MOSCOW, December 15 - RAPSI, Ingrid Burke. 20-year-old Adam Lanza opened fire on students and teachers in a small town Connecticut elementary school Friday, killing 20 children and six adults. His mother’s body was discovered in her Newton, Connecticut home, and Lanza apparently died by his own hand on the scene, bringing the death toll up to 28.
Speaking in the direct aftermath of the atrocity, US President Barrack Obama lamented, “The majority of those who died today were children - beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.” He paused to wipe away a tear before continuing, “They had their entire lives ahead of them - birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.”
This was the second deadliest US school shooting, trailing close behind Virginia Tech where a gunman killed 32 students as well as himself in 2007.
As the US struggles to cope with the latest and among the most horrifying examples of its tragic history of mass shootings, the debate over US gun laws surfaces once again.
In a statement delivered shortly after the shooting, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged the necessity of legal reform: “With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds.”
He then called on President Barrack Obama directly, imploring him to act and declaring the futility of rhetoric: “President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response.”
The right of US citizens to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment to the US Constitution, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The federal government has fiercely defended gun ownership rights. The UN’s endeavor last July to negotiate a comprehensive arms trade treaty ended in a stalemate widely attributed to the US’ refusal to accept overly broad terms. In a widely publicized move, 51 US senators pledged to vote against ratification of the treaty if it failed to protect the constitutional right of citizens to bear arms. As US ratification of an international treaty requires the approval of two-thirds of the senate, these numbers were sufficient to ensure against US ratification of the bill.
Likewise, the US Supreme Court has issued two decisions in recent years holding that state and local laws, as well as the laws of federal enclaves, must respect second amendment rights.
While federal law protects the second amendment rights of citizens and regulates certain types of fire arms, states are generally entitled to regulate the use, possession, and sale of guns within their own borders.
Connecticut’s gun laws are relatively strict. In order to obtain a state pistol permit, one must be at least 21 years old and a legal US resident. Note that Lanzo was only 20 years old when he carried out Friday’s massacre.
Anyone who has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors is ineligible for a permit. Likewise, mental illness would militate against being granted a permit: anyone who has been acquitted of a crime in the past twenty years based on the insanity defense is prohibited from attaining a license; likewise, anyone who has been hospitalized in a psychiatric facility on the orders of a probate court, is prohibited from attaining a license for at least 12 months upon release.
Those applying for a permit are required to complete the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) “Basic Pistol Course” prior to filing.
At very least, Lanza would have been prohibited from obtaining a pistol license in Connecticut on the basis of his age, had he tried. Furthermore, the comprehensive background check involved in obtaining a license in Connecticut could have turned up additional factors that would have deterred authorities from granting the license.
Still, the guns were obtained legally, even if not by Lanza himself. NBC reported that the two 9mm pistols found at the scene -a Glock and a Sig Sauer – had been obtained legally by and registered to Lanza’s mother.
In terms of the limitations placed on the rights of residents to obtain guns, Connecticut seems to have done a pretty thorough job. It is difficult to imagine that more stringent licensing laws would have prevented the horror Lanza chose to unleash Friday.
At the same time, had Nancy Lanza not owned a Glock and a Sig in the first place, her son would have at least had to work a bit harder to orchestrate his plan.