As evidenced by the extra letters we're publishing on the opinion page, the rampage in Newtown, Conn. Friday has unleashed many emotions. Today's letters package represents just a fraction of the correspondence we have received from Press Democrat readers in recent days, a response we have not seen since 9/11.
It's understandable. The killing of children — 20 first-graders — as well as six adults is something that should leave us all shaken to the core. But not everyone is reacting in the same fashion.
As with many syndicated columnists and editorial writers, a number of letter writers are outraged about the nation's lax controls on guns, especially semi-automatic weapons such as the one 20-year-old Adam Lanza used to kill 20 children and five adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. <i>Why are such weapons so readily available and relatively easy to purchase? What is the purpose of allowing easy access to the kind of ammunition used in Friday's massacre, bullets designed to inflict maximum internal damage?
</i>Others point to lapses in our mental health system that may have left Lanza, who was diagnosed with mental illness and anti-social behavior, without the help he needed.
Still others want to blame this and similar shootings on lax security at schools. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, went so far as to suggest that the shooting might not have been as gruesome had the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School been armed herself.
Arming principals and teachers and building walls and barbed wire around our schools is certainly one way the nation can respond to this tragedy. But given that many schools don't have enough funding for hand towels let alone guard towers, we can't see how making schools more prison-like makes much sense either from a financial or a quality of life and education perspective.
What's remarkable in our view — and deserves more recognition — is what teachers and staff members at Sandy Hook were able to accomplish, armed only with their wits and love for the children in their care.
After hearing the sounds of gunshots over the loudspeaker, one library worker herded 15 students into a storage closet. Another library worker tried to calm the kids by telling them it was a drill. She found some crayons so they could draw pictures as outside they could hear gunshots and muffled screams.
A music teacher barricaded her students in a classroom and blocked the door with a xylophone. "There are bad guys out there now," one teacher told her first-graders, according to the Washington Post. "We need to wait for the good guys."
Victoria Soto huddled her class in a small bathroom, but given the shortage of space, she was forced to step out. She was killed by the shooter. And then there was Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, who lost their lives in an apparent attempt to stop the shooter.
By all accounts, these educators performed valiantly in a time of crisis, preventing this tragedy from being far worse than it was.
As we share ideas on how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring, it's our hope that we will focus less on arming teachers and more on helping them — by stopping the bad guys" long before they arrive at school. Teachers need the good guys to arrive earlier by passing laws making it harder for unstable individuals like this to get hold of weapons and ammunition of this kind.