ADAM LANZA (top row, left) is America’s newest notable mass murderer. Adjacent is Nancy Lanza, first rampage victim and the killer’s own mother. Middle row: legally purchased semi-automatic weapons. Bottom row (from left): Mike Huckabee, former Republican governor of Arkansas, who said Mr. Lanza’s schoolhouse killing spree occurred because “we have systematically removed God from our schools”; Congressman Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, who wants more guns available to more Americans; William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, who says schools should now have armed personnel.
Merry Murderous Christmas!
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Adcock
It is early Monday morning, the 17th of December. Christmas is eight days away. I am worried, I am sick at heart, I am angry. And as I write, I weep.
I worry for the safety of my beautiful eight-year-old granddaughter, Gianna Maria.
She is now riding the big yellow bus that takes her back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan every school day. Gianna and the other youngsters en route to classes are well aware of last Friday’s massacre at a school just like theirs—Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a prosperous and leafy New England community sixty miles north of New York City.
I am sick at heart about the Newtown murders.
A pale, sad-faced young killer barely past adolescence—Adam Lanza, who evidenced mental illness throughout his life—gunned down twenty children, ages five through ten. He also murdered the school principal, the school psychologist, and four teachers. Prior to smashing through schoolhouse windows, Mr. Lanza shot his mother in the face, at their home; her death was instant.
This afternoon, two six-year-old boys will be buried in Newtown—the first in a series of graveside services for Mr. Lanza’s littlest victims. Tomorrow, there will be more funerals. And more, and more, and more—until Christmas and beyond.
After killing his mother, Mr. Lanza strapped on a bulletproof vest, helped himself to her car, and drove five miles to Sandy Hook Elementary School. There, he slaughtered the children—and the faculty members who tried to subdue him—with an American-made AR-15 semi-automatic .223 caliber carbine rifle, fitted for ammunition clips that fire thirty bullets before the need of reloading. As police officers raced to the scene, Mr. Lanza placed one of two German/Austrian-made pistols against his head—in his pockets were a 9-mm Sig Sauer and a 10-mm Glock—to finally hush the demons.
Each weapon was legally purchased by and licensed to the late Mrs. Nancy Lanza, a motherly “gun enthusiast,” as the American news media cheerfully describe “target shooters” such as she. Young Mr. Lanza was instructed in the firing of guns—and encouraged to do so—by his mama.
I am angered by the high-stakes economy of America’s gun culture.
The AR-15, which ranges in price from $730 to $1,100 [€ 544 to €835], is manufactured by Bushmaster Firearms International, headquartered in Madison, North Carolina. It is the civilian version of Bushmaster’s AR-16 fully automatic carbine—used by combat soldiers engaged in wars quite profitable to the corporate defense industry, which calls the shots (so to speak) for the deadlier elements of American foreign policy.
Over the past several years, the AR-15 has become a bestseller for the biggest retailer in the world—Wal-Mart, where perhaps Mrs. Lanza purchased her own. In the gun aisle at Wal-Mart outlets everywhere, one may also purchase bullets for the 9-mm Sig Sauer and 10-mm Glock.
(NOTE: The Newtown atrocity is hardly Bushmaster’s first association with slaughter. The company’s AR-15s were used in four recent high-profile shootings: the 1999 murders in Columbine, Colorado—committed on April 20, birthday of Adolf Hitler—in which a dozen high school students and a teacher were shot dead by a pair of teenagers clad in black “Goth” garb; the October 2002 “Beltway Sniper” case, in which ten people died and three were critically injured in suburban Washington, D.C., over a three-week reign of terror; a 2009 bloodbath that killed another ten across southern Alabama; and a spate of murders two years ago in Virginia that dispatched eight people in the space of nineteen hours.)
Bushmaster’s manufacturing plant in North Carolina is owned by Freedom Group, a holding company for gun factories. Freedom Group reports average annual revenues topping $848 million [€643.5 million]. In turn, Freedom Group is owned by the Wall Street hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management, which takes its name from the three-headed dog of Greek mythology that stood guard at the gates of Hell.
The top officer and founder of Cerberus—Stephen Feinberg, said by the New York Times to be the owner of a Remington Model 700 bolt-action rifle he uses for weekend hunting—today insisted that his company will sell off its Bushmaster/Freedom Group interests. To whom? Mr. Feinberg is not currently saying.
Meanwhile, a host of other Wall Street counting houses—among them, Sciens Capital Management and MidOcean Partners—will continue reaping millions upon millions in blood money from their holdings in gun manufacturing.
