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Newtown School Shooting Exposes Power, Privilege and Politics of Gun Violence

By Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D.

More than a week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza massacred 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School, plunging a seemingly bucolic New England town into unspeakable grief, Connecticut still mourns. For some, their pain is tinged with weariness because innocent children in affluent Newtown died and exposed an inconvenient truth: race and class matter.

Indeed, power and privilege are enmeshed with the aftermath of this tragic event on Dec. 14, as evidenced in public discourse. Most discussions lack context, or focus on mental illness, gun rights and media violence. Moreover, blame has been shifted from the perpetrator and onto societal fault lines: easy access to guns, little access to mental health, and overexposure to violence.


The latest and most deadly school massacre in America, the Newtown mass shooting presents an opportune moment to address these issues, including gun control laws. But unfortunately too much of the discussion has been focused on “assault weapons” with lethal firepower. For example, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) proposed a ban on “high capacity magazines” with more than 10 rounds.

Sadly, many have unwittingly implied that people in urban areas are not violently assaulted by handguns. In fact, some have normalized tragedy in urban communities.

At a town hall meeting at the CPTV Studios on Thursday, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra realized that much and called for an expanded definition of “assault weapons” to include handguns that have killed innocent children and adults in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven for decades. Between 1998 and 2012 in Hartford alone, there has been 700 lives lost to gun violence. And 200 homicides remain unsolved.

Moreover, many residents across the state have been traumatized by gun violence. For instance, in 2001 a bullet disfigured seven-year old Takira Gaston’s face, which needed several rounds of reconstructive surgery. In 2008,  a bullet scraped seven-year-old Tyrek Marquez’s head, and he is now partially paralyzed.  In 2010, bullets shattered the rear view mirror of a car and sliced the finger of a two-year-old boy. And after a weekend of gun violence in June left two dead and many injured, Hartford residents held another round of vigils.

Evidently, handguns create daily carnage in cities across the nation. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, (D-Illinois) lost his son to gun violence in 1999. For decades, he has introduced bills to stem the flow of guns into cities. In January when Congress convenes, he will renew his push with H.R. 6680. In a phone interview on Thursday, Rush said the “Blair Bill” would, among other things, mandate serial numbers on all handguns. He added that most homicides are left unsolved because it is difficult to trace handguns.

Rush represents the first district in Chicago, now the homicide capital of the world. In June, 240 people in Chicago were killed mostly in shootings, according to a New York Times article. And a significant number of the 30,000 Americans who died by gun violence each year are African Americans and Latinos. Not all are criminals. And almost everyone is somebody’s brother, sister, father or child—just like in Newtown.

To the dean of the Illinois caucus, the Newtown tragedy is the latest “wake up call” to address guns and gun violence.

“We’re saddened by what happened in Newtown. But I also know that in Hartford, New Haven, Houston and Los Angeles, blacks and Hispanics are being shot daily,” Rush said. “It was a foregone conclusion that these crimes would not visit wealthy suburban towns. Now, we know that’s not true. Bullets don’t have GPS. And they don’t discriminate.”

As we watch many around the world memorialize 26 people, who died in Lanza’s rampage before he took his own life and the life of his mother, we recognize a familiar truth: some lives are worth more than others. And race and class matter in how the story unfolds in the media and how some politicians address this longstanding issue.

Executive Director of Mothers United Against Violence in Hartford Henrietta Beckman sympathizes with the residents of Newtown. But she is convinced these victims “will get more resources to cope with their loss.”

Additionally, it seems to Beckman and others that Connecticut’s shooting spree might be the seminal moment to regulate access to guns and perhaps improve mental health policies. More Americans are now  “inspired” to do something about gun violence.  And President Barack Obama recently announced an inter-agency panel and appointed Vice President Joseph Biden to address gun violence in our society.

While Congress and state legislators move toward some kind of action, people of color must also seize this opportunity to ensure that their lives matter just as much as those lives in Newtown. Indeed, they must work to improve civil society. Precious lives depend on it.

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