When the story broke Friday morning that there had been a shooting incident at a school in Newtown, Conn., early TV reports were that the gunman had killed himself and some adults had been hurt. That did not strike me as major news.
Several hours later I went online and saw the update: 27 dead, including 20 young children.
I had not felt such an overwhelming sense of shock and sadness in reaction to a news story since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. My melancholy after 9/11 in time turned to anger. So far, the mass murder of 6- and 7-year-old innocents has left me numb.
Religious people often say after a tragedy that everything happens for a reason and the victims are now in a better place. I am not so sure. I certainly cannot fathom what reason there could be to rip asunder the hearts of the families of the dead, stealing the hopes and dreams from their lives.
I was particularly struck by the poignant remarks of Robbie Parker, whose beautiful 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, was killed in her first-grade classroom. Above all, Parker said, his child was kind and caring. She especially loved her two younger sisters, ages 3 and 4.
“They looked up to her,” Parker said. “It would be really sweet to see the times when one of them would fall or one of them would have her feelings hurt and would run to Emilie to get her support and hugs and kisses.”
Clearly, Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old murderer, was insane. His uncle, James Lanza, told the New York Daily News that Adam was taking a prescription antipsychotic medication, Fanapt, which treats schizophrenia.
It’s likely he was delusional and paranoid, much like Jared Lee Loughner, the schizophrenic 22-year-old who shot 18 people in a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot in 2011.
Every country on Earth has some small subset of its population that is psychotic. The difference in the United States is that those people here have access to guns. The result is massacres like Newtown, Aurora, Binghamton, Columbine, Fort Hood, Oak Creek, Tucson and Virginia Tech. The list goes on and on.
To slaughter those 20 small children, six teachers and Nancy Lanza, his own mother, Adam used a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic assault rifle. It is a weapon of war. It is not used by duck hunters. No one needs a rifle this lethal for self-protection. Yet it is legal for civilians in most states to buy and sell these killing machines.
While I respect the right of sane adults to bear arms, there are limits to that right. There is also a right for the rest of us, any time we are in a shopping mall, a school, a post office or a restaurant, to not have to fear that someone with untreated mental illness or some psychological abnormality is carrying a Bushmaster assault rifle.
We prohibit civilians from owning fully automatic machine guns, because of the danger they present to the rest of us. It’s time the federal government outlaws all civilians from owning semi-automatic weapons of war. No ordinary person needs the capability to fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of seconds.
California law proscribes the manufacture, import, sale, giving or lending of large-capacity magazines, which are defined as any ammunition-feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds. That, too, should be federal law.
If a responsible target shooter wants to fire an assault rifle like the Bushmaster .223, we could allow these weapons to be stored and used at regulated gun ranges. No one needs an AK-47 in his house.
When licensed firearms dealers sell guns, they are required to submit buyer information to the FBI for an instant background check. There are huge holes in this system.
For one, 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt. Private transactions require no background check. Sales at gun shows or flea markets or over the Internet made by sellers who are not licensed dealers require no check on the buyer. That hole needs to be closed.
Another problem is that the mentally ill are supposed to be prohibited from buying or possessing guns. But medical professionals and police agencies are not required to submit the names of people suffering from psychoses to the FBI. So it is rare that anyone with mental illness is caught in a background check.
When James Holmes, the Aurora, Colo., movie theater killer, bought his Remington 870 tactical shotgun and his Smith & Wesson semi-automatic M&P15 rifle (which fires the same .223 Remington cartridges that Lanza used in Newtown), the background check done on him did not show that Holmes was under the treatment of a psychiatrist for a serious illness. His doctor was not required to tell the FBI that Holmes was her patient.
Most likely the FBI had no idea that Adam Lanza was being treated for schizophrenia. No law required Nancy Lanza, the registered owner of the arsenal Adam used to mow down all those first-graders, to keep her guns locked up, out of the hands of her schizophrenic son.
If we value the lives of small children — innocents taken forever from their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and from their classmates and community — now is the time to fix our laws. Enough with these massacres. It’s time to act.
— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at [email protected]