also found a Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine.

One law enforcement official said the guns had not been traced because they had not yet been removed from the school, but state licensing records or permits apparently indicated that Ms. Lanza owned weapons of the same makes and models.

“He visited two classrooms,” said a law enforcement official at the scene, adding that those two classrooms were adjoining.

The first 911 call was recorded about 9:30 and said someone had been shot at the school, an almost unthinkable turn of events on what had begun as just another chilly day in quiet Newtown. Soon, frantic parents were racing to the school, hoping their children were all right. By 10:30, the shooting had stopped. By then, the police had arrived with dogs.

“There is going to be a black cloud over this area forever,” said Craig Ansman, who led his 4-year-old daughter from the preschool down the street from the elementary school. “It will never go away.”


Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Al Baker, Charles V. Bagli, Susan Beachy, Jack Begg, David W. Chen, Alison Leigh Cowan, Robert Davey, Matt Flegenheimer, Joseph Goldstein, Emmarie Huetteman, Kristin Hussey, Thomas Kaplan, Elizabeth Maker, Patrick McGeehan, Sheelagh McNeill, Michael Moss, Andy Newman, Richard Pérez-Peña, Jennifer Preston, William K. Rashbaum, Motoko Rich, Ray Rivera, Liz Robbins, Emily S. Rueb, Eric Schmitt, Michael Schwirtz, Kirk Semple, Wendy Ruderman, Jonathan Weisman, Vivian Yee and Kate Zernike.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 15, 2012

An earlier version of this article suggested that the gunman in the Connecticut shooting used a rifle to carry out the shootings inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School. In fact, according to law enforcement, the guns used in the school shooting were both handguns.

    Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut, NYT, 14.12.2012,






Detectives ‘Found Nothing’

in Search of Shooting Victim’s California Home,

Mother Says


December 13, 2012
The New York Times


No drugs. No weapons. No evidence of any kind was removed by New York City detectives from the California home of the man who was gunned down this week in Midtown Manhattan, the victim’s mother said Thursday.

“They handed me back the key to his condo and said they found nothing,” said Sandra Wellington, 56, the mother of Brandon Lincoln Woodard, 31, who was shot in the back of the head near Columbus Circle on Monday.

Despite the seemingly fruitless search of her son’s Playa del Rey condominium on Wednesday evening, two detectives drove to Ms. Wellington’s Los Angeles home and offered her some hope, she said.

“One of the detectives said they are very close,” Ms. Wellington said in a telephone interview.

“The detectives promised me that they will find the people who did this to my son,” she added.

Yet a day after what appeared to be a break in the case — the discovery of the rented getaway vehicle in Queens — the New York police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said investigators still had no suspects.

“We’re certainly not in the position to identify a suspect here,” he said at an unrelated news conference.

However, Mr. Kelly’s statement seemed to contradict reports saying the driver had been identified and citing a law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, later said in a statement — released to some reporters — that the police were concerned about reports that the driver had been identified, adding that the gunman, “who appears to be a professional,” may want to kill the driver.

Mr. Kelly said detectives knew who had rented the car, a Lincoln MKZ, from an Avis location in Long Island, but he declined to provide details on what relationship they had, if any, to the calculated killing on 58th Street, a block from Central Park.

Detectives on Wednesday questioned a person who they believed may have information on the killing. By Thursday, they had homed in on a name for the driver of the car, according to a person familiar with the case.

The driver was characterized as a low-level criminal from Queens, and detectives were operating on the theory that the gunman had a similar background, the person said.

The absence of new details fueled the mystery surrounding the killing, which appeared to have been highly planned and carried out with a chilling degree of calm in a busy area. Rumors swirled among friends of Mr. Woodard in Los Angeles. “Everyone is scared,” said one friend.

With microphones and cameras pressed in to record his words, Mr. Kelly chastised the news media for publishing what he described as leaked information. “I would also say that leaks in this case are undermining — or certainly have the potential of undermining — the investigation,” he said.

