Gun Violence in America: The Sandy Hook Story

This AR15 was found in classroom 10 after the shooting Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Winner of the Fall 2019 StMU History Media Award for

Best Explanatory Article

Groundbreaking news hit early the day of December 14, 2012. That morning, it was confirmed: Twenty first graders between the ages of five and ten years old and six teachers and school leaders were killed by a gunman that shot his way into the school with a high-powered rifle, who then committed suicide as police approached him. “Call for everything,” first responders were saying to dispatchers via radio. But they soon backed off. There were few people to save, because, for most of the victims, it was already too late. Only two people injured by gunfire survived, and were key witnesses in the police investigation. Families gathered at a nearby firehouse, waiting excruciating minutes—then hours for word on their children’s safety. Law-enforcement officials had the bleak chore of identifying twenty tiny and six adult bodies, each riddled with multiple gun shot wounds, and accounting for all of Sandy Hook’s 456 students before notifying parents that their child was, or was not among the dead.1

The Sandy Hook shooting was the deadliest shooting in a public school in the history of the United States. With a population of 456 students enrolled in the elementary school, they had developed a policy in which the doors would be locked at 9:30 am. The teacher, principal, and school psychologist had confronted the shooter shortly before 9:30 am. Around this time neighbors had heard gun shots coming from near the front of the school. Adam Lanza ended up shooting and killing the school principal and the school psychologist along with injuring the teacher. By the time he was done with them, they had alerted others that there was a shooter in the building. Once a student, Lanza, a tall thin young man, was dressed in all black. Armed with a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, as well as two handguns and a shot gun, he had ten magazines with him that contained thirty rounds each, along with bullets for the hand and shot gun. He walked into the nearby first grade classroom, where most students were trying to hide in the bathroom. Students as well as a substitute teacher were killed by Lanza. The lone surviving child in that class was able to lay still and play dead in order to survive.2

Along with the families of the victims, the nation grieved, as it was an attack on young innocent children and adults. Before identifying any of the victims, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation offering his condolences to the families affected as well as calling for meaningful action to prevent similar violence. “We won’t be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.” Obama had ignited a major political conflagration with his January 16 address to the nation regarding the Sandy Hook shooting. He proposed what he said were “common-sense steps that would prevent gun violence.” His speech was heartwarming and moving and created concerned conversation among the community. The day following the incident, the nation was at a debate over gun control and the controversy was ignited once again. Ideas were presented: arming teachers and other staff members, banning assault weapons, and improving mental-health services were of utmost importance.3

President Obama delivers a statement from the Briefing Room on the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut | Courtesy of Obamawhitehouse.archieves.org

Obama’s program, entitled “Now Is the Time,” outlined a series of twenty-three executive actions that he claimed would make our schools and community safer. The major focus aimed at enacting more legislation and implementing more regulation through executive orders to further restrict American citizens from keeping and bearing arms. Obama strongly believed that the second amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms; however, it is better to protect the children of the United States and our communities from horrific mass shootings. While no law or set of laws have ended gun violence, it is evident that too many incidents have happened and people want change for the better. If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act now. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love.4

Five days after the Sandy Hook shooting, President Obama announced that Vice President Biden would lead an effort to develop a set of concrete policy proposals for reducing gun violence, due no later than January. “This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.”5 Keeping his promise to the American people, Obama kept citizens engaged in the process. Vice President Biden solicited input from citizens and organizations with a variety of concerns, perspectives, and opinions while preparing his recommendations. He spoke with a wide range of people including victims, advocates, educators, elected leaders, sports and wildlife conservationists, and many other groups about their ideas and thoughts on gun violence. Ultimately, what arose from the effort of the executive program was strengthening the national background check system and also allowing for states to share information about existing background checks in other states, and encouraging private sellers to run background checks through licensed dealers, and expanding training for active shooter situations for law enforcement and school officials. These policies worked to better improve some of the issues pertaining to gun access; however, many changes still need to be made for safety measure purposes.6

After his massacre in the first classroom, Lanza then went into another first grade classroom where a teacher named Victoria Soto was walking to the door to lock it when he entered. Several students were hiding under desks, and in the closet. One of the children who was shot yelled for others to run away, and those who did, survived. Soto tried to protect other children who had left their hiding places to run for safety. Lanza shot her and several of those students. Eleven students in her class survived, including the five that were hiding in the closet. Moments later, Lanza shot and killed a teacher’s aide named Anna Marie Murphy, who was trying to protect a six-year-old special needs child.7

