Now our much-vaunted allegiance to the Second Amendment, broadly interpreted—so broadly that it puts guns on our streets that have no legitimate use except on the battlefield—has given us 20 more martyrs. Very small martyrs, the youngest barely six years old: the little students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. who died on the horrendous morning of Dec. 14.
Martyrs to the national folklore—promoted by decent gun enthusiasts as well as by criminals—of the gun as the ultimate protector, the final solution.
And, let’s be honest, martyrs not just to ideology but to marketing interests, including marketing interests in the Valley.
Newtown, iced with the sentimental stereotype so typical of American reporting, was tagged in media reports as a peaceful little town where everyone was a good neighbor. Some reports also noted that Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, the implication being that strict laws don’t necessarily prevent atrocities. But there was an exception to that strictness, and that exception was partly engineered by forces in Newtown, and in Springfield, Mass.
In Newtown, right across the road from Sandy Hook Elementary, stands the headquarters of a quiet but very influential gun industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In March of 2011, the Connecticut state Legislature was proposing to add to its strict gun laws another law banning magazines holding over 10 bullets.
But the NSSF (to say nothing of the National Rifle Association) wasn’t about to let that happen. Neither was Springfield, Mass.-based Smith and Wesson.
Jake McGuigan, the NSSF’s government relations director, wrote the Legislature that a class action suit might result if owners of guns that would accept the bigger magazines weren’t reimbursed to the tune of $29 million. Also, he pointed out, the market for the state’s gunmakers, Colt Defense, Mossberg, and Sturm, Ruger and Co., would contract. (NSSF has now posted on its website a statement saying that it will respond to no media questions “out of respect for the families” of those who died in Newtown.)
And from Smith and Wesson, CEO Jake Debney wrote Connecticut lawmakers that such a law would “drastically” affect gun companies across New England, including 10 Connecticut firms that were suppliers to Smith and Wesson.
Who needs to fire 30 rounds without reloading except a soldier in combat? But the ban died in the Connecticut Legislature. Now 20 tykes and their principal and several staff members have died, killed with a Bushmaster semiautomatic with 30 rounds in its clip.
Before this disaster, but after the Batman shooting, Andrew Cohen, writing in The Atlantic, made a point worth thinking about: that the U.S. uses a prevention approach to what it designates terrorism, but not to domestic shootings. “Since 9/11,” Cohen wrote, “U.S. officials have steered America’s vast law enforcement apparatus around to the idea that it is more important to prevent crimes from occurring than it is to punish criminals for committing those crimes; that the potential loss of life is too great a price to pay for a reactive approach to terror crime. That’s why we are dropping missiles on the heads of terror suspects abroad … and why we can’t close Guantanamo Bay. This shift in focus—from punishment to prevention, from the reactive to the proactive—has sorely tested the Constitution. And it explains virtually every official act in the war on terror since the Twin Towers fell.
“Yet, evidently, it’s a concept that has no bearing on the gun debate. Since 9/11, the Brady Campaign tells us, there have been an estimated 334,168 gun deaths in the United States, a figure that includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional shooting deaths. The total is 100 times larger than the toll of September 11, 2001… Yet there has been no cry for state or federal policies of prevention over punishment, no loud call for a proactive rather than a reactive approach to gun violence.”•