Detectives had told Ms. Wellington that they would provide her with an inventory sheet listing any items taken from her son’s three-story home. But after about two hours of searching, two detectives from New York drove over to Ms. Wellington’s Los Angeles home at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday and told her there was no need to sign any police paperwork, she said.

“They just didn’t have a piece of paper for me to sign because they didn’t have anything,” she said. She added that investigators already had her son’s laptop because Mr. Woodard had left it with his luggage, which he had dropped with a lobby valet at the hotel where he was staying.

The police have said that Mr. Woodard, a University of West Los Angeles Law School student, had been arrested at least 20 times, mostly on drug offenses, but had spent little time in jail. He had a court date next month in Los Angeles on a cocaine possession charge.


William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

    Detectives ‘Found Nothing’ in Search of Shooting Victim’s California Home, Mother Says, NYT, 13.12.2012,






Hunt for Midtown Killer

Focuses on Queens After Getaway Car, a Rental,

Is Found


December 12, 2012
The New York Times


The search for the gunman who carried out the brazen murder of a man in Midtown Manhattan has intensified in Queens, where investigators found the getaway car, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Wednesday.

Investigators were able to track the vehicle, which was seen on surveillance video that had recorded the shooting, through a license-plate reader, Mr. Kelly said.

The vehicle, a Lincoln sedan, had been rented from an Avis outlet on Long Island. Crime scene investigators were processing it for evidence after obtaining a search warrant, according to a law enforcement official.

By Wednesday evening, police detectives were questioning someone in connection with the case, another law enforcement official said. The official said the person, though in possession of relevant information, should not be characterized as a suspect.

“At this point, I wouldn’t even classify it as a person of interest, but that could change dramatically,” said the official, who like the other official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on an active investigation.

Detectives on the East and West Coasts were trying to learn more about the Monday afternoon shooting of Brandon Lincoln Woodard, a 31-year-old party and club promoter from Los Angeles.

Detectives were operating on the theory that the crime was somehow motivated by drugs and money, even if the exact nature of the debts or grievances remained somewhat unclear, according to one of the officials.

Mr. Woodard, from a successful family in California, was enrolled in law school, but also had a criminal record that included at least 20 arrests.

Part of the inquiry has focused on who knew where Mr. Woodard would be at the time he was killed, and investigators have sifted through the information on his three cellphones to try to determine whom he may have been in contact with, the official said.

Mr. Woodard arrived on a Delta Air Lines flight to Kennedy International Airport around 5 p.m. on Sunday. Just after 6:30 p.m., he checked into a boutique hotel, 6 Columbus, near Columbus Circle, a few blocks from where he was killed. A woman from Queens met Mr. Woodard that night at the hotel, where they watched the Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers, Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Woodard and the woman then dined at a nearby restaurant. The woman did not return with Mr. Woodard to the hotel, Mr. Kelly said.

At the time of the shooting, Mr. Woodard appeared to be looking up an address or location on his smartphone, Mr. Kelly said. Investigators are trying to determine if the killer or someone connected to the murder had lured Mr. Woodard to the spot where he was shot, on West 58th Street near Broadway.

After checking out of his room shortly before the shooting, Mr. Woodard left his luggage with staff members in the lobby of the hotel. “He said words to the effect that ‘I’ll be back for my luggage,’ ” Mr. Kelly said, adding that he did not say when he would return.

“We don’t know specifically why he was here,” the commissioner added.

Video surveillance of the shooting shows what appears to be a carefully orchestrated killing:

The gunman lurks near the corner of 58th Street and Seventh Avenue. He lingers near the curb, several feet away from where the getaway car is parked. Mr. Woodard comes into the frame; he first walks by the car, a Lincoln sedan MKZ, and then passes the gunman. As Mr. Woodard crosses Seventh Avenue, heading east, the gunman walks in the opposite direction. He stops at the car and appears to lean into the passenger side to talk to the driver.

