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Sandy Hook Elementary and Rethinking Civil Liberties

Sandy Hook Elementary and Rethinking Civil Liberties

By Carl M. Cannon - December 17, 2012

In the 21st century, the United States has become a country where the place-names denoting mass murder have burned their way into our memories in ways earlier generations recalled World War II battlefields.

Americans once invoked the killing fields of Luzon, Guadalcanal, Normandy, and Corregidor as shorthand references for sacrifice and the cost of war. Today, Americans invoke locales here at home: Not just the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., but places where the enemy was one of our own: Columbine, Virginia Tech, a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Ariz. Or a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, a multiplex in Aurora, Colo. -- and now Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Newtown seems worst of all. Twenty utterly innocent first-graders, along with six brave female educators, some of whom ran, unarmed, toward the sound of gunfire -- all killed by a deranged misfit armed with two pistols and an assault rifle.

“They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school,” President Obama said Sunday night at an interfaith memorial service in Newtown, “in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could have been any town in America.”

This time solace wasn’t enough. The broken bodies of those Newtown first-graders, and the adults who tried to protect them, were still lying where they fell when the first calls for political action sounded from coast to coast.

“If having dozens of people gunned down in an elementary school doesn’t motivate Washington to do even the easy things they can do, it’s not clear what will,” said Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Guns, a group chaired by Michael Bloomberg.

“We should be able to come together around measures law-abiding gun owners would support such as banning high-capacity ammunition clips, closing the gun-show loophole and banning military-style weapons, which have no recreational sports use,” New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told Newsday on Saturday.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who shepherded through an assault rifle ban in the mid-1990s -- only to see the law lapse in 2004 -- vowed to rejoin her old legislative fight. “I’m going to introduce in the Senate -- and the same bill will be introduced in the House -- a bill to ban assault weapons,” she said Sunday.

Barack Obama wasn’t ready this weekend to offer such specifics, but in his Sunday night remarks at the memorial service he made it clear that he believes the status quo must not stand. Reminding Americans that this is the fourth time in his presidency he’s been called upon to console a grieving nation in the wake of random mass murder, the president discussed the obligations of society to the most vulnerable among us.

“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” he asked. “Can we claim, as a nation . . . that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no,” the president added. “We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”

But what might such change entail? Gun haters and gun lovers were quick to put down their own markers.

“To do nothing in the face of continuous assaults on our children,” said Democratic Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, “is to be complicit in those assaults.”

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, countered that the moral of the story in Newtown was that existing bans prohibiting adults from carrying firearms in public schools left the children defenseless. “Gun control supporters,” Pratt maintained, “have the blood of little children on their hands.”

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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