I am angered by the misplaced manhood implied by advertisements for the AR-15 in magazines aimed at “gun enthusiasts.”
The tagline accompanying such advertising reads, “Consider your man card renewed.” The acquisition of a semi-automatic assault weapon is not a rite of passage into manhood; by my lights, the inference approaches immorality. To be manly is to protect children from harm. To be manly is to challenge the merchants of deadly weapons—along with their political defenders.
I am angered by the media’s repetitive use of the word tragedy in reporting massacre after massacre after massacre.
According to RT News, the multi-lingual Russian television network, America has averaged twenty mass shootings annually over the past two decades. Mass shootings were defined as involving four or more deaths. In those approximately four hundred incidents, more than eighty percent of the guns involved were legally obtained.
To my way of thinking, tragedy is a terrible occurrence or circumstance for which there is no apparent person or persons to blame. A hurricane, for example, or an earthquake, or the late Mr. Lanza’s social awkwardness, due to his suffering from Asberger’s syndrome. Because mass murder in America is as commonplace as apple pie, tragedy as a depictive of routinized deadly force, such as occurs nowhere else in the world, is a horrible misnomer.
Moreover, it is a grossly cynical: American politicians bought and paid for by lobbyists in the employ of the armaments industry use the label of tragedy to mask their determined refusal to do the right thing—and to camouflage their moral vacancy. The most cowardly of these politicians are almost wholly reliant on the easy votes of one-issue Republican Party comrades fearful of losing guns designed for the sole purpose of maiming and killing human beings—their “man cards,” as Bushmaster Firearms would have it.
Chief spokesman for cowards in the U.S. House of Representatives is Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican who appeared over the weekend on the right-wing Fox TV network to present a vicious theory. He said slaughters at American schools—accounting for some twenty-five percent of mass shooting locales over the past thirty years, according to statistics compiled by Mother Jones magazine—occur there because schools are among the last public venues where guns are taboo. Killers such as Adam Lanza “choose these places because they know no one will be armed,” Mr. Gohmert told Fox viewers.
With reference to the murdered school principal in Newtown, Mr. Gohmert added, “I wish to God she’d had an M-4 in her office…so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out…and takes [Lanza] out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
Mr. Gohmert, a former Texas judge and deacon in the Baptist church, was first elected to Congress in 2004. In the Republican-controlled House, he is vice-chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Mr. Gohmert is the beneficiary of hefty contributions from the National Rifle Association, chief lobbyist for gun makers, as are numerous colleagues of both Republican and Democratic Party persuasion.
Others of the nation’s political class issued equally odious claptrap over the weekend.
William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush and currently host of a right-wing radio talk show, appeared Sunday on the NBC Television program “Meet the Press.” He advocated for guns in schools as an effective anti-massacre policy. “I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing,” he said.
Fellow right-wing broadcaster and former Republican governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee is man whose friendly dimples are deceptions for a string of hateful remarks he’s made since running for president in 2004. A Baptist preacher in addition to being a politician, Reverend Huckabee targets the usual suspects: gays and lesbians, women who avail themselves of birth control, and persons who have yet to find eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” a grinning Mr. Huckabee declared Sunday on Fox TV News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
If only the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School had been studying the Holy Bible on the Friday morning they were slain. If only God—Himself armed with Mr. Gohmert’s recommended M-4 semi-automatic carbine—had been principal at Sandy Hook.
I become very angry when politicians speak of how “complicated” it is to do the right thing.
Eric Arthur Blair, the late British novelist and journalist better known as George Orwell (1903-1950), wrote aptly of such twaddle: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
There is nothing complex about bullets slammed into the bodies of kindergarten children. There is nothing complex about the necessity of banning the manufacture, sale, and possession of semi-automatic, military-style weapons capable of firing as many as a hundred high-velocity rounds per clip.
Real men, if there exist any in Congress, would see to the business of taking the mass out of mass murder. Immediately.
Yuletide gun violence in America, before and after Newtown, took no holiday from intent or execution:
• A week prior to Newtown, one Jacob T. Roberts walked into the Clackamas Town Center shopping mall near Portland, Oregon, and used the trend-setting AR-15 to randomly murder two Christmas shoppers and wound a third before turning the rifle on himself, fatally.
The particular AR-15 used by the late Mr. Roberts is manufactured by Stag Arms of New Britain, Connecticut, which is not far from Newtown. It was legally registered to a friend of Mr. Roberts, who told police in Oregon that it was “borrowed” without his knowledge.