Moments later, Mr. Woodard doubles back, heading toward the killer and the getaway car. He glances at his smartphone and looks up and around, as if searching for a number on a building. The killer approaches from behind. Mr. Woodard, sensing someone at his heels, glances back. The killer turns his face away, fixing his gaze elsewhere. Mr. Woodard does not appear to recognize the gunman and continues on.

The killer swoops in directly behind Mr. Woodard and shoots him in the back of the head at close range. As the bullet enters Mr. Woodard’s skull, the gunman turns his head away, a movement that investigators suspect was done to prevent blood splatter from hitting his face. He calmly walks away and climbs into the Lincoln, which is already easing into traffic.

At the time of the shooting, the sidewalk appeared largely empty of pedestrians. The only witness to the shooting, a woman who was several feet away, told the police that she did not notice the gunman; she was too focused on the young man who lay sprawled on the ground in a widening pool of blood.

The video-surveillance tape suggests that the shooting was done by professionals and that Mr. Woodard may have been lured to the spot where he was killed, perhaps after the getaway driver placed a phone call, investigators believe.

“I think it’s fair to assume that they knew he was going to be at that location,” Mr. Kelly said Tuesday.


Joseph Goldstein and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

    Hunt for Midtown Killer Focuses on Queens After Getaway Car, a Rental, Is Found, NYT, 12.12.2012,






3 Dead, Including Gunman, in Shooting at Oregon Mall


December 12, 2012
The New York Times


A gunman opened fire in a shopping mall in suburban Portland, Ore., on Tuesday, killing at least two people and severely injuring another before killing himself. About 3:30 p.m., the police said they received calls about a shooting in progress at the Clackamas Town Center in Happy Valley.

The police provided few details. “We believe that there was one and only one shooter involved,” Lt. James Rhodes of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said in a televised news conference. “The shooter is dead of an apparent self-inflicted wound.” He said that officers had fired no rounds.

The authorities did not immediately release the identity of the gunman or the victims.

At least 10,000 people were in the mall at the time of the shooting, the police said. Witnesses told local news agencies that the gunman was wearing dark clothing and a mask. As the gunman fired, shoppers and employees fled, some locking themselves in back rooms, said Sgt. Adam Phillips of the Sheriff’s Office.

“I was sitting there by the door watching what was going on, and then some guy just ran by in a white mask and an assault rifle, and then I look out because I hear a few shots,” Mariah Saldana, an employee at Macy’s, told Portland’s KGW television. “He’s sitting there and he’s pointing the gun at some people, so we ran to the fitting room, grabbed some people then ran out to the back exit to get out of there.”

Shaun Wik, 20, a security guard, was in the mall’s food court when gunfire erupted. He said he heard several bursts of gunfire, then someone he believed to be the gunman shouted, “Everyone on the ground.”

“It was pandemonium,” Mr. Wik said by telephone. “People were diving under stuff, shoving each other, running to get out the door.”

There have been a number of shootings in public places across the country in recent months. In October, a gunman opened fire at a day spa in a Milwaukee suburb, killing three women, including his ex-wife, before killing himself. In August, in another Milwaukee suburb, a self-proclaimed white supremacist killed six people at a Sikh temple before being killed by the police. Two weeks before that, a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 60 in an attack on a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

    3 Dead, Including Gunman, in Shooting at Oregon Mall, NYT, 13.12.2012,






Tracing a Victim’s Path in Life to a Brazen Killing in Midtown


December 11, 2012
The New York Times


A single bullet. A nickel-plated gun. Two suspects, lying in wait in the light drizzle of a Monday afternoon in Midtown, stalking their victim for nearly 30 minutes.

The target came down West 58th Street, toward Broadway, his eyes focused on a smartphone in that familiar modern pose. He appeared for a second to glimpse his hooded assailant, the police said, but, not recognizing him, turned around again.

The gunman then fired a bullet into the back of the victim’s head and, without apparent urgency or panic, stepped into a waiting car to blend into the midday traffic near Columbus Circle.

