Skip to main content

Mourn, and take action on guns

By Ethan Zuckerman, Special to CNN
December 16, 2012 -- Updated 1451 GMT (2251 HKT)
Connecticut State Police officers search outside St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut, on Sunday, December 16, after a threat prompted authorities to evacuate the building. Investigators found nothing to substantiate the reported threat, a police official said, declining to provide additional details. The church held Sunday services following last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Connecticut State Police officers search outside St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut, on Sunday, December 16, after a threat prompted authorities to evacuate the building. Investigators found nothing to substantiate the reported threat, a police official said, declining to provide additional details. The church held Sunday services following last week's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
HIDE CAPTION
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
Connecticut school shooting
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ethan Zuckerman: Friends react to Newtown shooting with grief, prayers, calls for gun control
  • He says some say talk about gun control insensitive; he says no. We must mourn and act
  • He says 2012 may be worst year for gun violence in U.S., yet we avoid talk of gun control
  • Writer: Best way to mourn these deaths is to demand we change our laws, our culture

Editor's note: Ethan Zuckerman directs the Center for Civic Media, based at MIT's Media Lab. He lives in Lanesboro, Massachusetts, and blogs at http://ethanzuckerman.com/blog

(CNN) -- I logged onto Facebook this afternoon, terrified of what I would read.

I grew up near Newtown, Connecticut, and went to high school in Danbury, Connecticut. A close friend spent her childhood at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the school where a shooter killed at least 26 people today, police said, most of them children.

Police reports are still coming in, and we are only beginning to grasp the scale of this tragedy. Friends are describing their panic as they try to reach their children in schools that are on lockdown. One of my high school classmates is trying to support her best friend, whose daughter was one of the children killed.

My Facebook timeline is filled with expressions of relief for those who escaped the violence, sorrow for those lost, and prayers for recovery. It's also filled with friends demanding that America take action on gun control. Their calls are answered by others who protest that this is a time to mourn, not a time for politics.

Ethan Zuckerman
Ethan Zuckerman

A tragedy like today's shooting demands we both mourn and take action.

In April of this year, One L. Goh shot 10 nursing students at Oikos University in Oakland, California. In July, James Holmes shot 70 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In August, Wade Michael Page shot 10 people in a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. With today's tragedy, 2012 is likely to be the worst year for mass gun violence in U.S. history. It follows a year in which a mass shooting killed six and critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. And on Tuesday two people killed when a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall in Oregon.

News: 'Our hearts are broken'

Outside of these mass shooting incidents covered by the media, 2012 is likely to be a bad one in terms of "ordinary" shootings. The CDC reports that 30,759 were treated in hospitals for gunshot wounds in 2011, a 47% increase over 2001. Homicide rates in the U.S. are going down while incidences of shootings are increasing, because doctors are now so experienced at treating gunshot wounds that they are saving more lives.

Yet conventional wisdom argues that the U.S. is too polarized and divided for any meaningful changes to our broken and inadequate gun laws. The National Rifle Association and other lobbying groups are too well-funded and powerful for politicians to stand behind even modest gun control measures, like Sen. Frank Lautenberg's proposed ban on high-capacity magazines, which lapsed in 2004.

Americans who follow the gun-control debate have stopped expecting change in the wake of events like today's shooting for the simple reason of precedent: If Aurora, Oak Creek, Tuscon and Columbine haven't changed the politics of gun control, why should we believe the tragedy in Newtown will have a different outcome?

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The NRA's most powerful weapon against gun control isn't postcard campaigns, primary battles or political advertising. It's silence. So long as we assume gun control is impossible, we don't talk about gun control. So long as we don't talk about gun control, gun control is impossible.

The NRA fights any attempts to control firearms, no matter how common-sensical, because their greatest fear is public debate over any controls over guns. Once we begin discussing whether it's reasonable for civilians to be able to buy unlimited amounts of ammunition without a background check, we've moved gun control from the realm of the unthinkable into the possible.

News: Support crucial for kids after trauma

Tragedy strikes at elementary school
Gov. Malloy: Tragedy of unspeakable terms
Obama weeps over school massacre
3rd grader describes shooting from class

It sounds reasonable and compassionate when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie responded to the Aurora shootings by demanding, "This is just not the appropriate time to be grandstanding about gun laws. Can we at least get through the initial grief and tragedy for these families?"

Christie, and my friends on Facebook who demand we mourn apolitically, have the best of intentions, but they are missing a simple truth. Moments like today's tragedy in Newtown remind us that the U.S. suffers from an epidemic of gun violence, a pattern that does not exist in other highly developed nations.

Moments of crisis, like the shooting in Newtown, tend to produce brief spikes of popular interest in gun control. My research on media attention suggests these spikes are extremely short-lived, and that they may be decreasing in intensity. There was less popular interest in gun control, as measured by Google searches, after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and the Aurora killings than after Virginia Tech.

There were almost no spikes of popular interest in gun control after "smaller" mass shootings, like that in Oak Creek. To have any chance of combating the NRA's campaign of silence, gun control groups have to seize moments of media attention to push for change.

When the story about the Newtown shooter comes out, it is likely that we will hear about a disturbed and deranged shooter and about "senseless violence," as if to distinguish it from more sensible gun violence. This language turns mass shootings into natural disasters, as unpredictable and preventable as hurricanes and tornados.

Human behavior is unpredictable, but gun violence is not. In Chengping, Henan, China today, a deranged man slashed 22 schoolchildren with a knife. None died. School shootings in America are a product both of mad people and bad laws.

As we learn more about the young children killed in Newtown today, we will hear calls not to "politicize" their deaths. I urge you to ignore those calls. There is no better way to mourn these senseless deaths than to demand we change our laws and our culture so that the killing of innocent children truly becomes unthinkable.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ethan Zuckerman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT