Fritz Walker: Sandy Hook shooting still haunts nation five years later
Thursday will mark the fifth anniversary of an event America must never forget.
After shooting his mother in the head with a .22-caliber rifle, Adam Lanza grabbed a Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic assault rifle with high-capacity 30 round clips, and two handguns, and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
After shooting his way in, he proceeded to discharge 154 rounds from the Bushmaster, murdering 20 innocent 6- and 7-year-olds, and six of their teachers. He then shot himself with a handgun after spotting first-responding police officers. The entire Sandy Hook episode lasted 10 minutes.
Some of the victims were described as unrecognizable. A Bushmaster .223 inflicts staggering damage at close range. One 6-year-old victim was shot 11 times. Police officer and first responder Thomas Bean suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is on permanent disability after what he witnessed. Bean had flashbacks of entering one of the classrooms and witnessing the victims. His wife reported he cried in his sleep.
America holds a unique place in the industrialized world in all aspects of gun violence, including mass shootings. A record was set this past Oct. 1, when a gunman, armed with a dozen semi-automatic assault weapons fitted with machine gun-imitating bump stocks, sprayed 1,100 bullets on a Las Vegas country music concert. In 10 minutes, he left an astounding 58 dead and 546 injured. Only 36 days later, 26 were killed and 20 wounded at a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas, including eight children and teens and an unborn child.
Still, because it was young children, the Sandy Hook shooting seems particularly horrible. But while mass shootings get the media attention, the real story of the shooting of Americas young children lies in the day-to-day toll.
With the help of colleagues dedicated to reducing gun violence in the Lehigh Valley, we have compiled a list of young children up to age 11 who have been shot and killed in America since Sandy Hook.
It’s a very long list, consisting of well over 1,000 victims. It includes 45 Pennsylvania children, with six from in or near the Lehigh Valley/Berks area, and six from Philadelphia.
Community and religious leaders and the public will read the names from our list in a ceremony Thursday in front of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 S. Seventh St., Allentown. The reading will start at noon and conclude with a brief special remembrance of the children of Sandy Hook. It should take about six hours to read all of the names. Please join us.
Outside of Newtown, children weren’t killed 20 at a time. That’s not the face of the real problem of gun violence in America, where 36,000 people a year are killed by guns, and another 85,000 wounded.
The real problem is manifest by the toddler who finds a carelessly stored pistol and shoots himself. That happened just two years ago in nearby Milford Township. Yet the gun lobby continues to fight against laws requiring safe storage.
It’s another child who finds a carelessly stored gun, and shoots his sibling. We know from a New York Times investigation that this type of accident is severely underreported due to rules many coroners use that classify such incidents as homicides instead of accidents. It’s an incident with two victims. Could you imagine growing up with the shooter’s guilt?
It’s an innocent child at play in the neighborhood, who gets caught in crossfire. Yet we fail to pass national straw-purchase and lost-and-stolen reporting laws that are effective in limiting the flow of illegal guns to our streets.
And it’s the domestic abuser who kills his partner and their children, and frequently himself. Yet we fail to strengthen our domestic violence laws to disqualify dating partners and stalkers from purchasing guns, or require firearms to be promptly relinquished with a protection from abuse order.
After the Las Vegas shooting, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said, “This is the price of freedom.”
That’s ludicrous. It’s the price of a culture and its politicians that put sheer paranoia and gun industry profits ahead of the lives of Americans, including our children.
Fritz Walker, who lives in South Whitehall Township, is secretary of the board of directors of CeaseFirePA.