It seemed like a movie-script murder out of Hollywood, a mysterious targeted killing of a law school student visiting from Los Angeles that left detectives on two coasts scouring for evidence and a logical motive. On Tuesday, a better picture of the victim, Brandon Lincoln Woodard, began to emerge along with details about his final hours, deepening the intrigue over his murder.

The gun had been used before, in a 2009 shooting in Queens. Mr. Woodard had flown to New York only Sunday, with plans to return to the West Coast the next day.

“He had a law school exam,” said Christiane Roussell, a lawyer in Los Angeles who grew up with Mr. Woodard in Ladera Heights. The police said he had no return ticket.

Mr. Woodard, 31, was the scion of a successful family in California. His life had been a blend of achievement and puzzling setbacks that included at least 20 arrests, mostly in California, the police said.

His relatives were entrepreneurs, lawyers and trailblazers; his grandfather, Leonard Woods, was a celebrated drag racer. His mother, Sandra Wellington, ran a once-successful mortgage business, and sent him to private Episcopal schools in Los Angeles and North Hollywood.

This summer, California authorities revoked her company’s license to lend or service mortgages, citing violations of the state financial code.

Mr. Woodard was a promising student who played varsity basketball in high school at Campbell Hall, and always dressed impeccably, his relatives and friends said. At the time, he was in the local chapter of Jack and Jill of America — a national, invitation-only society of middle- and upper-class black families. Those years, friends said, children from the club could be found poolside at parties at his family’s home.

That background, and his gregarious nature, made him a fixture on the party and club scene in Los Angeles, his friends said. He drove a Range Rover in college at Loyola Marymount University, but, as one friend said, “his personality was his bling.” This month, he had his eye on a Mercedes CL 6.3 AMG that he hoped to buy, a cousin said.

As a partyer and promoter, Mr. Woodard made himself a part of a world of expensive alcohol and private tables where, friends said, people with elite pedigrees rubbed elbows with stars and professional athletes — as well as with a rougher crowd.

Several friends in Los Angeles said that in recent years he had been sliding into the darker side of club life.

“I know him as a good person,” said Dennis Christopher White, 32, a friend of Mr. Woodard’s for about 10 years, who met him playing basketball in Los Angeles. “He’s like a brother or a cousin to me. He’s very humble.”

But as Mr. White married and pursued a career in government work, he saw less of Mr. Woodard, who continued his busy presence in the city’s night-life scene.

“You never know who he meets,” Mr. White said. “I didn’t get a chance to know that part of him.”

Mr. Woodard’s mother, Ms. Wellington, 56, said she believed that all of his arrests came when he was a juvenile, but court records clearly indicated that he had more recent arrests and misdemeanor convictions.

In 2009, for example, Mr. Woodard was arrested on robbery charges in Hermosa Beach, a Los Angeles suburb, after he struggled with a supermarket guard who tried to stop him from stealing several bottles of wine. The police said he fled in a car, hit two other cars, abandoned his car, hailed a cab and fled.

He had a court date in Los Angeles in January on a charge of cocaine possession.

Mr. Woodard had hosted several dozen guests at a party at his condo in Playa Vista on Saturday night to watch the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. His last message on Facebook, posted from Los Angeles at 12:41 a.m. on Sunday after Marquez’s surprising early-round knockout of Pacquiao: “The fix was in tonight.”

He flew to New York and got a room at 6 Columbus, a hotel just blocks from the spot where he was killed. A friend in New York, who gave his name only as Earl, said Mr. Woodard had a girlfriend in the city, but added that his activities were often mysterious: “He lived a little Batman-ish — a little secretive.”

Mr. Woodard had three telephones, two on him at the time of the shooting and another in his luggage, said the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly. He said the police had not identified the plate number on the getaway vehicle, but said a similar sedan had been seen leaving Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel at 2:15 p.m., roughly 20 minutes after the killing.

The gunshot left a single shell on the Midtown pavement.