Another teacher’s aid named Rachel D’Avino was also murdered while she tried to protect her students. Other teachers in the building were able to protect students by hiding them in bathrooms, closets, or part of the school’s library. Lanza bypassed some rooms and was unable to enter other parts. The massacre lasted less than fifteen minutes. Lanza shot every victim with more than one shot; he shot one of the children eleven times. He killed a total of twenty children in the two first-grade classrooms, and he murdered six adults. He shot a total of 154 rounds during that time. When Lanza saw police officers enter the building, he took off, hiding, before shooting himself in the head with one of his handguns. The killing actually began before Lanza entered the school that morning, when he shot his mother multiple times, killing her as she laid in bed before making his way to the school. His mother, Nancy, had purchased all the guns that Lanza used plus several more. She had reportedly taken her sons to be trained at a shooting range.8

Gun control supporters want tighter restrictions on the sale of guns, while those opposed feel that gun laws threaten their constitutional right to own and bear firearms. Organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been strong advocates for these tighter restrictions and providing safety resources and training on firearms. The NRA has also been considered a major influence in the gun control debate—this organization has lobbied on behalf of firearm manufacturers and gun owners, and has donated money to politicians who are against gun control.9

One of the most shocking responses after this horrible incident came from the NRA a week after the shooting. The vice president of the organization, Wayne LaPierre, took aim at the deadly consequences of making schools gun free zones and tried to explain that the only reasonable action to take was to provide armed security for school children in every school. The NRA also stated that the proposals represent an assault on other parts of our constitution, particularly the second amendment, which states that citizens have the right to own guns.10

Investigators soon tried to determine what could make a twenty-year-old commit such a horrific crime. He had no criminal records and lived five miles from the school where he shot and killed the children. He had even attended Sandy Hook in the past, but had been removed by his mother and placed into a Catholic school where he thrived academically with honors. Although he was intelligent, some described him as socially awkward. He was diagnosed from a young age with a form of autism, and other reports suggested he also struggled with a personality disorder and bullying when he was in school, which is probably why it resulted in him becoming more socially isolated.11

Upon reviewing his home, authorities found very disturbing evidence. More than 16,000 rounds of ammunition along with eleven knives, three samurai swords, a pistol, and a bayonet. He had a military style uniform in his bedroom, and he had saved pictures of a corpse from a shooting in Northern Illinois University in 2008. Investigators also found gun targets in his basement, where he spent the majority of his time playing video games. Just weeks before the shooting at the elementary school, Lanza’s mother had found drawings of dead bodies in his room, and she told friends she was feeling concerned about his mental state.12

Sandy Hook Elementary school candle lighting Vigil | Courtesy of Joint Base Andrews

Since this incident, the United States has experienced nearly 40,000 fire-arm related deaths, and according to the CDC, the U.S. has had more gun related deaths than any other high-income country. Schools have consequently increased security by taking the initiative to hire police and regularly practice lock down and active-shooter drills. However, in some states, lawmakers wanted to arm educators, an idea that many educators had passionately opposed. For instance, second-grade teacher Abbey Clements was one of the survivors on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting. Her experience along with many others have become a central argument for lawmakers around the country who push for less-restrictive gun laws to allow teachers and staff to carry guns in schools. Legislators claimed that the shooting might have been prevented had the staff been armed. Such statements shocked people like Ms. Clements. “We’re not trained sharp shooters, we’re not trained first responders,” Clements said. “We are caregivers… I’m sure every educator out there would say that we want school safety, but arming teachers is not the answer.”13

The Gun Control interest had grown on a national level. The interest had grown strong enough that Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group that promotes the need for tougher gun laws, planed to launch Educators Demand Action, a campaign to help their efforts. This group focuses particularly on going against laws that would require schools and college campuses to allow concealed carrying of handguns by staff and teachers or that would have allowed concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns in schools. Some educators, including Clements, had long been involved with the organization’s work. Pro-gun groups like the National Rife Association claimed that gun-free zones in schools only makes them more susceptible to shooters, but groups like the Mom Demand Action countered the argument by stating that teachers and staff aren’t prepared to respond to active shooter, and that carrying guns would interfere with their responsibilities as educators to their students.14

