As details about the deadly mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., continue to trickle in, one thing is clear: It’s far too early to make any concrete statements about how America’s gun control policy — and any potential changes — should proceed.
In addition to the blinding nature of raw emotions so soon after an incident such as Friday’s shooting, which reportedly left 20 children and seven others dead, we simply don’t yet have all the facts. The hours after the tragedy — one of the most deadly school shootings in the nation’s history — were fraught with erroneous information, confused law enforcement and media reports and speculation.
The incident initially was reported with one fatality (the shooter) and a teacher having been shot in the foot. Suddenly, the reports said 12 killed. Then it was revised to 27 or 28 dead. Later, a law enforcement official tried to downplay the tally, saying only “several” people were killed. Eventually we learned the true numbers.
Other reports indicated conflicting information about the number of shooters — some media outlets were reporting a manhunt for a second suspect. Some said two guns were used, with others reporting three or four weapons. Some said the shooter was the father of a student. Later we learned he was the son of a teacher.
Perhaps most glaring of the errors involved the apparent name of the shooter. For hours, the media reported the suspect as Ryan Lanza, 24 (or 20 depending on the news source). But apparently law enforcement had transposed names in a report, and the shooter was Lanza’s brother, Adam Lanza, 20. Other details about dead family members and missing friends and relatives were a source of mass confusion and mystery throughout the afternoon.
The rush to report the story — fueled by intense public interest and online demand — clearly came at a cost: largely inaccurate initial information.
But that didn’t stop an immediate political reaction on social media and in pop culture. The Connecticut shooting has reignited a fiery debate about gun control laws in the United States, with some calling on the government to ban all guns. Others have demanded the return of the nation’s ban on assault-style weapons.
“I think we need to have more gun control,” Stanley Wiles, Ottawa, told The Herald Friday. Wiles was a candidate this summer in the Democratic primary for House District 59. “We ought to re-instate the assault weapons ban, which [former President Bill] Clinton put into effect that went off the board in 2010. ... I’m just sick and tired of seeing every three or four weeks these multiple-clip guns and rifles killing kids and I think it’s time for an assault weapons ban. [Such guns] don’t do anything for hunters. They’re only used for one thing — killing.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Friday it was too early for talk about changing U.S. gun laws.
“There ... will be ... a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think today is that day,” Carney said.
The president seemed to offer a more decisive, if vague, pledge Friday afternoon.
“As a country we have been through this too many times,” Barack Obama said, listing a series of recent mass shootings. “And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
To many, that sounds like a plan to restrict firearms in the U.S. — a wildly unpopular idea in many circles across the nation. Still, it’s an argument gaining traction among many posting on Twitter and Facebook, as well as those hitting media outlets to get the political ball rolling.
Mark Kelly, the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in the head in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011, released a statement Friday encouraging tighter gun control measures.
“As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right,” Kelly said. “This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws — and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait.”
But it must wait — even if it’s just until the sound of bullets has stopped reverberating around the school and we know exactly what happened Friday morning.
Our nation’s policy debates cannot be founded upon knee-jerk emotional reactions and incomplete information. “Meaningful action” that benefits Americans’ safety will not come out of shock and rage.
It will come instead from calm, rational debate that balances our security with our rights.
— Tommy Felts,