Mr. Woodard’s mother said that her son had planned to stay in New York City for two days to visit a friend. He asked her to pick him up at Los Angeles International Airport at 5 p.m. Pacific time on Monday and she agreed to do so, she said.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said, speaking from her home in Los Angeles. “We don’t know why anyone would harm him. We have no idea. He didn’t have any enemies. Not one. He liked to tell jokes. He liked to have his friends over to entertain.”

Mr. Woodard had checked out of his hotel about 45 minutes before he was killed, Mr. Kelly said in a news conference on Tuesday. It was possible, he added, that Mr. Woodard was lured out of the hotel.

A surveillance video captured the shooting and the getaway vehicle, a Lincoln MKX, but not its license plate.

“It was very brazen,” Mr. Kelly said. “There were a lot of people in that general area. Obviously, a lot of cameras in New York City. So you could characterize it as either being brazen or being foolhardy. We’ll see.”

The police later matched the gun used to kill Mr. Woodard to a shooting on Nov. 22, 2009, at a residence at St. Albans, Queens, in which two men fired at least 12 shots, piercing windows and the siding of the house. There were seven people inside, but no one was injured, and there were no arrests, the police said.

There was no known motive for that shooting, just as in this case.

A cousin of Mr. Woodard’s, Anthony Woodard, 50, said Brandon’s mother had not been able to accept the fact that her son was dead.

“The only thing she keeps saying is, ‘When is he coming home? When is my son coming home?’ and we have to tell her, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ She does not want to sleep until her son comes home.”

He added: “This is far beyond anyone’s imagination. That’s her only child.”


Reporting was contributed by Jack Begg, Sheelagh McNeill

and William K. Rashbaum in New York and Noah Gilbert in Los Angeles.

Reporting was contributed by Jack Begg, Sheelagh McNeill

and William K. Rashbaum in New York and Noah Gilbert in Los Angeles.

    Tracing a Victim’s Path in Life to a Brazen Killing in Midtown, NYT, 11.12.2012,






The Great Gun Gag


December 6, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times


On national television, you can talk about the sordid details of your sex life, the depth of your religious piety or your belief that an organization that no longer exists, Acorn, stole the 2012 presidential election -- a fantasy held by half of Republicans. You can call climate change a hoax, you can say the moon landing never happened, you can even praise Alex Rodriguez, though you shouldn't.

But you cannot talk about the 300 million or more guns circulating in private hands in the United States. The most armed society in the world, ranked first among 179 nations in the rate of gun ownership, had 9,146 gun homicides in 2009. The same year, Canada had 173. But don't bring that up.

In Florida, it was against the law -- until the law was blocked by a federal judge last summer -- for hospital doctors to even ask about firearms ownership of victims, even though gunshot wounds account for 1 in 25 emergency room visits.

Conservatives complain about anti-free-speech vigilantes who keep incendiary voices of the right from being heard on college campuses, and they have a valid point. But some of these same First Amendment defenders are the first to smother any talk about the American weapons culture. The gun gag rules.

The latest public figure to face the shame shower is Bob Costas, the sports broadcaster who occasionally steps outside the chalk lines of the games he covers. Last Sunday, a day in late autumn devoted as usual to the lucrative violence of professional football, Costas spoke about a more tragic kind of violence. In passing on the words of a local writer, he wondered whether the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend might still be alive had guns not been so readily available. Belcher, who kept a handgun on the kitchen table and an assault rifle in the den, shot Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their infant child, and then himself last weekend.

Costas made his brief remarks at halftime of the Sunday night game. Within minutes, the censors went after him. Top Republicans called for his resignation. Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, who are to reasoned argument what salt is to a slug, condemned him. And Herman Cain, the pizza guy who at one point led the Republican presidential primary field in the polls, passed on this tweet: "Excuse me, Bob Costas, but you are an idiot, so shut up."

Those last two words pretty much define the current climate regarding debate about guns and violence. In this country, it is the issue that dare not speak its name.

Costas said later he had nothing against the Second Amendment. But our gun culture more often than not leads to tragedy, he noted. In this, he was stating a fact, not an opinion. "Give me one example of an athlete -- and I know it's happened in society -- but give me one example of a professional athlete who by virtue of having a gun took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the better," he said.

