The gun debate one year after Newtown

The first anniversary of the school shootings in Newtown reignited the debate over gun control, as another school shooting occurred in Colorado.

What happened

The first anniversary of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., reignited the debate over gun control this week, as another school shooting, in Colorado, ended with one student severely injured and only the gunman killed. The small Connecticut town where Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School observed the anniversary largely in private, after town leaders asked the media to stay away. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama lit candles in the White House and honored the dead with a moment of silence. The president addressed gun safety in his weekly address to the nation, saying Congress had failed to legislate a solution. “We haven’t yet done enough to make our communities and our country safer,” he said. “We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily.”

On the eve of the Newtown anniversary, a student opened fire in a high school in Centennial, Colo., shooting and injuring one student before killing himself. Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, entered the school with a shotgun and two Molotov cocktails, intending to kill a debate coach who had disciplined him and, possibly, to kill others. Authorities acted quickly to evacuate the school and corner the shooter. It was the 28th school shooting in the year since the Newtown massacre. A new Associated Press poll found that 52 percent of Americans supported stronger gun control legislation, down from 61 percent in the immediate aftermath of Newtown.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What the editorials said

“We have failed,” said the Chicago Sun-Times. We thought the appalling sight of classrooms full of dead kids might finally push our lawmakers to address the specter of gun violence in America. “Yeah, well, so much for that.” Since Newtown, Congress has done precisely nothing on gun control, ignoring President Obama’s call for stronger background checks and a ban on the sale of “military-style” weapons and high-capacity magazines.

There are glimmers of good news coming out of the states, said The Washington Post. Eight states, including California, Connecticut, and Maryland, passed bills since Newtown strengthening gun control, denting the “image of invincibility enjoyed by the National Rifle Association.” But about two thirds of all gun laws passed since then actually weakened controls, said the San Jose Mercury News. Given the powerful hold of fear and loyalty that the gun lobby exerts over conservative lawmakers, “this will be a long fight.”

What the columnists said

Why are we still debating gun control? said Charles C.W. Cooke in The measures proposed by congressional Democrats would do nothing to stop future massacres. Adam Lanza’s rampage with guns legally purchased by his mother would not have been prevented by stronger background checks, or more restrictions on gun sellers. Liberals’ obsessive focus on gun control has actually made us less safe, said Jed Babbin in Congress and state lawmakers have ignored the only measure that might avert more atrocities: “getting the dangerous mentally ill off the streets.”

Gun control advocates should accept that their tactics haven’t worked, said Jeffrey Goldberg in The NRA has better funding, more dedicated and passionate followers, and the “emotion-driven cause” of preserving constitutional freedom. What’s more, most Americans realize that the piecemeal fixes proposed by gun reformers are “mainly symbolic.” A more useful debate would be about the relevance of Second Amendment protections in a country where crime is falling and few people hunt anymore. “Not that this is going to happen anytime soon.”

Don’t bet against it, said Adam Winkler in Newtown reinvigorated the gun control movement, after two decades of inaction. Gun-control advocacy groups now have money, too, thanks to benefactors like outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. California and Massachusetts felt empowered to pass gun control legislation they might otherwise have treated “as a hot potato.” Of course, the gun lobby has “fought back mightily,” loosening gun restrictions in nine states and recalling pro-gun-control lawmakers in Colorado. But now “both sides are politically powerful and making their voices heard.” With a genuine debate underway, sanity may yet prevail.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.