I knew Lauren Rousseau, one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. I met her several years before she started teaching, when she was a barista at the Starbucks on Mill Plain Road in Danbury, a few exits down I-84 from Newtown. Lauren was one of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle people I've ever met. Everyone who met her liked her, and I'm certain that everyone who knew her loved her. She was the sweetest person you could ever possibly imagine meeting. She worked hard--always with a big, warm smile on her face--and spoke with the most calming voice. I didn't know her well, but I knew she longed to do more, to follow a higher calling: she wanted to be a teacher.
It's simply not possible to imagine Lauren being subjected to the insane violence of that morning. To do so would be to drive you to levels of despair you simply couldn't handle. I try to block it out. But it's there. The act. It happened. It doesn't unhappen just because you refuse to imagine it. When I do occasionally think about it, I get this very distinct feeling that is almost overwhelming. I know that feeling. I subjected myself to it for an entire day once. It was the day I forced myself to visit Dachau. I call it the "There Is No Such Thing As Humanity" feeling.
Dachau is a place where humans did unspeakable things to humans, and in so doing, did unspeakable things to all of humankind.
That's what happened to Lauren Rousseau and all of the other teachers and students at Sandy Hook that day.
They weren't the only ones who died that day. It was all of humanity that died that day.
I used to live in Connecticut. But now I live in North Melbourne, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne. I can walk to the central business district from my house in about 15 minutes, or spend six minutes on one of our world-famous trams. The population of Australia is about 22.9 million, and the Melbourne metro area has 4.1 million people. Melbourne is also among the most ethnically diverse regions on earth, with almost 40% of the area's inhabitants born overseas. We have the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world, and Nguyen is the second most common name in the phone book.
There is crime here--and there is violent crime here--but the homicide rate in Australia is less than 1/4th that in the US. The homicide rate is about 1.0 homicides per 100,000 people per year. And the firearm homicide rate is about 0.2 homicides per 100,000 people.
A double homicide--which almost never happens--is considered a massacre. It's almost impossible to legally own anything more than a single-shot firearm here--and it's pretty difficult to go on a killing spree with a single-shot .22 caliber rifle.
Melbourne's violent crime rate is a bit higher than the national average, but still nowhere near that in the US, and nowhere near that of a big city in the US. Fourteen people were murdered with firearms last year in the state of Victoria, which has about 5.6 million people. The year before? Ten. That same year, Nebraska--a state with less than 1.9 million people--had 42 homicides involving firearms. Nebraska!
My kids go to a public high school with almost 1,200 students, the majority of whom are immigrants. Their school has no security personnel. When school is in session, the doors to the school are not locked. In fact, they don't even CLOSE the doors when school is in session.
Their school is across the street from The University of Melbourne, which is currently ranked #28 in the world by The Times Higher Ed World University Rankings. The closest ranked American university is the University of Texas at Austin. The Universities are about the same size--UT Austin has about 50,000 students, U. of Melbourne about 42,000--and both are located in major metropolitan areas. The UT Austin campus has a police department consisting of 65 sworn officers and 70 civilian employees. UT Austin was also the site of a horrendous shooting on August 1, 1966, when Charles Joseph Whitman massacred 14 and wounded 32 others.
Do you know how large the University of Melbourne Police Department is?
Go on. Take a guess.
Yes. That's a trick question. The University of Melbourne does not have a police department.
But gun violence wasn't always so low here. As Elisabeth Rosenthal pointed out (NY Times 5 Jan 2013) in More Guns = More Killing:
After a gruesome mass murder in 1996 provoked public outrage, Australia enacted stricter gun laws, including a 28-day waiting period before purchase and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Before then, Australia had averaged one mass shooting a year. Since, rates of both homicide and suicide have dropped 50 percent, and there have been no mass killings, said Ms. Peters, who lobbied for the legislation.In the first fifteen seconds of the Port Arthur Massacre here in Australia, the shooter used an AR-15 to kill 12 people and wound 10. IN FIFTEEN SECONDS. He then went on to kill another 10 and wound another 2 in the next minute and a half. And when the shooting had stopped that day, he'd killed 35 and wounded 23.
Similar to the Bushmaster XM15 the shooter used in Newtown, the AR-15 was the weapon the shooter used here in the Port Arthur Massacre, which prompted Australia to regulate firearms in 1996 in one of the most courageous acts of political bravery in human history.
And like Aurora, that shooter selected the AR-15 because of its ability to kill huge numbers of people in short amounts of time.
The Port Arthur shooter killed 12 and wounded 10 in the first 15 seconds of the attack, which occurred in a cafe.
He then moved into a gift shop, where the killing continued: by the end of the first 90 to 120 seconds, he'd killed 20 and wounded 12.
Aurora was similar. Huge numbers of people in short amounts of time. It's what killers do when they have unrestricted access to firearms that can fire at a high rate. That's what high capacity magazines are all about as well: it's not the capacity, it's the high rate of firing.
You can't kill 12 people and wound 10 more in 15 seconds with hammers and clubs. And you can't kill 20 and wound 12 in 90 to 120 seconds with hammers and clubs, either. You need semi-automatic weapons to kill large numbers of people--children and teachers and moviegoers--in a short amount of time.
At Port Arthur…the shooter then went into a carpark and killed another 4 people and wounded 6 more.
He then got in his car, left the carpark and drove to the exit of the port, killing another 7 people and wounding 1 more as he drove.
He then exited the port, and stopped at a service station, where he killed another woman while stealing a car.
He then continued driving away, shooting as he went. By the time it was all over, 35 people had been killed and 23 had been wounded.
In the hours after the Newtown shooting, as Lauren's parents grieved the loss of their precious daughter, I had a long talk with my own daughter about what had happened, and what change might happen as a result. "If nothing else," I said at one point, "they are going to have a lot more lockdown drills at schools all over the country."
My daughter looked at me for several seconds, confused. "What are lockdown drills?"
That's what it's like for kids who don't grow up in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society permeated by high caliber weapons and paranoid people scared to death because they live in a society...well, you get the idea.
Wait. You do get the idea. Right?
Tell me someone, somewhere, gets it. For Lauren's sake. For humanity's sake.