Why The Newtown Shooting Tragedy Was So Preventable

In Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, 20 children, and six adults were killed in a shooting at an elementary school. It is the gravest of tragedies, and is so partly because of how preventable it is...
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In Newtown, Connecticut yesterday, 20 children, and six adults were killed in a shooting at an elementary school. Newtown will now join Columbine, Virginia Tech and Chardon in our instant thoughts when gun crime is mentioned. The thoughts of everyone at Sabotage Times are with the families of Newtown and elsewhere in Connecticut at this time. It is the gravest of tragedies, and is so partly because of how preventable it is.

There must be a reason that school shootings are – from a British and European perspective – so distinctly American. Granted, in Europe we have seen Beslan, there was Dunblane, Erfut, Winnenden and others, but the USA still seems to lead the world in school shootings.

Much analysis of the causes of school shootings is psychological. A book published 2004, entitled ‘Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings’ argues that the type of person committing such atrocities is often a “failed joiner” as opposed to the common conception of them being isolated. Katherine Newman’s term describes people who attempted to join groups, but “their daily social experience is of rejection and frustration”. To simplify the rest of the theory, the school shooting at the end of this tragic sequence is a last act to finally be noticed. This is a simplification of the theory, and the book itself is worth reading, but it also serves as typical of the general discourse in the States on school shootings.

In attempts to prevent heart-wrenchingly painful events such as what has happened today, the thinking outlined above has told teachers and parents to look for ‘warning signs’. Indeed, Dr Frank Ochberg – a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Michigan State University – notes how “insults, threats and plans are posted on websites”, and this can be picked up on in order to stop their plans from coming into fatally bloody reality.


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Also commonly pointed to is the prevalence of violent role models and anti-heroes in popular culture and in subculture. Indeed, Marilyn Manson was blamed for contributing to the Columbine massacre as the shooters in Littleton in 1999 listened to his music. Drugs have also been pointed to as both a warning sign and a causal factor of school shootings.

Mental illness is not the malady of America, nor is an inability to track posts on websites, or anti-heroes, or drugs.

America’s malady is the 2nd Amendment.

It is what sets the USA apart from similar, democratic, economically developed countries in the world when it comes to the issue of children and their teachers needlessly dying each year in their schools. The greatest warning sign is that you can buy guns at Wal-Mart, or get them free with engagement rings, or cars, or fucking satellite dishes.

Perhaps now that Obama does not have to worry about people voting for him again, it is the time when he is free to push a much more fervent programme of gun control. This is more important than just taking the piss out of the ultra-conservative, backwards, ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ NRA. Action is needed now. People are fighting for their lives right now. And whilst political action cannot save those already taken by those five, cruel, outdated and murderous words – the right to bear arms – it can prevent it happening in the future.

And it’s about more than the too-prevalent liberal tendency of laughing at the backwardness of the ultra-conservative, ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ NRA. It’s about real action and a genuine shift in consciousness to realize that some words written 225 years ago are not sacred just because they were written by the founding fathers.

The chances of meaningful change, obviously, are slim. With a divided, increasingly bipartisan Congress, and with Republicans still in control of the House, any prospect of new gun control legislation is hollow. And even if – by some minor miracle – legislation were passed, the NRA would be waiting in the wings to take it to the conservative-leaning Supreme Court – who would likely strike it down.

While I was halfway through that paragraph, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying “let this terrible tragedy finally be the wake-up call for aggressive action and I pledge my full support in that effort.” So support is there in principle, but in a nation crippled by its self-elected commitment to its founding progress remains a bleak hope in a future too far away to save lives.

My thoughts are, and will remain with the people of Newtown at this unthinkably tragic time.