How could it happen here?
With every unspeakable mass murder that has haunted small-town America, it has been a common theme for those communities to unify in a sentiment of breathless incredulity.
In Littleton, Virginia Tech, Oak Creek and Aurora, shocked friends, colleagues and members of victims’ families were in disbelief over the unthinkable evil that descended upon their otherwise isolated, idealized home.
Now in Newtown, a place with a population of 27,000 and one murder in 10 years, residents are forced to try to comprehend the systematic, close-range slaughter of 20 children and six public servants at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
With its chilling name, Sandy Hook becomes the darkest bead on the nation’s bloody necklace of gun massacres in public arenas. The tragedy in Connecticut Friday wasn’t the deadliest single-day shooting in American history, but it was the most heart breaking and demands the most introspection.
How could it happen at a high school? A university? A temple? A movie theater? A K-4 elementary school?
Most of all, how could it happen in this country, the land of the free, whose constitution pledges to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty?
But where would one expect these types of massacres to occur? In cities? In places of war?
Here in Philadelphia there have been 74 gun murders this year, according to the 2012 Homicide Report. The most recent data indicates that one American has died in Iraq in all of 2012.
The simple answer to the despairing question offered by those whom these tragedies affect most closely is that single-day massacres can occur in any area where incapable citizens are given access to guns.
Guns don’t kill people; they kill a lot of people. When legally granted to mentally unstable or disturbed citizens, gun ownership turns from a constitutional right into a vessel for the unthinkable.
By no coincidence has the unthinkable been happening at a shocking rate in the United States, the worldwide leader in guns.
There are guns in 47 percent of American households, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll, the highest percentage in the U.S. since 1993. In Philadelphia, there were more than 5,600 licenses to carry firearms based on the most recent estimates from the city.
American citizens are given easy access to guns and the result is widespread ownership, including by people who aren’t qualified to purchase and operate a firearm. Quite frankly, not enough is done to restrict the process.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System was implemented by the FBI in 1998 to provide an immediate criminal background check on any individual purchasing a firearm. However, the NICS is limited in its ability to check on a person’s history of mental illness.
A ban on the manufacture of semi-automatic firearms for civilian use was enacted in 1994, but expired 10 years later.
All of the shooters in the Columbine, Virginia Tech and Aurora movie theater massacres had a clean criminal record, but were all described as mentally disturbed. They all used semi-automatic weapons or assault rifles.
The suspect in the Sandy Hook massacre reportedly has no criminal record, but appears to have had a personality disorder. He used two handguns and a rifle to murder children ages 6 and 7 at close range.
While the mentally disturbed are the perpetrators of these heinous acts, it’s their access to guns that allows these miscreants to take violence to a macabre level.
In a similar event of uncanny relevance, another man descended upon an elementary school Friday with the intent to murder children. A 36-year-old Chinese man attacked occupants of a primary school in the village of Chengping in Henan Province. Twenty-two children were stabbed, but none were killed.
The families of those Chinese victims will be able to hold their children close and be thankful for their lives, thankful perhaps that the man didn’t have a gun.
The families of the victims in Connecticut are left only with memories and photographs, and the sickening notion of measures that could have been taken to prevent their lives from being destroyed.
President Barack Obama vowed to take “meaningful action” to avoid another tragedy like Sandy Hook in a press conference Friday. In October, he spoke in support of renewing the ban on assault rifles.
There have been multiple attempts to renew the assault rifles ban since it expired in 2004, but no bill has reached the floor for a vote.
Friday’s events in Connecticut have to be the last straw.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.