Lessons from Sandy Hook

While he has a pretty good bully pulpit and a rapt audience of those he won over during his ill-fated U.S. Senate run, another thing Dan Bongino has is expertise in law enforcement and criminal study. So it was good information he passed along in a release yesterday regarding the Sandy Hook massacre:

There are simply no words appropriate to describe the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  As a father to two young daughters I can’t help but ask, “What if it were my daughters?” I am sending you this email because there are experiences and lessons I learned while working with the Secret Service that may help assist in preventing another tragedy.

In 2002, the Secret Service, in conjunction with the Department of Education, conducted a research study on school shooting incidents called the Safe School Initiative. The study sought information about the shooters’ pre-attack behaviors and communications. Their stated goal was to “identify information about a school shooting that may be identifiable or noticeable before the shooting occurs, to help inform efforts to prevent school-based attacks.” Although this email is not an appropriate forum for an exhaustive list of their conclusions I have highlighted a few of the study’s main conclusions below with a link to the complete report at the bottom.

According to the Secret Service website, the study highlights include the following:

  • School shootings are rarely impulsive acts. Rather, they are typically thought out and planned out in advance. In addition, prior to most shootings other children knew the shooting was to occur – but did not alert an adult.
  • Very few of the attackers, however, ever directed threats to their targets before the attack.
  • The study findings also revealed that there is no “profile” of a school shooter; instead, the students who carried out the attacks differed from one another in numerous ways.
  • Almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult – and for many, had concerned three or more different adults.

You can view the report here.

Obviously there’s been ten more years’ worth of data to compile since the report came out in 2002, although many of the domestic mass killings of late have occurred outside the school setting: examples include Fort Hood, the Aurora theater shooting, and the Safeway attack in Arizona where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded and six others lost their lives. Like the school incidents studied, though, there was no real common denominator involved aside from the willingness of someone to break whatever laws were required to get the point across, whether it be for religious reasons, to get even with someone for a perceived slight or wrongdoing, or acting out a drama on a stage of their own creation.

One finding in the report Bongino cites was that incidents “were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention and most were brief in duration.” Some reports of the Sandy Hook massacre indicate the shooting stopped when Adam Lanza knew he was cornered by police and chose to take the cowardly way out by killing himself. Given the fact he was the only one with a weapon in the school until police finally arrived, this seems like a logical explanation.

But that assertion brings up the old adage that “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” While many schools at junior high level and above have law enforcement officers who work at the school, the practice is relatively rare at the elementary level. It’s unfortunate that the Sandy Hook killings may lead to more police officers in the schools, but that may be the next step in the eyes of those who don’t mind the implied police state schools are becoming.

Maryland legislators like Delegate Mike McDermott are already working on the problem:


He Tweeted that last evening just before I wrote this piece. Knowing that the Annapolis majority would never go for arming teachers, this may be about as much of a middle ground as we can get in our General Assembly. I’d be inclined, though, to make arming the teachers the bill and have this in my pocket as a compromise.

Yet the clamor to do something – anything – in response to the Sandy Hook murders is a strong one. We could very easily slip and go the wrong way by enacting more gun control laws murderers like Adam Lanza will laughingly ignore as they set about their business of carnage creation; or, we can take the right approaches like I discussed the last few days. We still have a choice, but time is running out.

The unbelievable bias

As the Sandy Hook story evolves from the accounts of the shooting to the identities of its young (and not-so-young) victims and trying to determine why it happened, one lead in the story is focusing on the first victim, Nancy Lanza, and her “fascination with guns.” (Interestingly, I speculated on that myself in a comment to my first post on Sandy Hook.)

But in making the late Mrs. Lanza out to be a gun nut, the narrative is shifted from making her out to be a helpless victim to one who was obsessed with guns, an interest which led to her demise.

Another intriguing angle comes from a statement by Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy (a Democrat) who claimed Adam Lanza was still alive when police arrived at the school and only killed himself at that point. Naturally, Malloy and several other fellow Democrats have taken this tragedy and made it into yet another call for more restrictions on gun ownership.

The report that Lanza took his own life when police arrived is important to the argument against arming teachers or other school personnel, since the situation was finally defused when authorities arrived. But what if someone had been carrying a weapon?

