“For all the moms and dads out there,” Nicole Hockley calls out to her TEDx audience (@ 5:40),”you can stop this happening to you.” Ms. Hockley’s referring to the tragic death of her son Dylan, one of twenty first-graders murdered by Sandy Hook spree killer Adam Lanza. “Because every gun-related death is a preventable death. These are not random acts. You can never say ‘this will not happen to me.’ This can happen to anyone at any place at any time.” Gun rights advocates will immediately see that the born-again civilian disarmament crusader is both completely wrong and totally right, and not a small bit confused . . .
For one thing, Ms. Hockley asserts that “gun-related death” isn’t random. In the next breath, the bereaved mother maintains that a spree killer can attack “anyone at any place at any time.” A spree killing that can happen anywhere at any time is, by definition, a random event – at least from the victim’s perspective. While we don’t know why Lanza targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School, it’s hard to see Dylan’s death as anything other than random.
Clearly, understandably, Ms. Hockley rejects that idea. The concept that life is random – that we live in a world where things happen to us without rhyme or reason – is difficult enough for people who haven’t lost their young child in a hail of bullets unleashed by a crazed killer. Positive thinking preacher Joel Osteen’s enormous following is proof enough that most people prefer to believe that everything happens for a reason. No doubt Joel would try to console Ms. Hockley with the thought that Dylan’s death was part of God’s plan.
Odds are Ms. Hockley would reject that view as well. What kind of god allows the violent death of a six-year-old and nineteen of his classmates on an otherwise quiet December afternoon in a good school in a peaceful Connecticut suburb? Which leaves Ms. Hockley with very few options for coming to terms with Dylan’s demise. The only logical answer: the killing wasn’t random and God’s got nothing to do with it. Human action is to blame. Or, in her son’s case, inaction.
Ms. Hockley’s steadfast crusade for gun control (i.e. gun death prevention) reveals a subconscious decision to transform inevitable, inescapable “if only I’d” regrets into “if only they’d” accusations. Simply put, Ms. Hockley’s world view – indeed her sanity – can only survive if she believes that her son died because someone should have done something. In this, she’s right, of course.
The Connecticut Office of the Child’s report into Adam Lanza’s mental health reveals a pervasive and shocking failure to treat a child who was clearly and severely mentally ill from an early age. Lanza should have been institutionalized. Did his mother know about Adam’s fanboy wall art: a collection of newspaper clippings of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik‘s horrific crime? She should have, and insisted that her youngest boy was put under lock and key. As should his father.
Equally, we’ve learned that Sandy Hook administrators entrusted the janitor – and only the janitor – to lock-down classrooms from the outside in the event of an active shooter attack. It was an obviously and irretrievably flawed plan created by people who should have known better. (Who should certainly know better now, after the NRA’s School Shield Task Force released its excellent school safety report.) Also, the police officers responding to the school delayed their entry, giving Lanza an “extra” opportunity to kill.
There’s more. Sandy Hook students should have been instructed to disperse into the surrounding woods during the attack, instead of “sheltering” in a classroom closet like sheep ready for the slaughter. And the big one: someone inside the school should have been armed. Someone should have been equipped, trained and prepared to stop an active shooter or shooters as soon as humanly possible. More than one someone, in fact. Multiple Sandy Hook staff members should have been armed, trained and prepared to shoot a spree killer or killers as soon as humanly possible.
To her everlasting credit, Ms. Hockley is campaigning for mental health awareness programs to identify potential spree killers in schools (Adam Lanza was banned from school more than a year before the killing) and on social media. She understands the power of personal responsibility and intervention. But Ms. Hockley ignores the obvious institutional failures that enabled the Sandy Hook massacre and aligns herself with Sandy Hook Promise, a group that lobbies to restrict Americans’ natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. An effort that increases the chances of another Sandy Hook, rather than diminishes them.
I don’t mean to diminish Ms. Hockley’s suffering or question her right to share her grief in whatever way she chooses. But she’s wrong: not every gun death is preventable. As long as firearms exist, there is no way we can prevent all firearms-related fatalities. We can and should work to prevent firearms-related injury and death amongst the young, the old and everyone in between. But we should do so in the most effective way possible, without unrealistic expectations, which always lead to unintended consequences. For our gun rights keep us and our loved ones safe. Except when they don’t.