• Four hours before Adam Lanza’s killing spree in Connecticut, police in Oklahoma made a pre-dawn raid at the home of eighteen-year-old Sammie Chavez. Mr. Chavez was charged with “conspiracy to commit serious bodily harm or death,” and is currently in jail awaiting a court appearance next month.
According to police, Mr. Chavez attempted to recruit fellow students at Bartlesville High School to “assist him with carrying out a plan to lure students into the school auditorium where he planned to begin shooting them after chaining the doors shut.” Police said further that Mr. Chavez had recently been researching gun and bomb methodology used at Columbine High School in 1999, site of a massacre in which two American-made semi-automatic weapons did most of the killing—a Hi-Point Model 995 carbine rifle, known as the “poor man’s AR-15,” and a 9-mm TEC-DC handgun.
• On Saturday, thirty-eight-year-old Jason Letts died in a gun battle with police at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. Police were summoned when hospital workers noticed Mr. Letts walking through a corridor with a drawn pistol. When confronted, Mr. Letts shot one police officer in the leg and wounded two bystanders. Other officers shot him down while doctors, nurses, orderlies, and patients screamed and dived for cover. According to a Birmingham police spokesman, Mr. Letts was upset with the quality of care given to his wife, a patient in the hospital’s cardiac care unit.
• Marcos Gurolla, whom police described as a middle-aged man “unhappy about a lot in life” and in need of “releasing his tension,” fired fifty shots into the air in the parking lot of a California shopping mall crowded with holiday customers—also on Saturday. Police officers on bicycle patrol wrestled him to the ground when he paused to reload. Mr. Gurolla is a licensed private security guard.
• Responding to a domestic abuse call, police in Cedar Lake, Indiana, arrested one Von I. Meyer on Sunday. He allegedly threatened to set his wife on fire as she lay in bed, and then shoot “as many people as I can kill” at the Jane Ball Elementary School where Mrs. Meyer was a cafeteria worker “before they stop me,” according to a police report. In a search of the couple’s home, police found forty-seven guns. Mr. Meyer was formally charged on seven counts of felony crime, none involving gun possession.
In America, guns have always made nice Christmas gifts. This year more than ever, what with threats of newly contemplated federal restrictions on gun ownership as the result of Newtown and the fact that the black man in the White House is perceived by a startling number of Republicans as a secret Muslim homosexual bent on confiscating weapons of all manner and then turning America into a Marxist state ruled by Sharia law.
According to a Monday morning article in the online Huffington Post:
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting…has sparked a surge in gun sales, according to independent arms dealers across the nation.
Robert Caselnova, who owns a Connecticut gun shop located less than 10 minutes from the school, said firearms flew off his shelves over the weekend, with multiple requests for AR-15 style rifles, the weapon used by Adam Lanza to kill 20 children and seven adults, including his mother. Caselnova said he knew the Lanzas, and that mother and son had visited his store…
Industry experts say fears that stricter laws will follow such incidents push people to stock up on firearms before [government] regulators can clamp down. But the weekend’s spike in business was unprecedented, gun shop owners in California, Connecticut and North Carolina told HuffPost.
Larry Hyatt, owner of North Carolina-based Hyatt Gun Shop, which claims to be America’s largest independently owned gun store, said he had a line out the door on Saturday, forcing him to call in extra salespeople.
“We already have tons of customers because of Christmas, hunting season is peaking right now, and not to mention, the reëlection of Obama,” Hyatt said. “But this tragedy is pushing sales through the roof,” he added. “It’s like putting gasoline on a fire.”
The website for Stag Arms, which purports to be the “Worldwide Leader in AR-15 and AR-16 Manufacturing,” today posted an apology to its customers for delays in processing orders for assault weapons, “due to overwhelming interest in our products.” In the meantime, Stag Arms suggests—by way of a convenient icon on which to click one’s computer mouse—that patrons should “Join the NRA!”
As for the premiere gun lobby, the National Rifle Association is conspicuously and uncharacteristically mum on Newtown.
Since the Friday massacre resulting from semi-automatic weapons the organization champions as bulwarks of American freedom and democracy, no new postings have been added to the NRA website. The organization’s Facebook page has been deactivated, along with its Twitter account.
