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If It Ain’t Broke, It Still Needs Fixing: Some Thoughts on the Sandy Hook School Shooting

Perhaps the most frightening thing of all about the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, CT is that the system worked. The guns that were used were legally obtained. Some might ask why any civilian would need to own a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle and two semi-automatic pistols, but whatever the reasons, the weapons were legally purchased and registered, and the owner had the legal right to use them. That’s how the system works.

Now 20 children and six innocent adults who were helping take care of them are dead. Seriously, why are we wasting so much energy on exhaustive, developmentally unnecessary testing in math and reading when we’re not even able to keep little kids safe in their own school?

When a massacre is the result of the system working, logic suggests that the system needs to be changed.

Newtown, Old Problems

Humanity is complex and diverse. There has always been evil. There has always been disturbance. There will always be a minority of individuals who might hurt themselves or others if given the chance. The actions and hopes of the majority may never be able to prevent all tragedy. But we need systems that prevent as many tragedies as possible.

The system of manufacturing, selling, buying, owning, and using guns in this country needs to be changed. Let’s shift the language if that would help make change more palatable to gun owners and advocates — instead of “gun control,” let’s call it, say, “gun safety” or “murder prevention.”

The system for identifying and helping young people who are at risk of committing violent acts also needs to be changed. Let’s look for ways to notice and care for them while they are still young enough for our efforts to make a difference — instead of hoping that these troubled young people will never go bad, or snap, or act on murderous fantasies. And let’s be conscious of individuals of any age who appear to aggrandize or seek violence.

Service, Not Just Sadness

Already, people are talking about closure and moving on. I don’t believe in either one. We can’t close this horror up in a box or a book and put it away and forget about it. And we can’t move on as if we’re perfectly fine or desperately stoic. But we can take action today that will make us feel better about the possibility of tomorrow, and which will make it less likely that we’ll have to watch repeats of this heartbreak.

Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, taught the children there to say, “I am safe, responsible, respectful, and prepared.” Surely there must be a respectful way for us to prepare against further tragedies like Sandy Hook, to ensure that children and the adults who take care of them are safe. Otherwise, how can we say that we are responsible?

Contact your legislators to ask them to focus on gun safety, or contribute to organizations that help people with mental health issues, or do better at safeguarding your own firearms or recognizing and supporting individuals who need help in your own household or extended family or neighborhood. Help change the systems that were working while 26 innocents were killed.

The victims of this tragedy are not only those children and adults who were murdered. The victims are also the survivors: the children and teachers who escaped, the families of the dead, the families’ neighbors and friends, and their whole town. They are everyone who is aware of this tragedy. They are all of us.

Onward and upward,


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