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The Newtown Tragedy: Food for Thought and Links to Help

As we reported over the weekend, people familiar with child welfare have advised parents to comfort their children and consider limiting their media exposure – maybe even turn off the TV – in the wake of Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

But for the adults, the conversation about gun rights and gun violence is almost unavoidable, as the horror surrounding Friday's tragedy, which killed 20 first-grade children and seven adults, continues to be felt around the country.

President Obama addressed the nation during a prayer vigil at Newtown High School last night. Parts of it were particularly emotional: He spoke of each of the adult victims, and later honored the 20 young children by reading each of their first names.

In between, he laid the groundwork for a hard stance on weapons restrictions. Here's a small section of his 18-minute address:

If there's even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that's visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.

(Video and full transcript is available in a post on The Lede, a New York Times blog).

Today, staff writer Ben Conarck told the story of a church service yesterday at Lebanon's Sacred Heart Parish, where Father William V. Kaliyadan and parishioners took time to reflect on the tragedy and a longing for community. Sports Editor Donald Mahler talked to leaders from a Claremont youth baseball team, who visited Newtown for a tournament last spring and were shocked and saddened to hear of the tragedy.

And reporters are continuing their work today, reaching out to community members, politicians and members of the school community to get their perspectives on the discussion.

In the meantime, here's some food for thought:

  • Ezra Klein's Wonkblog at the Washington Post has updated a post that was put together following the Aurora, Colo. shootings in July. The post is jam-packed with data about shootings in the United States.
  • One of the more startling graphs in Klein's post is a chart culled from Mother Jones, which shows that the vast majority of guns used in mass shootings form 1982 to the present were obtained legally. The original Mother Jones post, ”A Guide to Mass Shootings in America,” is also well worth a read.

"In 1993 and 1994, when Congress was debating a ban on assault weapons, the phrase “gun control” was used about three times per 1,000 news articles. Use of the term was even higher after the mass shootings in Columbine, Colo., peaking at 3.7 instances per 1,000 articles in 1999. It reached a low point in 2010, when the term “gun control” was used 0.3 times per 1,000 articles — less than one-tenth as often as in the year after the Columbine shootings."

  • It seems, to me at least, that the response to this shooting has carried with it more calls for a national conversation on mental illness than shootings in the past. Google “guns” and “mental illness” together, and you'll see what I'm talking about. An editorial from the Indiana-based News-Sentinel stands out:

"With mental illness, it's because we're afraid to talk about the subject at all, because those who suffer from it remain the most stigmatized people in America. But there are dangerous people with mental afflictions who need help but don't want it. … How do we identify such people, and how do we help them against their will? And how do we do that without further stigmatizing the vast majority of those with mental illness, who are no more of a threat than people without mental illness?"

What do you think? Email me at mcassidy@vnews.com or submit a letter to the editor at forum@vnews.com.

Want to help? Here are some useful links.