18 Dec 2012

Christmas turned upside down by the carnage in Newtown

After four days at Sandy Hook I have returned home to Washington. I drove my children to school this morning and turned the radio off. The news was still wall-to-wall Newtown, and I wanted to have a conversation about Christmas and cookies and all the innocent stuff that has been spoiled by the carnage.

In Newtown, Connecticut there are 26 Christmas trees adorned with teddy bears and baubles and pictures. They stand close to the school. They are memorials with the grim presence of tombstones.

The Christmas symbols of joy have been turned upside down in this once pristine New England hamlet. My daughters smile and laugh as they trot off happily to their last day at school before the holidays, dimly aware that somewhere else in America something terrible, unspeakable has happened to children just like them.

Now I am alone in the car and the radio comes back on. I am informed that even the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organisation that can make or break a politician’s career,  Democrat and Republican,  is considering a contingency from its corporate bunker outside Washington.

On cable TV, the former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough’s meltdown mea culpa about assault weapons is played ad nauseam. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a gun-loving Democrat, says he has just come home from a deer hunting trip with his kids but he is in now in favour of banning some assault weapons from public use. “Who needs a machine gun to hunt deer or pheasant?” he says. It has become a commonly pronounced concession, as if that was ever in question. Who indeed?

I still think, though, that this massacre has produced a watershed. The president is emotionally invested. The gun lobby has been so shamed for now that not one senator supported by the NRA was prepared to go on TV or radio at the weekend to defend the second amendment of the constitution – the much-quoted right to bear arms.

But the statistics are sobering. There is almost one gun per person in this nation of more than 300 million. One third of households own them. The five guns kept by the killer’s dead mother Nancy are only two above the average for each gun-owning household.

In Michigan they have just voted to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in class. Who knows, this may indeed have prevented Friday’s massacre. But guns in school will more likely lead to a thousand OK Corrals.

The best President Obama can hope for is a return to the ban on assault weapons that Bill Clinton introduced in 1994. It was full of loopholes and it expired after a decade. But at least it was something.

Read more: School shootings – horror, shock and calls for gun controls

There are many reasons for America’s love affair with guns: the frontier culture, the vast distances which mean that in some states like Montana it really does take an hour for the cops to arrive at a scene, the romance of hunting, the cult of the individual who is taught to fend for himself and forever tries to get government off his back.

Fair enough. But when you combine an 18th century rationale for guns with a 21st century obsession with violence in video games, films and online, you’re in trouble.

My school drive has finished and I park the car outside our house, which is next to Sidwell Friends School, the school where the Obama children go. I count the usual security: two black armoured SUVs with six secret service agents in situ, another six secret service patrol cars with two agents each dotted around the two streets. I know there are two agents in each class room and two in the corridor outside.

The caretaker of the school told me that his holiday has been ruined by another Swat team drill. Happy Christmas!

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6 reader comments

  1. David Henderson says:

    If the NRA morons read the second amendment PROPERLY and fully, guns are only for a trained and organised few not everybody.
    Some idiots own Barret 50 rifles that could kill and destroy a “deer” at 2000m all I ask is why! Yes I would like to fire a AK47 to find out why it is the worlds “favourite” firearm but it is hardly going to be a hobby!
    If America does nothing I will have no sympathy at all, Canada has loads of guns but they don’t kill each other?
    Merry Christmas.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    I have often been critical of your US coverage. Usually too cosy by half, honourable exceptions apart.

    In this terrible case I think you are easily the best of all the Brit reporters I have seen. Thank you and well done.

    I hope it carries over into your other work while in the USA. The people of that unhappy, ghettoised nation require a few home truths, not the anodyne pap we normally hear.

    One day the USA might realise its potential. But absolutely not until it rids itself completely of its gun insanity. Half measures will not do – ALL INESSENTIAL GUNS HAVE TO GO. If they don’t, next year will see the same horror.

    I hope you can keep up the good work. No more suburban cheesecake please. It’s the least you can do in memory of Newtown.

    Meanwhile, the mad dogs of the NRA will do their best to sabotage any meaningful steps. They should be brushed aside for what they are, paranoid fascists who will bring down the Union if they are allowed to – for some of them that is the real target.

  3. Cathy says:

    This is one US problem that affects only them, so US citizens alone can decide – which they love more: their children or their guns.

  4. Steve Willis says:

    We haven’t learned much in 2013 years – if the bible is to be believed there was a similar slaughter of innocents by King Herod.

    I hope Obama does the right thing, acts quickly and limits access to weapons, but perhaps there’s also a bit of learning to take place in the background – how does a “crazed” individual get to be free to roam the streets? I can’t believe the murderer wasn’t on somebody’s medical or psychological radar.

    I suspect this tragedy could have been prevented.

  5. sue_m says:

    Today’s headline that the NRA are calling for armed officers in schools reveals them for the lunatic narcissists they are! Rather than limit gun types and ensure only those with thorough background checks are licensed to have them, they’d prefer to leave access to any weapon to anyone stable or otherwise so they can challenge them to play cowboys and have a gunfight in the local school.

    Are they also going to have armed officers in every shopping centre, theatre, playground or anywhere else that groups of people gather? Idiots.

    That mentality just proves the vast majority of the NRA are themselves not fit to be allowed a deadly weapon.

  6. AMERICAN says:

    Before you start talking about Americans and their “God given Right to bear Arms” know the facts. First, guns don’t kill people; people with evil in their heart kill people and they will use anything at their disposal. Second, America is ranked about 108 in violent gun crimes per 100,000 around the world. England has a much higher violent crime rate than America even without guns. Why?, because criminals are not scared of the honest civilian population. Why doesn’t the MSM publish the number of lives that are saved every day in the US? Because they are run by communists=democrats=obaminationcrats. Third, where do these multi-shooting gun crimes happen; “GUN FREE ZONES”, use your brain. Washington DC, Chicago, Detriot, LA and the list of big cities that have the most strict gun laws on the books and they have the highest gun crime. Again, why? well maybe criminals don’t care about gun laws and know that with more gun laws there are the more victims to choose from; think about that!

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