“When an assault weapon is used in a mass shooting, it can lead to six times as many people shot than with other guns.”—Everytownresearch.org
“Of the 26 dead, most are children,” reported NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt to a nation stunned by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Six educators and 20 six- and seven-year-old students were murdered that day in their classrooms by an emotionally disturbed young man armed with sophisticated handguns and a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle snatched from his mother’s exotic gun collection. His mother, a psychiatrist and avid gun collector who should have had her own head examined, was also a casualty of her son’s rampage.
And so the carnage continues. The slaughter of 10 predominantly Black patrons of a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, NY, by a racist 18-year-old suited up with body armour and an AR-15, was followed in 10 days by the deadliest shooting in an American school since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Nineteen 9- and 10-year-olds in Uvalde, Texas, and two of their teachers were murdered in their Robb Elementary School classrooms by yet another disenfranchised 18-year-old who seemed to have no problem firing his legally purchased AR-15 style rifle into innocent children fresh from their Honor Roll assembly, eagerly awaiting dismissal for summer break.
Politicians and pundits continue to bicker over cause and effect as unstable young men armed with legally purchased military style semiautomatic weapons continue to massacre American civilians assembled peacefully in schools, shopping centers, churches and synagogues, movie theaters and concert venues.
The firearm chatter is confounding. An 18-year-old can legally purchase and carry an AR-15 on the streets of Texas, but he’s still not old enough to buy a beer? Our streets will be safe if we flag, cure or corral mentally unstable individuals? (Reality check: The Newtown murderer’s mom was a mental health professional who enabled her troubled son by collecting and gifting him guns.)
Arm teachers and turn schools into impenetrable fortresses? Really? How often do school personnel innocently prop open exit doors “for a few minutes” to expedite deliveries or grab a breath of fresh air or a quick smoke. And is it reasonable to believe that untrained marksmen and women, aka school teachers caught by surprise in the middle of a math lesson, can whip out their handguns from a purse, briefcase or desk drawer and outshoot a marauding maniac with an AR-15?
“You cannot trust us to pick out the books for your children to read or teach them American history, but you will trust us with a gun to protect them?” said veteran NYC middle school teacher Gordon Baldwin in the Op Ed section of The New York Times (6/2/22).
Nine times out of 10, authorities report that mass murderers have been able to obtain their weapons of choice–assault style rifles–legally. How do we convince politicians beholden to the N.R.A. gun lobby to legislate for the well being of their constituency and stop facilitating easy access to firearms meant strictly for use on the battlefield? A bipartisan assault weapons ban was passed in 1994 but was left to expire by the party in charge in 2004. It is imperative that a nationwide ban on weapons of war (assault rifles and high-capacity magazines) be seriously debated and passed anew.
This Film Still Resonates…
The aftermath of the Newtown massacre and its continuing legacy are the engines that drove producer/director Kim A. Snyder and producer Maria Cuomo Cole’s feature-length documentary, Newtown. I reviewed this powerful film here in FrontRowCenter on April 3, 2017, when it premiered nationally on the PBS series, Independent Lens. The film has since been awarded a prestigious Peabody Award and remains, sad to say, more timely than ever. I am revisiting it here to add my voice to the charge demanding immediate proactive gun control legislation.
Five years ago, Newtown joined the small and growing list of outstanding films, Tower and Marathon (see my reviews on February 14, 2017 and November 21, 2016, respectively), that focus on mass murders perpetrated on American soil by disenfranchised young men. Unlike the former two films, however, Newtown features no interviews with physically wounded survivors because once shot, the shooter’s tiny victims had no chance of survival.
The film replays the traumatic timeline of that chilling day, from the frantic 911 calls and EMT and police reports to the gathering at the local firehouse, where anxious parents awaited news of their children’s well-being.
This is not an easy film to watch, especially in light of the recent school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Your tears will fall as parents, adolescent siblings, neighbors, a teacher and a local priest, and medical and law enforcement professionals recall their own and their community’s losses in deeply personal terms. You might even suffer a sudden wave of nausea, as I did, during a medical director’s painful recount of the number of bullets that shattered each child’s body.
Three parents–Mark Barden, David Wheeler and Nicole Hockley–are especially articulate witnesses to the many stages of grief that they and their families have endured. They openly acknowledge their inability to forgive and forget. They cherish baby teeth and locks of hair, and are incapable of disposing of boxes of toys and clothing. They have become vocal social activists in the fight for stricter gun control laws and background checks.
Nicole Hockley remembers the grief that she and her husband overcame when their son, Dylan, was diagnosed with autism only to face his incomprehensible death in what was supposed to be a safe and nurturing environment. Her only measure of comfort: Dylan died with his teacher’s arm around him, so he wasn’t alone. She is determined that his memory not be forgotten: “He has a legacy that I will fulfill for him,” she says.
Grieving dad David Wheeler explains the difficult decision to have another child, for the sake of his surviving son. Musician dad Mark Barden, who continues to compensate for the storms of grief that envelop him, was compelled to revisit the school one last time before it was razed, so he could experience the site where his son, Daniel, lived his last moments.
The senselessness of this crime, in a picture perfect community where schools were thought to be safe havens, is a timely reminder that guns in the hands of unstable individuals remain the major killer of Americans on U.S. soil. According to statistics compiled by Sandy Hook Promise, the national non-profit founded and led by several family members who lost loved ones on December 14, 2012, “Most criminal gun violence is committed by individuals who lack mental wellness (coping skills, anger management and other social-emotional skills).”
Despite the fact that the toll of gun violence in urban and suburban communities across the country continues to rise, the debate surrounding gun control legislation remains more divisive than ever. Hopefully, revisiting this film will encourage viewers to hold their state Senators and Congressmen and women accountable. Either they do what they were elected to do…pass gun control legislation that will keep their constituents safe…or else they will be voted out of office.
Newtown premiered on the PBS series, Independent Lens, in April 2017. In light of the recent senseless massacres in Buffalo, Texas, Oklahoma and New York City, it continues to be one of the most important and timely documentaries that you can watch this year. The film would best be screened in the company of family or friends, followed by hugs and quiet discussion.
Newtown is currently available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video; for screening at newtownfilm.com and on DVD from shopPBS.org For further info, go to http://www.pbs.org/independentlens and restart the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/independentlens and on Twitter @IndependentLens.
For more information on how you can join the Sandy Hook community to lobby for stricter gun control laws and background checks, visit the Sandy Hook Promise Website at http://www.sandyhookpromise.org –Judith Trojan