The nation is still reeling from the December shooting at Sandy HookElementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the CarmelHigh School community is by no means immune from the grief and debate that surrounds the tragedy.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a young man named Adam Lanza walked into the primary school and opened fire, killing 20 students and 6 faculty members before killing himself. He had fatally shot his mother earlier that morning, which brought the death toll of the shooting to 28.
News coverage of the tragedy was extensive, and with good reason—the Sandy Hook shooting ranks as the second most deadly school shooting in American history and by far the deadliest to have occurred in an elementary school. U.S. government buildings flew their flags at half-mast for weeks after the incident, and millions tuned in to watch President Obama address the nation in the shootings immediate aftermath.
The enormity of the tragedy was lost on no one at CarmelHigh School.
“It’s terrible,” freshman Yuan Tao says. “It seems like these things are happening more and more—there was Aurora, then this,” Tao says, referencing the shooting at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured.
Senior Jared Liebmiller agrees, emphasizing that the age of the victims makes this all the more profound a tragedy: “Things like this shouldn’t happen. They shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Those kids [in Newtown] were entirely innocent of anything. They weren’t bullies to the shooter or anything like that. It was just senseless.”
The apparent senselessness of the shooting has left many baffled.
In contrast to many other noted school shootings, such as massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007, Lanza was not enrolled at the school where the attack occurred—he was 20 years old and had attended Sandy Hook only briefly when he was a child.
Liebmiller notes this inconsistency. “What kind of person do you have to be for your instincts to drive you to shoot up an elementary school? Where does that come from?”
The consensus has been that Lanza’s attack was the result of mental illness. Indeed, Lanza had been diagnosed with a personality disorder in addition to Asperger’s syndrome.
Tao suggests another factor that might have contributed to the seemingly senseless attack; it’s a factor that many have discussed in the shootings aftermath: a culture of violence, specifically widely available and widely owned firearms.
“It’s not all mental illness,” Tao says. “I think some of it is guns—how many guns are out there, how much we talk about them, how many are available for purchase.”
Tao, whose family is from Taiwan and who visits Taiwan regularly, makes a comparison: “Guns just aren’t part of the culture [in Taiwan]. No one has them. I’m not sure they’re even banned outright, but I don’t think anyone has them outside the military.”
Guns and a debate about their use and sale, as well as their prevalence in our culture, are a central issue raised by the Sandy Hook shooting.
In a recent Sandpiper poll, 116 respondents, all students at CHS, answered two questions about the issue of gun control in relation to Sandy Hook. When asked, “Should the US Government make it harder for Americans to acquire guns?” 53% of students said “yes,” in contrast to 40% who said no and 7% who didn’t know. Additionally, 58% of students said their opinions on the issue of gun control were influenced by the Sandy Hook shooting, while 35% felt their opinions were unchanged and 6% didn’t know.
Freshman Annabelle Bull, part of the majority for both questions, says she does feel the government should restrict firearms access, and says she does feel influenced by the Sandy Hook massacre.
“I hadn’t really thought about it before,” Bull says. “But when a bunch of kids get killed—it’s dramatic. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Bull, who was born in the United Kingdom and spent the early part of her life there, agree that a cultural difference sets the United States apart with regards to gun violence.
“Guns are banned in England, and there’s a lot less gun crime there,” Bull says.
Senior Misha Polovneff says he doesn’t believe new gun restrictions should be created, adding that his opinion on this issue isn’t influenced by the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I don’t think that Americans should have assault rifles,” Polovneff says. “Why does the reasonable American need one? That said, I don’t think it’s the gun that kills people; I think it’s people that kill people. I don’t think that restricting weapons would stop anything because if someone wants to hurt other people, they’re going to do it regardless.”
Junior Alyssa Knapp disagrees. While she says she believes new gun laws should be in place, she doesn’t feel her opinion was influenced by Sandy Hook.
“What [that shooting] really did was make it all the more obvious: we need to start restricting guns.”