My sentiments are with Costas. I've lost friends and family members to gun violence. Still, I have nothing against people exercising their Second Amendment rights. Adults can have all the guns they want, but please -- they should understand that their arsenal makes them less safe.

People with guns in the home are at a far greater risk of dying of homicide than those without, the American Journal of Epidemiology reported in 2004. For men, the likelihood of death by suicide is much higher if a gun is nearby. And 90 percent of suicide attempts by gun are successful; for willful drug overdoses, the rate is only 2 percent.

Understandably, people buy guns for self-defense. But a gun in the home is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member, or a visitor, than an intruder, a 2010 study by the official journal of the Southern Medical Association found.

For all those grim numbers, the United States is not the most violent society. Drug oligarchies and broken tribal nations are much more lethal places to live. But among the 23 wealthiest countries, the United States is easily the bloodiest: homicide gun rates are 19.5 times higher here than in any other high-income country, Politifact reported.

Going into a theater or a mall in America can be a risky thing, as recent mass shootings have shown. I just returned from Idaho, where people are buying guns at a record clip because of the delusional fear that President Obama is going to take them away. The safest place in Idaho, by far, is just inside the security line at the Boise airport, where a big sign warns people that they will soon be entering a mandatory gun-free zone.

How these basic truths came to be treated as unmentionables is a tribute to the gun lobby's power to strangle debate on even simple safety questions. At the same time, they have all but shut down public health research into gun violence.

For the politicians and pundits who do the gun industry's bidding, the First Amendment does not apply to the Second Amendment. It took a sportscaster, accustomed to parsing the nuances of a stunt blitz, to break the code of shameful silence.

    The Great Gun Gag, NYT, 6.12.2012,






Chiefs Linebacker Commits Suicide at Stadium


December 1, 2012
The New York Times


With his coach looking on, a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed himself outside the team’s practice facility Saturday morning, less than an hour after he killed his girlfriend, according to the police.

The player was identified as Jovan Belcher, 25, said Darin Snapp, a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department, and his girlfriend was identified as Kasandra Perkins, 22.

The harrowing morning began at a house on Crysler Avenue in Kansas City, Mo., that Belcher shared with Perkins. About 7 a.m., with his mother and his infant daughter in another room, Belcher shot Perkins multiple times, Snapp said.

When the police arrived after the shooting, Belcher’s mother, Cheryl E. Shepherd, told them that her son had shot Perkins, Snapp said. Shepherd told the police that Perkins was like her own daughter, and that it was not immediately clear what had triggered the violence. Perkins was taken to a hospital, where she died a short time later, the police said.

After shooting Perkins, the police said, Belcher made the 15-minute drive to the team’s practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Kansas City police received a call a little after 8 a.m. from a member of the Chiefs’ security staff who said that he saw Belcher pull up to the parking lot with a gun and that Belcher was threatening suicide, Snapp said. When the officers arrived, they saw Coach Romeo Crennel, General Manager Scott Pioli and another Chiefs employee, who was not identified, standing in the parking lot talking to Belcher.

Snapp said that they had been talking about four or five minutes — the time it took for the police to arrive. As the officers pulled up, Belcher walked away from Crennel and Pioli and shot himself, Snapp said.

In their preliminary interview with the police, Pioli and Crennel said that they were never threatened by Belcher and never in fear. Belcher thanked them for everything they had done for him since he had been with the Chiefs, Snapp said.

Clark Hunt, the team’s owner, issued a statement that said: “The entire Chiefs family is deeply saddened by today’s events, and our collective hearts are heavy with sympathy, thoughts and prayers for the families and friends affected by this unthinkable tragedy. We sincerely appreciate the expressions of sympathy and support we have received from so many in the Kansas City and N.F.L. communities, and ask for continued prayers for the loved ones of those impacted.”

