President Speaks At Newtown Service

President Barack Obama makes an emotional address during a vigil in the Newtown High School auditorium. In front of the President are candles representing those who died during Friday's attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Hundreds of local residents, including grieving families and first responders, filled the hall Sunday night. (STEPHEN DUNN, Hartford Courant / December 16, 2012)

Stay angry. Remember how you felt this weekend. Don't let the faces of those children go until meaningful, actual steps are taken to make this a safer and less violent country.

Connecticut residents were still reeling Sunday from the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday by a young man who also killed his mother and himself. It's a small state; people know people in Newtown. The world shared our grief.

President Obama came to Newtown Sunday and said we can no longer tolerate these mass shootings, we must change, we surely can do better.

He offered no specifics; but specifics must be forthcoming.


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His press officer had said Friday that now was not the time to talk of policy responses such as gun control. We disagree; now is exactly the time, before we fall back into a collective stupor in which we don't do anything but hope it doesn't happen again. If the brutal execution of 20 children and six educators doesn't spur meaningful action, we are not worthy of their memory.

Mental Health

Discussions over the weekend touched on violent video, school security, mental health services and gun control. While all of these play a role, the need for comprehensive gun control is at the top of the list.

Improving mental health services is fine; it's just not clear that it would stop many mass killings. Mental health services are notoriously unavailable in inner cities, until people who need them get to prison. But Adam Lanza, the Newtown killer, and some other mass killers have been young men without criminal records.

They are eccentrics, loners, odd ducks. But good Lord, there are millions of such people who pose no threat to anyone. We simply cannot start isolating people we think are weird; it is unthinkable. The mental health argument in some sense is beside the point.

Video violence affects some youngsters; it's an area that parents must monitor and science must continue to study. School security is receiving much-needed attention, but we cannot turn schools — or churches, malls or other public places — into armed fortresses. Do you really want to arm elementary school teachers, as one pro-gun rights leader suggested, with 20 kids in the room?

The primary focus has to be on comprehensive gun laws; on making it more difficult for potential killers to get guns.

That was made eerily and tragically clear on Friday when a crazed man in China attacked schoolchildren with a knife and wounded 22 of them before he was subdued. He didn't have a semi-automatic rifle, as Mr. Lanza did. Though it is a devil's comparison, wounded is better than dead.

Connecticut, Lead On

To get guns under control, we start with laws. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen.-elect Chris Murphy acknowledged Sunday that "people want us to do something." Correct. The Connecticut delegation should introduce a bill to go after the relatively obvious and reasonable steps: assault weapons ban, universal background checks, no high-capacity magazines. The National Rifle Association leaders will object. To hell with them. The right to public safety trumps the right to own an arsenal.

In addition to laws, let's start a public education campaign. There's a lot of misinformation out there. People think we already have a thorough license and registration system; an estimated 40 percent of guns are bought without even a background check. Some people think a gun in the house makes them safer; studies show it greatly increases the risk of suicide and homicide.

We changed people's minds about smoking with education and reasonable limits on the practice. Education and reasonable limits on gun ownership can begin to end the Wild West mentality about guns and treat shooting as what it is — an extremely serious public health problem. That is how we have to change.