OP-ED | Don’t Let Newtown Fade from Memory
We are forgetting Newtown.
You think we’re not? You think it’s something so awful, so profound, so earth-shattering that we would hang on to it? We have the attention spans of flies buzzing in the summer sun; we fixate on something for a while, but when the wind changes we move on.
Case in point: Fred Dicker, a New York Post columnist, referred to Newtown as a “convenient little massacre” when talking about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s gun control efforts. “That was his anti-gun legislation, which he had promised not to do,” said Dicker, talking about Cuomo. “. . . But then he had a little convenient massacre that went on in Newtown, Conn., and all of a sudden there was an opportunity for him.” There was immediate fury. Dicker took a beating in rival media spaces, and he was dragged through the mud online for a day or so.
But then something remarkable happened: the tempest died down. Dicker put out a defensive statement; clearly we’d all just misunderstood what he was getting at. He didn’t apologize, and he still has a job.
We’re losing the sense of urgency we had just after that awful day, and it shows. Earlier this week a 12-year-old boy brought a shotgun into his Roswell, New Mexico school and opened fire. Two were wounded. Did you hear about it? No?
We’re getting used to bullets flying in schools.
I had hoped that the horrendous events at Sandy Hook would finally shame us into taking serious action on guns. Tens of thousands die in this country every year from guns, many of them children, and you can’t convince me that most of those deaths aren’t perfectly preventable. For a while it seemed like we might actually do something about it.
In the aftermath of Newtown, big majorities of people favored tightening gun restrictions, but those majorities have steadily eroded since. Just after Newtown 57 percent of those polled by CBS News favored stricter laws; now that number has fallen to 49 percent. CNN found the same trend: last January, 55 percent favored stricter gun control compared to 49 percent now. Gallup found 58 percent in favor of stricter laws in December of 2012, but only 49 percent by October of 2013.
We’re allowing ourselves be lulled back into complacency.
Tuesday night, presumptive gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley addressed a group of gun rights activists with the unsettlingly martial name of “Connecticut Citizens Defense League.” A year ago, someone in his position wouldn’t have dared to speak to them. But now, Foley can go up in front of them and promise that if he were elected governor, he would veto “any further attempts at restrictions on law-abiding gun owners” the legislature might send him. He also said that if he’d been governor when the massacre happened he would have done things differently. Instead of gun restrictions, Foley said, he would have focused on mental health.
Naturally. It was all because he was crazy, the shooter. It had nothing to do with the shocking number of guns this boy owned, or the fame-driven culture which obsessively picks over every nugget of a shooter’s life, making them into cult figures. It wasn’t the gun manufacturers, or the lobbyists, or the spineless politicians, or the people who elect them. It wasn’t our fault at all. It was his mental health, and nothing more.
Such an easy, comforting lie to believe.
I wrote last year that the gun lobby was desperate to change the subject, to focus all our anger and heartbreak on mental health parity instead of gun control. By and large, they did just that. Congress didn’t pass anything, and now suddenly mental health is the safe ground, the “sensible” alternative to gun control, that Republican candidates are walking on.
This is the same Foley who once said that Gov. Malloy was enjoying a “Newtown bounce” in the polls, which is very reminiscent of the “convenient massacre” remark by Fred Dicker, and the NRA’s president saying their lobbying efforts had been delayed by a “Connecticut effect.”
The pattern is clear. The pro-gun lobby and its allies see the death of 20 children and six adults as nothing more than an inconvenience for them, and a lucky break for their opponents. They see a senseless, horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy as politics, a hiccup in their strategy. They will make sure things get back to “normal” soon, preferably by talking about mental health and the rights of gun owners instead.
In short, they’re waiting for all of us to forget.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.