Gun debate looms after Newtown massacre
NEWTOWN, Conn. — Newtown began burying its dead Monday, laying to rest two 6-year-old boys, the first of the 20 children killed in last week’s school massacre to receive funerals.
Two funeral homes filled with mourners for Noah Pozner, whose twin sister survived the rampage, and Jack Pinto, who loved the New York Giants football team. The gunman also killed six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, and his mother in her home, before committing suicide.
A rabbi presided at Noah’s service, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket with a Star of David on it. Noah’s twin, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the killing frenzy by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, an attack so horrifying that authorities could not say three days later whether the school would ever reopen.
Around the U.S., school systems asked police departments to increase patrols Monday and sent messages to parents outlining safety procedures. Teachers steeled themselves for their students’ questions and fears.
Meanwhile, the outlines of a debate on gun control began to take shape. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution.”
Carney did not offer specific proposals or a timeline. He said President Barack Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.
Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, a civilian version of the military’s M-16. It is similar to the weapon used in a recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon and other deadly attacks around the U.S. Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in the U.S. under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the law expired in 2004.
At least one senator, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, said Monday that the attack in Newtown has led him to rethink his opposition to the ban on assault weapons.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is an avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said it is time to move beyond the political rhetoric and begin an honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns.
He added: “This is bigger than just about guns. It’s about how we treat people with mental illness, how we intervene, how we get them the care they need, how we protect our schools. It’s just so sad.”
Newtown, a community of 27,000 people, will face many more funerals over the next few days, just as other towns are getting ready for the holidays.
Beyond Newtown, parents nervously sent their children back to class in a country deeply shaken by the attack, and in a measure of how the tragedy has put people on edge, schools were locked down in at least four places.
As investigators worked to figure out what drove Lanza to lash out with such fury — and why he singled out the school — federal agents said he had fired guns at shooting ranges over the past several years but there was no evidence he did so recently as practice for the rampage.
At Jack Pinto’s Christian service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home, where the boy lay in an open casket. Jack was among the youngest members of a youth wrestling association in Newtown, and dozens of little boys turned up at the service in grey Newtown Wrestling T-shirts.
Ten-year-old Luke Wellman remembered a boy who loved Victor Cruz, a star football player for the Giants. Cruz played in Sunday’s game with “Jack Pinto ’My Hero”’ written on one of his cleats.
Luke said: “I’m here to support my teammate and friend.”
A mourner, Gwendolyn Glover, said the service carried a message of comfort and protection, particularly for other children. “The message was: You’re secure now. The worst is over,” she said.
At Noah’s funeral, the boy was described a smart, funny and mischievous child who loved animals, Mario Brothers video games and tacos.
“I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room,” his mother, Veronique Pozner, told mourners, according to Noah’s uncle, Alexis Haller, who provided the remarks to The Associated Press.
“Most of all, I will miss your visions of your future. You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favourite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” she said, evoking laughter from the crowd.
She closed by saying: “Momma loves you, little man.”
At both funeral homes, as around the U.S., Americans wrestled with what steps could and should be taken to prevent something like the massacre from happening again.
“If people want to go hunting, a single-shot rifle does the job, and that does the job to protect your home, too. If you need more than that, I don’t know what to say,” Ray DiStephan said outside Noah’s funeral.
He added: “I don’t want to see my kids go to schools that become maximum-security fortresses. That’s not the world I want to live in, and that’s not the world I want to raise them in.”
Anxiety ran high in Ridgefield, Connecticut, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from Newtown, where officials ordered a lockdown at schools after a person deemed suspicious was seen at a train station. Two schools were locked down in Vermont because of an unspecified threat.
Authorities say Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home and then took her car and some of her guns to the school, where he broke in and opened fire.
A Connecticut official said the mother, a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges, was found dead in her pyjamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-calibre rifle.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the rampage.
Debora Seifert, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said both Lanza and his mother fired at shooting ranges, and also visited ranges together. “We do not have any indication at this time that the shooter engaged in shooting activities in the past six months,” Seifert told the AP.
In Newtown, classes were cancelled Monday, and the town’s other schools were to reopen Tuesday. The district made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to a former middle school in a neighbouring town.
With Sandy Hook Elementary still designated a crime scene, state police Lt. Paul Vance said it could be months before police turn the school back over to the district. The people of Newtown were not ready to address its future.
“We’re just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed,” said Robert Licata, the father of a student who escaped harm during the shooting. “He’s not even there yet.”