According to his biography with the Chiefs, Belcher played linebacker, offensive tackle, nose guard and fullback at West Babylon High School on Long Island. In his senior year, the team was undefeated in the regular season for the first time. He was also a three-time prep all-American as a wrestler. During his four-year career at the University of Maine, Belcher started every game; as a junior he was an Associated Press second-team all-American. But he was not drafted by an N.F.L. team.

In 2009, he signed as a free agent with the Chiefs and proved himself on the practice squad and on special teams, not an unusual path for an undrafted player from a lower-level program.

From there, Belcher’s rise was rapid. He started 15 of 16 games at linebacker in 2010, and every game last season. This year, he started 10 of the 11 games the Chiefs have played, with 38 tackles.

The Chiefs, who are 1-10 this season, announced Saturday afternoon that they would play Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers as scheduled at Arrowhead.

Fans have persistently called for the firing of the team’s top management. But after news of the shooting, a demonstration against the team’s leadership that had been planned for Sunday’s game was called off. On Facebook, a group calling itself Save Our Chiefs released a statement that said, “We feel that tomorrow’s game is neither the proper place nor the proper time to continue these activities, but rather tomorrow’s game should be a time for all fans to come together and help this team recover from a great tragedy.”

Joe Linta, the agent for Belcher and Crennel, said Saturday that he had not yet spoken to Crennel but that he had been stunned by the news.

“I had every reason to believe he was a well-spoken, articulate man who exhibited a lot of genuineness,” Linta said of Belcher in a telephone interview. “We identified him coming out of college as a kid who was a good athlete and a good person.”

Linta said Belcher and Crennel, who is often called by his nickname RAC, had “tremendous” respect for each other.

“Romeo told me that from Day 1, Javon thought the world of RAC, and that makes it all the more tragic,” Linta said.

Linta, who is based in New Haven, added that Belcher had appeared at charity events in Connecticut.

“When you deal with a kid who you have seen nothing but genuineness and charity, interacting with inner-city kids, the way he acted around anybody he came across up here, everybody he met would say, ‘What a pleasant kid,’ ” Linta said. “You would have to look long and hard to find somebody that didn’t speak glowingly about him.”

He added, “Numb and shock, that’s the way to describe it.”

Friends and former teammates said Belcher was mild-mannered and quiet and that the news came as a shock.

Anthony Becht, who was a tight end for the Chiefs last season and whose locker was just a few stalls away from Belcher’s, said he never saw any hints of problems in his personal life.

“He’s a very quiet kid, a nice guy — a hard-working kid,” Becht said. “He worked his way up from a small college to being a starter in the N.F.L. You never know what would trigger that. I would never — if I’d try to think of someone who would do this, I wouldn’t have ever thought it was this kid.”

Becht added: “There was nothing about him that seemed abnormal; it’s not like he was on the field ripping guys’ heads off. He was a hard-nosed player, he practiced hard; in the locker room, he’d hang out. What could have caused him to make him do that?”

Belcher and Perkins’s daughter, Zoey Michelle, was featured on Perkins’s Instagram page. It includes photographs of Perkins while she was pregnant, at the Chiefs’ complex and in the hospital holding Zoey, who was born Sept. 11. One photograph shows a smiling Perkins and Belcher with the baby. Zoey was unharmed, the police said, and was in the care of Shepherd, Belcher’s mother.

Snapp, in televised briefings with local stations, said there were reports of trouble between Belcher and Perkins. “We had heard that they had been arguing in the past,” Snapp said.

In West Babylon, at the home of Shepherd, friends and relatives gathered Saturday to toast him, playing songs and displaying photos and football memorabilia.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Ruben Marshall, 42, a family friend who had coached Belcher in the town’s youth football league. “I didn’t want to believe it. He was a good man. A good, loving father, a family man.”


Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting from West Babylon, N.Y.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 1, 2012

A previous version of this article misstated the surname

for Jovan Belcher’s mother, Cheryl. It is Shepherd, not Miles.

    Chiefs Linebacker Commits Suicide at Stadium, NYT, 1.12.2012,










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