Mary Sanchez: 12 months after Newtown, fear of NRA still trumps need for action

By MARY SANCHEZDecember 2, 2013 

America will soon nod respectfully to the first anniversary of the 26 murders that "shocked the nation" last year, sparking fervent cries for action.

Newtown, those directly affected by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, deserve the nation's condolences for the children and teachers killed.

Then we need to begin admitting more difficult truths.

In the 12 months since that awful morning, virtually nothing substantial has been accomplished to address the nation's gluttony for gun violence. Most Americans still do not accept gun deaths and accidents as a public health issue. Instead, we've gotten slicker about categorizing the ways guns are used in suicides, preventable accidents and the shootings that make up the evening news in most major cities.

It's comfortable excuse making. Bad things happen to "other people," in other neighborhoods -- gang members, domestic violence victims, the mentally ill. No need to draw legal gun owners into the mix, goes the rationalization, to understand better how their guns might wind up in the wrong hands.

This is how we grieved Newtown, by distancing. It's shameful.

More than a quarter-million deaths by gunfire in the last decade has become our acceptable status quo.

The National Rifle Association used the mere possibility of deeper study of gun deaths as a recruitment drive. They stoked fears of shadowy government officials canvassing to confiscate America's guns and ammunition. Their battle cries to "patriots" gave gun manufacturers a boost in sales as gun owners rushed to stock up on ammunition and arms. Some people swallowed the argument that simply putting more guns into more holsters would be an appropriate and effective response.

By spring, the U.S. Senate had deep-sixed a proposal to expand background checks on gun buyers.

At least the gutless Congress sidestepped passing legislation simply for show: the type of measures that make for good stump speeches and PR blurbs but prove utterly ineffective in practice. No threat of even that hypocrisy in 2013. Too many members of Congress quake at the idea of making a peep about gun violence; the payback is being drummed out of office on charges of being "weak" on the Second Amendment.

Many a moderate NRA member in the past year has commented that the organization doesn't seem to support their initial interests: hunting, target shooting, the right to keep a weapon in their home for protection. Yet there has been no attempt to organize those reasonable voices to retake their organization.

Instead, the organization has become a one-stop shop for sophistry and rationalization for those who oppose responsible solutions to gun violence. My favorite: All we need to do is enforce the laws already on the books. Do they not know that most mass shooters get their guns and ammo legally? Including Adam Lanza.

Ah, but he was insane, comes the retort.

Indeed he was. But the mentally ill can buy weapons just as easily as anybody else. (Thanks, NRA!) And so can their sane but incomprehensibly foolish loved ones, for them. According to the recently released Connecticut attorney's report on Newtown, Lanza's mother assembled his arsenal.

Which is staggering when you consider his mental state. Lanza "had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others," the report said. Still, it continued, he "did not recognize or help himself deal with those issues. What contribution this made to the shootings, if any, is unknown as those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior."

Yet the report also noted that Lanza went through a box of tissues a day, fearful of even touching a doorknob. Black trash bags covered his bedroom windows. He created spreadsheets to document mass murders. In preschool, Lanza was given to "repetitive behaviors, temper tantrums, smelling things that were not there, excessive hand washing and eating idiosyncrasies."

The 112-pound Lanza carried 30 pounds of ammunition and weapons into Sandy Hook Elementary School that day, according to the report.

How does this happen? A kid so obviously in need of help for years never received it. Nor was his mother apparently concerned about her troubled son's access to weaponry.

Denial is a natural human reaction to unpleasant truths. That may explain Lanza's mother's actions. It certainly characterizes the gun-rights lobby and those it serves. How else can you explain their hostility to even the mere study of gun violence?

Ideally, denial eventually succumbs to new information. Will that new information be informed debate or will it be another, possibly more horrific Sandy Hook?

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Email, msanchez@kcstar.com.

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