This is something my blogger friend Bob McCarty looked at in reference to an earlier shooting in Oregon. While this story was wiped away by the Sandy Hook shooting because many more lives were lost in Connecticut, the reason fewer people were killed is actually very similar to the ending at the Connecticut school: the shooter took his own life when confronted. The difference, though, was that a civilian who was legally carrying a concealed weapon brandished his – at that point, the Clickamas shooter, knowing the party was over, took his own life.

McCarty blames an “anti-gun media bias” for ignoring that part of the story, and that bias seems to be coming out in the media coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting as well, like describing the weapon as an “assault rifle” to conjure up an image of a military-style weapon. The actual Bushmaster .223 rifle is commonly used in shooting competitions, which makes sense given Nancy Lanza’s enjoyment of shooting sports.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter what guns were used because one person took it upon himself to commit this heinous act. But the narrative making America out to be a trigger-happy nation is driving this push to further violate our Second Amendment rights. Don’t let the pursuit of that agenda blind you to the fact that millions of Americans own and properly use guns.

The folly of a gun ban

Besides the obvious shock and sadness regarding the Sandy Hook shooting, there is a patina of disgust that certain elements of government and their sycophants in the partisan media didn’t even wait for the bodies to cool before calling for new, stricter gun laws.

I have news for you: that’s not the solution. Before the shooter even walked out of his house, he had not only murdered his mother in cold blood but violated laws regarding unauthorized use of property. These guns weren’t his; he had taken guns belonging to his mother and legally purchased. Never mind the school was a “gun free zone,” all that gave the shooter was cold comfort he would be unopposed until he finished his rampage on his own schedule.

But Michael, you ask, why was it necessary for Nancy Lanza to have three guns? And I answer: why is it necessary to ask something which is none of your business? The question is insulting and is akin to asking why some of us own multiple cars or live in houses with more than one bathroom: some prefer the convenience of having a weapon they purchased for self-protection close at hand. If an intruder has me cornered in the garage and my gun is locked away in the bedroom it’s pretty much useless to me, isn’t it? Surely millions of American homes have multiple guns – a house I’ve lived in had a gun room with several rifles and shotguns which were taken when the previous tenant moved out. And it’s no one’s business but the owner’s.

Ironically, the city of Baltimore is doing a gun buyback program today, where those who wish to give up a piece of their Second Amendment rights receive their thirty pieces of silver in the form of a grocery gift certificate of $100. It’s popular with politicians who can claim they’re addressing the crime issue, but I’m sure criminals see it as a way to get rid of their hot guns which were used in committing a crime – just pay some dupe to bring the gun in and let them keep the $100 gift card to boot. Meanwhile, that key piece of evidence is lost and even if they somehow trace it back they catch the poor sap who brought the gun in rather than the real culprit.

There are those who point out that other nations have armed teachers or armed citizens at large and believe that stops criminals in their tracks. I think the idea of an armed citizenry has merit, but caution that it’s no panacea: obviously those at Sandy Hook were beginning a normal day and unaware that a shooter would be in their midst seconds later. The element of surprise was on his side, so there still would have been some victims regardless. Just like in the Aurora theater shooting, having more weapons present would have possibly saved some of the lives but also raised the potential of striking innocent victims given the swift reaction time required and the adrenaline rush the body naturally undergoes when danger is present. The shooter had the advantage of knowing and sighting his targets while one who is reacting has to quickly figure out where the shooter is coming from and is fortunate to strike center of mass on someone who is likely moving as he shoots before becoming a target himself. The shooter’s advantage dissipates with time, of course, but if one is uncaring for his life it doesn’t matter whether it ends by his own hand or “suicide by cop.”

Instead, it seems to me the problem is cultural at its root, but also touches on how we deal with people who have mental health issues as this shooter allegedly did. Rather than the Sandy Hook shooting, perhaps a better illustration of a purely cultural tragedy is this one, which happened earlier this week in Pennsylvania. The pictures of these accused teenagers brandishing guns or suggesting it with their gestures says a lot.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we had facilities to house people who may have needed mental help, but societal mores (and calls for government cutbacks) encouraged us to let these people walk among us. Now they comprise a significant portion of the homeless, and while most are relatively harmless you have the occasional violent exception.