The group Moms Demand Action also drew up a petition with 40,000 (1,000 were teachers) signatures to oppose the confirmation hearing of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who had said that the decision to have guns in schools should be left to the states. Moms Demand Action invited those educators to join its Educators Demand Action effort, which had accumulated about 3,000 members who met with local chapters, attended lobbying days to learn how to communicate with state legislators, and testified about bills and policy changes at the state and local levels. Nine states had allowed for concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns in schools. “Teachers have such an incredibly powerful voice on this issue because they are in the classroom, and they really do know what’s best for the students,” said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action.15

In states that have debated “guns in schools” bills, police have also gone on record saying that they are also opposed to them. Noting the difficulty of cornering a shooter in a difficult situation can be chaotic, even for law enforcement who are specifically trained to deal with these type of situations. “It shouldn’t be up to teachers to stand up to gunmen because our congress won’t stand up to the gun lobby,” Watts said. This group had gone on record saying they are only in agreement with guns in schools if they are carried by trained security guards and police officers, which is not too far from a suggestion made earlier by the National Rifle Association.16

People thought Sandy Hook would be the turning point in changing gun laws in the United States. In the year following the Sandy Hook shootings, state law makers filed hundreds of bills related to school safety, responding to a swell of public concern, an education week analysis found. Of those bills filed, 73 called for loosening or ending the prohibition of guns on school grounds. In states where districts already had discretion to allow teachers and staff to carry firearms, some moved their policies. Sandy Hook became the pivotal point in reviewing safety and security policy after that. Many proponents of loosening gun restrictions in schools cite security problems in rural areas, where police may have slower response times.17

Among a growing number of educators, some survivors of school shootings had begun speaking out about gun laws on the national and federal level. Frustrated with inaction to reduce gun violence, the teachers and other school staff who survived the massacre at the elementary school continue to press for better gun control policies to prevent such tragedies from happening again. Parents of the victims became advocates for gun control and other methods to prevent gun violence, using their horrific stories to make change among lawmakers to expand background checks, limit access to semiautomatic weapons, and provide resources for mental health. The debate over guns is still in the limelight as a result of mass shootings that continue to occur time and time again. Since 2013, firearms have been discharged 144 times in schools, not including some that have occurred more recently.18

Sandy Hook Memorial- Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Many of the furniture and supplies have been shifted to the new Sandy Hook school, a loaner middle school rechristened with the same name in the neighboring town of Monroe. Some adjustments had to be made for the younger children who could not reach the middle school sized toilets, sinks, and desks.  Paper snowflakes, had been mailed in by thousands from around the world, which turned the new schools’ hallway into a winter wonderland that could blanket the whole town if they wanted. The first grade students had been regrouped into one class led by the school’s surviving first grade teacher. The Newton school system had also offered mental-health services for those who felt they needed it; however, staff had encouraged normal school days possible for everyone affected.  Sandy Hook remains a shattered crime scene, and a reminder of the horrible massacre that took place that morning, stealing the lives of innocent children and adults.19

