Connecticut school shooting stirs debate about competing liberties, gun violence

Published: Sunday, Dec. 16 2012 6:00 p.m. MST

Andrea Jaeger places flowers and a candle at a makeshift memorial outside a firehouse which was used as a staging area for families following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 15, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Living in a free society means living with risk. But public policy solutions to prevent events such as the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday, where 20 children and six faculty members adult were killed, can be elusive, experts say.

"The question is, how are you going to curtail these sorts incidents without affecting a lot of innocent citizens' rights to defend themselves?" said Utah State University political science professor Tony Peacock, who specializes in constitutional law.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said steps could be taken to enhance security but they would restrict freedom of movement.

"We could make the grocery store or school the most secure place around. We could build a wall around it and use magnetometers, very similar to getting on an airplane. But would we want to go there?"

W. Clark Aposhian, a tactical firearms instructor and gun rights lobbyist, said it is important not to rush into changes in law or policy that would result in creating a false sense of enhanced safety and security in the wake of Friday's shooting.

"We need to remember this is the exception to the rule regarding firearm owners and users. It's a huge exception to the rule. This was one shooter of the 200 million guns out there. This one was used, obviously, illegally," Aposhian said.

President Barack Obama, who visited Newton on Sunday, put the issue of gun control and personal safety in front of the nation during his emotional remarks hours after the tragedy: "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said.

People should have — and need to have — a reasonable expectation they can safely participate in their daily life, whether shopping at a mall or sending their children to school, said Barry Rose, crisis services manager for University Health Care's University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

"Can we feel safe? I think we have to. The intensity of it will dissipate. Plus everyone is in a crisis frame of mind. This kind of thing can be overwhelming."

Society's influences

Part of the challenge of maintaining that perspective is the immediate and widespread access to reports about mass-casualty incidents, whether round-the-clock television coverage, websites operated by news organizations or social media.

"These things are so dramatic and intense. Everyone feels it almost immediately all over the world. It's a whole different environment these days," he said.

Burbank said the scale of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting and the fact that most of the victims were young children sets the incident apart from other mass casualty events. The lone gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother at her home, then drove to the elementary school where he killed 26 people before turning a gun on himself. Lanza, who was clad in black military gear and bullet-proof vest, reportedly attended the school as a child.

The incident is simply tragic, Burbank said, but Americans must realize as impactful as this incident itself is, the incidence of "gun violence in this country is alarmingly high" on a regular basis.

Some major cities deal with homicides nearly every day, Burbank said. In aggregate, those victims far outnumber people killed in high-profile incidents.

"We need to stand up as a society and say we're not going to tolerate this anymore," he said.

Steve Gunn, who serves on Utah's Gun Violence Prevention Center's board of directors, said part of the problem is that entertainment, even the frequent news reports about gun violence, "have deadened our sensibility about violence.

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