We have a choice in this matter: we can put together more gun laws which will do absolutely nothing to address the problem but will make some politicians feel good (I can already see a number of Maryland General Assembly members who will write a gun-grabbing law and name it something along the lines of the Sandy Hook Law or Victoria Soto Law – anything to tug at the emotions) or we can step back, re-evaluate the situation, and try to do something which will have to start with the generation that bore the brunt of the carnage.

It’s not about bullying, or instilling a fear of guns, or anything like that. It’s promoting the idea that life is sacred, there is right and there is wrong and never the twain shall meet, and that the violence we see on television or their video games isn’t real – although it may look real in gory detail – but the reality of violence like this is that someone mourns the loss of a child, a parent, a relative, or someone else dear to them. We can and should do better at teaching these lessons, and not just have the knee-jerk reaction of blaming an inanimate object for our problems. The gun was a tool of destruction, but only a tool.

On Sandy Hook

You know that people will blame the gun. They always do.

But the more I read about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the more it occurs to me that this wasn’t a tragedy brought on by a gun, but perhaps a culture. Here are a number of items gleaned by the initial investigation:

  • The teacher, Nancy Lanza, whose classroom bore the brunt of the child victims was murdered not at her classroom, but at home.
  • After killing his mother, gunman Adam Lanza drove his mother’s car to Sandy Hook Elementary and shot the children in her classroom along with other school personnel before killing himself. (Coward.)
  • He was dressed all in black, in what some accounts describe as “fatigues.”
  • The guns involved belonged and were legally registered to Nancy Lanza. But what mother is prepared to protect herself from her own son?
  • Most interesting: Nancy Lanza and Adam’s father were divorced and he has remarried; more tellingly, the brother who was originally thought to be the gunman because Adam was carrying his identity hadn’t seen Adam “since about 2010.”

I’m not a psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, but this doesn’t sound like the typical nuclear family of “Ozzie and Harriet” days, does it? Something tells me that, in the absence of adult supervision, the young Lanza was probably fascinated by either video games or certain movies, or both.

This also got me to thinking about a pitch for a video game I heard the other day while working in a GameStop. I don’t recall the exact name of the game, but it had a mode where you could play with unlimited ammo and no loss of life – essentially being a killing machine in the form of a video game character. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that’s the game’s most popular feature, by far.

What’s most disgusting about this entire incident was the fact innocent lives were needlessly taken. As the puzzle is being pieced together, it seems to me that Adam Lanza had a long-standing grudge against the family situation he probably blamed for his lot in life. Most 20-year-old youth are spending their mornings either getting ready for college or work, not shooting their mothers and driving to her school to blast away at a kindergarten classroom and various other unfortunate souls. In 99.9% of the most extreme cases, son confronts mom, shoots her, then turns the gun on himself – still a needless tragedy but with just two victims, not 27.

It’s also been interesting to read about the neighborhood Nancy Lanza lived in, where many of her neighbors didn’t know her despite the fact she’d lived there for some time. That in itself is a sad commentary on our times.

You know, it’s funny: we hear about so-called “conflict resolution” classes in schools yet conflicts don’t end with a black eye or bloody lip anymore. Now they end up making national news with several unwitting bystanders being the chance luckless victims of a premeditated act of violence the perpetrator imagines will finally make him known, even in death.

Those who make a lot of money to talk about such things and those who just think they know the answers always seem to say to “hug your child a little tighter tonight.” Sure, that gets us through the next couple days but in a few weeks this story will be a footnote, only to be brought back to life the next time someone who thinks violence is the answer to his problems callously shoots up a mall, or a movie theater, or a restaurant, or a school. We hear about these sorts of events with depressing regularity, so much so that we’re barely surprised or shocked anymore. The Sandy Hook story is only made as poignant as it is because young children are victims.

And just as predictably as night follows day, someone will say it’s the gun’s fault. I disagree, seeing that guns were even more readily available a half-century ago and school shootings were unheard of. Instead, I blame a culture where life is cheapened to the point where young Adam Lanza thought his was worthless enough to forfeit for the cause of revenge, both on the mother he obviously felt was to blame for his issues and on everything she held dear. Sadly, that was the kindergarten class she never made it to this fateful day.

Update: One more thought. While I blame the culture of death in this nation, in the end Adam Lanza was the one who decided to pull the trigger. In the time since I wrote this, reports (and they are just reports which could be wrong) point to the suspicion that Lanza had long-standing mental issues. Still, the impact of what he experienced certainly led to his decisions.