Should the the 911 calls made by people trapped inside Sandy Hook Elementary school during last year’s horrific shooting have been released to the public? This is the question currently being hotly debated in the media. Those objecting to their disclosure, such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, warned that the release of these audio tapes will cause families to “relive the unspeakable tragedy of that day.” Several television networks declined to play the audio on their newscasts.
But to me, releasing the audio was the right thing to do. In fact, now that the calls are out, the next question to ask is this: Why aren’t the photos taken that being released? I ask this not because I have any interest in causing the families of the 20 children and six adults who were killed suffer any further. But because the release of these crime scene photos may prevent other families from having to endure their own “unspeakable tragedy.”
The state of Connecticut passed a law this summer expressly outlawing such a release, and it also applies to any homicide photo that “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.” And to be sure, I want to make to clear that I’m only advocating the disclosure of these photos if the parents of the deceased children and family members of the adults expressly consent. I am hopeful that at least some of the parents would agree if they thought it could save the lives of other children.
My point is simple: If you see a photo of child who has been shot to death, how could you not be moved to pursue every possible approach to prevent a tragedy like that from every happening again? Is there any doubt if the Newtown shooting had been a terrorist attack that we would’ve seen the pictures of the wounded and possibly the dead by now? After all, the media showed us photos of the gruesome injures sustained by many in the April’s Boston Marathon bombing—including one with a man with his legs blown off.
And yes, I know some gun advocates will accuse me of using “dead children” to push for more gun safety laws. There’s nothing I can say to those who oppose common sense measures to prevent gun violence. There’s no statistic I can offer nor argument I can advance that will sway them.
My goal is not to convince those people. Instead, my plea is directed at the other Americans who would want to reduce senseless gun violence.
Let’s be brutally honest: In a nation with over 300 million guns, we can never completely eliminate gun violence. But no rational person could deny that we can reduce it.
The question is how? Gun advocates say it’s not the gun that kills people, but the person. They are 100 percent correct. But it’s the gun in the hands of the “wrong person” that leads to tragedy. So lets start by making it as difficult as possible to keep guns away from those people.
How do we do that? First, Congress should enact the law that 90 percent of Americans support which would require universal background checks for all gun purchasers.
True, that law would not have prevented the Newtown tragedy because the shooter used guns that his mother had purchased legally. But it’s an insult to common sense to say that making it more challenging for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns won’t save at least some lives.
Second, and this was the idea pushed for by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, create “an active national database of the mentally ill.” Without this, universal background checks cannot be effective.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, create a national standard for the storage of weapons in homes. Currently, 27 states have enacted “child access prevention laws” that require the secure storage of weapons in homes and impose criminal liability upon owners for failure to comply. After the Newtown shooting, Connecticut lawmakers enacted a strict version of this type of law. Would this law have prevented Lanza from getting his hands on his mother’s guns if it had been enacted sooner? It’s impossible to say, but just the prospect of saving lives is worth it.
These safe storage laws will also hopefully reduce the number of children killed accidentally by guns. For example, 3-year-old Lucas Heagran, who fatally shot himself in the right eye after finding his father’s gun which had been stored under the living room couch.
Plus, these laws may contribute to reducing the number of suicides where a gun is used. The greatest number of deaths involving guns is not homicides, but suicides. For example, in 2010, 8,775 people were murdered by gun violence. But there were 19,392 suicides that year by gun. And 75 percent of the suicides committed by youths involved guns stored in their home, a friend’s, or relative’s.
Making it more challenging for people to access guns when they are very distraught could save their lives.
Few of us can imagine the heartache the parents of the 20 children murdered in Newtown—or the other parents who have lost children to gun violence, suicides or accidental shootings. The release of the Newtown photos may finally move enough people to support laws that will prevent future tragedies. New gun safety laws won’t prevent all gun related deaths, but isn’t it worth a try if these new measures can save the live of even one more child-possibly even your own?