  1. Micahel Martinez, “Newtown a year later: Nation reflects on legacy of its 2nd-deadliest mass shooting,” CNN Wire, December 14, 2013; Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A352827203/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=ecbe86a5.
  2. Shah Nirvi, “At Sandy Hook School, Tragic Day Unfolds,” Education Week, January 9, 2013, 14. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A315700646/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=b98c3fc7.
  3. “Now Is the Time to do Something About Gun Violence,” The White House President Obama, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence.
  4. Bob Adelman, “Response to Sandy Hook: federally funded police in schools.” The New American, January 21, 2013. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. 8.
  5. “Now Is the Time to do Something About Gun Violence,” The White House President Obama, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence.
  6. “Now Is the Time to do Something About Gun Violence,” The White House President Obama, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence.
  7. Michael Shermer, “The Sandy Hook effect: preventing highly improbable mass murders like that at Sandy Hook Elementary School is impossible, but there are things we can do to decrease violence,” Skeptic 18, no. 1 (2013): 33+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A326851945/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=898690e9.
  8. Shah Nirvi, “At Sandy Hook School, Tragic Day Unfolds,” Education Week, January 9, 2013, 14. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints (accessed October 2, 2019). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A315700646/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=b98c3fc7.
  9. “Gun Control,” In Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2019. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/KLUPTH838727955/GPSu=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=b4b9a49a.
  10. Bob Adelman, “Response to Sandy Hook: federally funded police in schools.” The New American, January 21, 2013. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. 8.
  11. “Newtown Educators Defend Efforts to Address Sandy Hook Shooter,” Education Week, October 24, 2018, 4. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A561127261/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=b5e4dfd6. 
  12. Lisa Kumar, American Law Yearbook 2013: A Guide to the Year’s Major Legal Cases and Developments (Detroit: Gale, 2014), 168-174. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2783600067/GVRL?u=txshracd2556&sid=GVRL&xid=9d443fbb.
  13. Randi Weingarten, “Confronting the Scourge of Gun Violence,” American Educator, Spring 2019, 1. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoint. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A580345091/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=e658774e.
  14. Evie Blad, “Educators Join New Fight to Block Guns in Schools; Effort to prevent laws to arm school staff is under way,” Education Week, March 1, 2017, 1. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A485181947/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=76e59f32.
  15. Jamilah King. “In the Name of the Son: After her child was killed, Lucy McBath decided to seek office as a gun control advocate–in Georgia,” Mother Jones, March-April 2018, 11+. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A531466941/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=278259e9. 
  16. Egil Odvard Dyrli, “The wake of school tragedy: districts need to review and upgrade school security,” District Administration, February 2013, 12. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A316663541/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=83c68f5c.
  17. Ken Trump, “Reflections on Sandy Hook: it is time for voices of reason and candor on school security,” District Administration, February 2013, 50. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A316663562/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=3feed5f4.
  18. “Perspectives on Gun Violence and Schools: Five Years After Sandy Hook,” Education Week, 13 Dec. 2017, Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, 5
  19. Shah Nirvi, “At Sandy Hook School, Tragic Day Unfolds,” Education Week, January 9, 2013, 14. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints (accessed October 2, 2019). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A315700646/GPS?u=txshracd2556&sid=GPS&xid=b98c3fc7.

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96 Responses

  1. This article was very informative on the Sandy Hook Story. How it was one of the most deadliest shooting in a public school in the history of the United States. It took the United States to have a killing spree in an elementary to change there gun laws. But unfortunately, the laws to come in to place take a long item so nothing will probably happen right now but in time the gun laws will change for the better.

  2. The story of the shooting at Sandy Hook is such an important part in the fight to stop such violence and it is sad to see that no matter how many government officials and politicians have tried to achieve peace and stop these events from happening nothing changes. The details, and the insights used in this article brings light not only to this tragic story but to the whole issue.

  3. This heartbreaking story is something that still is chilling to think about to this day. The Shooting that made the world silent is an in time that will go down in history for the tragic loss of the victims. It puts into perspective how serious of an issue like gun control needs to be highly discussed. This article talks about the aftermath and effects of how guns are a problem and how they cause long lasting effects in the wrong hands. I truly am shocked that this horrific event wasn’t able to change history for those innocent humans that lost their lives.

  4. I like that this article not only detailed the Sandy Hook shooting but also steps taken by country leaders to prevent additional school shootings. It is disheartening that nothing has accomplished this goal. I remember watching the news when this event unfolded. I think it struck America because of the young age of the victims. I have seen reports of several of the parents working with officials to further restrict access to guns.

  5. Well written and so many details! I knew about sandy hook but not that much so reading this article helped me be more informed it even showed what happened afterwards and how the country responded to it. It is a shame though after so many years nothing changed, we had the parkland shooting and there is still no stricter gun laws. Hopefully that changes soon but this article explained everything really well!

  6. Congratulations on being the winner of the Fall 2019 explanatory article. The details are explained very well in this article. It makes me reflect on the sadness in this world. I always think that it takes a tragedy to bring the world together. And now since the schools had a tragedy happen that increased the amount of safety measures. But some times I think, why aren’t the schools already prepared for something like that, they just wait for it to happen. (Probably because this shouldn’t even be a worry for anyone, students are there to learn not get hurt). Also now in the schools the students should not only have fire drill they should also have “active shooter” drills. There is no way to predict when things like this will happen but it is always good to have a plan. I think gun control is a must in America. And anyone exhibiting unsafe signs such as bad thoughts or diagnosed with “mental instability” .. should definitely not be able to buy or own a gun due to safety reasons for the entire world.

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