#sandyhook: what’s left to say?


What more can we talk about, sitting here, 1,300 miles away from Newtown, Conn., site of the one of the most horrific mass shootings in U.S. history?

We’ll talk about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and tightening gun control. We’ll hug and re-hug our own children, trying to hug away images of 20 children lost forever to loving parents. We’ll debate that lethal intersection of mental health and guns.

But when all the talk fades, we’re left with this: a society still grappling with a murderous subculture, where killings populate our newspapers so often we tune them out, where an Al Qaeda terrorist can buy an assault rifle just as easily at a U.S. gun show as at an Afghan market.

The details of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary were chilling: a 20-year-old disturbed kid using a semi-automatic rifle to shoot and kill 26 people inside an elementary school, 20 of them children 7 years old or younger.

It, of course, horrified me and parents everywhere. Outside our own living rooms, schools are one of the sanctuaries we trust our children to be safe in.

I’m one of the lucky ones: My girls are 2 years old and 6 months – not old enough to comprehend what happened or require an explanation. I dread the thought of having to explain such a monstrous event to such innocence. I barely discussed it with my wife, who understandably chose to forgo the minutia of the incident streaming endlessly onto news portals and TV broadcasts.

But the pain was still there, every time I thought of children huddling under desks or behind doors, only to be discovered by the shooter. Or the horror that grips a parent who’s told their son or daughter didn’t make it out.

This one does feel different from Tucson or Aurora or Virginia Tech. There’s more pain, more outrage. The president and other lawmakers have said more and, so far, done more than at previous mass shootings.

As a society, we’re still left to wrestle with 30,000 shooting deaths each year. Those happen every day, in cities across America. In New Orleans, the awful Newtown casualty count can happen over a busy weekend.

Still, we hold on to our guns. A Pew Research Center survey released Thursday – six days after the Newtown massacre – found 49% of those polled say it’s more important to control gun ownership, while 42% say it’s more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns. That’s the first time in four years that more Americans favor gun control over gun rights, but still less than the 58% who supported gun control in April 2008.

On Friday, the NRA announced its solution to these types of shootings: armed guards in every school in America, a suggestion that incensed the residents of Newtown and may bring further backlash.

Maybe we are at a sea-change moment. Maybe the political rhetoric turns into something hard and enforceable, something that mixes Second Amendment rights with common sense.

Maybe we do keep talking, to each other and to our kids. And when they get old enough to ask about Sandy Hook, you tell them horrible things sometimes happen in this world but there’s enough good left in it to keep it right.

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Written by Rick Jervis

Rick Jervis is the New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Correspondent for USA TODAY, covering post-Katrina rebuilding, oil spills, culture, regional oddities and the recurrent hurricane. He was on a team that won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism and spent two years as USA TODAY’s Baghdad Bureau Chief. Born in Miami to Cuban parents, Rick developed a keen interest in the effects of media on a child’s brain development and is raising his two young daughters in a bilingual home with his wife, Elena.


  1. Rick, I’m glad you cited the NRA’s statement and response to Sandy Hook. In my humble opinion, putting armed guards in schools across the country is a ludicrous solution. I’m not quite sure what the solution is, though. Addressing mental health is key, so is limiting access to assault rifles. Like you, I hope Washington finally acts.

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