In a statement to news media last Friday afternoon, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam simply said, “Until the facts are thoroughly known, the NRA will not have any comment.” This is a stark contrast from the time of Columbine. Soon after that massacre, the NRA president—at the time, the late actor Charlton Heston (1923-2008)—famously told delegates to the organization’s annual convention:
“For the next six months, [Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, then U.S. Vice President]…will slander you as gun-toting, knuckle-dragging, bloodthirsty maniacs…Will you remain silent? I will not remain silent…[I]t is vital to every law-abiding gun owner in America to register to vote and show up on Election Day—“
Mr. Heston paused, and raised a replica of a Sharps large bore single shot rifle, the weapon used by soldiers in the American Civil War of 1861-65. He then continued, telling his cheering, foot-stomping audience:
“So, as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!”
With the NRA at long last quiet—one would like to believe the organization was shamed into silence—and Mr. Heston reliably cold and dead, we may gain optimism with another kind of surge that began Sunday evening with the low-key yet masterfully inspiring text President Obama drafted as he traveled aboard Air Force One from Virginia to Newtown, there to speak the words at a prayer vigil.
In Mr. Obama’s televised contribution to the vigil, we witnessed the surging power of an American public that is fed up with post-massacre analysis of motive to this latest mad killer’s actions rather than investigating the motives of NRA-financed politicians who thwart a basic purpose of American government: to “insure domestic tranquility,” as pledged in the preamble to the Constitution.
Are leaders who lose sight of the Constitution’s promise any less culpable—any less mad?—than killers with AR-15s, advantaged by the refusal of Congress to enact rational gun laws?
Until and unless we hold craven politicians to account for their role in mass murder after mass murder after mass murder, ad nauseam, Americans shall remain an uncivilized, unprotected people. Other nations, some of which have contributed much to history’s most unspeakable brutalities, provide us with workable models for civilized gun policy.
Other nations have banned the weapons of Newtown and Columbine and Washington and Alabama and Virginia, and on and on and on and on. The people of these other nations remain free—arguably freer than Americans, for they are unburdened by murderous gun violence as familiar to us as the faces of our next-door neighbors.
Consider a letter published in the New York Times, written by Noah Bokat-Lindell of Montclair, New Jersey:
Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands have a combined population of almost 391 million, as compared to the United States’ less than 312 million. The total number of gun homicides in those countries in the last available year—2010 for Germany, 2009 for the others—was 906. In the United States in 2010, that number was 9,960, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
No doubt, Mr. Bokat-Lindell watched Mr. Obama on television Sunday night, and took strength from presidential sentiment—as most of us did, save perhaps for knuckle-dragging maniacs mentioned by Mr. Heston. Consider some of the president’s healing, hopeful words spoken to the people of Newtown and the world beyond:
We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.
Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation…
I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you…
Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it…
As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch. They did not hesitate.
We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms and kept steady through it all and reassured their students by saying, ‘Wait for the good guys, they are coming. Show me your smile.’
And we know that good guys came, the first responders who raced to the scene helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and their own trauma, because they had a job to do and others needed them more.
And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do, one child even trying to encourage a grownup by saying, ‘I know karate, so it’s OK; I’ll lead the way out.’
As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered…
But we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.
With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t—that we can’t always be there for them.
They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.
It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.
And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.
This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?
Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, ll of them, safe from harm?
Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?
Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings—the fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.
And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose—much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. …Surely we can do better than this.
…We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.
The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger, we know that’s what matters.
We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.
Last Friday morning, six women in Newtown, Connecticut, tried mightily to prevent a troubled young man from killing the children entrusted to their care. Their names: Dawn Hochsprung, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School and mother of two; Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist and likewise a mother of two; and teachers Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino, and Anne Marie Murphy.
Of them, President Obama said, “They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children.”
It is not too much to ask that members of our Congress—the contemptible Louie Gohmert included—respond to Newtown in the obvious way. At the very least—that being what we have come to expect of the current Congress—our Washington lawmakers must restore and substantially strengthen the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was allowed to expire in 2004. The NRA saw to that expiration.
Restoration of the ’94 law is not complicated, no matter the claims of political cowards. Nor does it require bravery. The six women of Newtown were brave. To a large extent, most of the men in Congress, regardless of party affiliation, are well-paid weaklings.
As for the likes of Messrs. Huckabee and Bennett, we might ask that they emulate the shamed silence of the NRA.
THOMAS ADCOCK is a novelist and journalist based in New York City. Winner of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by Mystery Writers of America, his books and articles have been published worldwide. Writing as Tom Dey, he is currently completing a new novel titled “Lovers & Corpses.” Mehr zu Thomas Adcock hier und hier.