Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: Critical Essay

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In 2022 so far, there have been 27 school shootings and over 200 general mass shootings in America, and it is only May. America's numbers are greater than any other country when it comes to deaths from gun violence. Included in that, is the number of school shootings which has been at a steady increase since 1980. Moreover, Antonis Katsiyannis of Clemson University said in 2018, 'In less than 18 years, we have already seen more deaths related to school shootings than in the whole 20th century.' Now more than ever, students live in fear that they will be next to experience what too many American students already have. Many, enraged by the uptick in gun violence and frequent attacks, are protesting for stricter laws regarding the sale and availability of guns. There are two shootings to analyze, both similar in nature, that occurred 30 years apart. By comparing the Stockton Schoolyard shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting we learn that in response to a major tragedy, America failed to make any drastic or effective changes in federal law to prevent these horrific incidents from occurring.

January 17, 1989, started off as a normal day at the Cleveland elementary school in Stockton, California. With only a few minutes left of the recess, Patrick Purdy opened fire on the children on the playground with a semiautomatic assault rifle. He fired 105 times injuring thirty people and ultimately killing five children whose ages ranged from six to nine years old. After three minutes he used the other gun he was carrying, a pistol, to commit suicide. It was reported that during the attack he said to a bystander: 'the damn Hindus and boat people own everything'. Because of this comment, and the fact that a majority of the victims of this shooting were Asian, people believed that it was a racially motivated attack. This was later confirmed when the investigation was publicized months later. While this attack was considered the worst of its time, many people today are unfamiliar with the specifics of it and even more are unaware that it was a hate crime.

Patrick Purdy who was 24 years old when he committed this atrocity, had actually attended Cleveland Elementary School as a kid and lived in Stockton for a while when he was older. Purdy had a rough childhood, with an absent father and neglective mother. Over his lifetime he had compiled a lengthy criminal record which included arrests for vandalism, drug possession, prostitution, and weapon convictions. Nevertheless, he managed to obtain his weapons fairly easily. To purchase the AK-47 he used a fake name and lied on a required form about his past arrests. At this time, California did not require background checks or a waiting period for gun purchases. When the public found out about Purdy's ease with obtaining his weapons, many were outraged. So, after lots of gun control advocacy, California passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. It made it illegal to own over fifty different brands of semi-automatic firearms, or assault rifles. This included different rifles, pistols, and shotguns. Something similar was attempted in 1988 but was rejected by the overwhelming gun lobbyists. On the federal level, in 1989, President G.W. Bush signed the Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Ban in an attempt to prevent assault weapons from being brought into America. Though, this was not very effective because people just found ways to get weapons domestically.

On Dec 14, 2012, one of America's deadliest school shootings occurred at Sandy Hook elementary school. The events of the day began when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother in their own home. He shot her four times with a .22 caliber rifle that she had purchased. He then gathered her other weapons which included an AR-15, two semi-automatic pistols, a shotgun, and ammunition magazines, and drove her car to the Sandy Hook elementary school. He entered the school by shooting at a window next to the locked school door and was quickly confronted by Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, both of whom he shot and killed. After killing two more staff members, he entered a first-grade classroom where he shot and killed fourteen children and a teacher and then went to another classroom where he killed another teacher and six more students. All of the children murdered were just six and seven years old. When he heard the sounds of police approaching he shot himself in the head. Lanza had attended Sandy Hook as a child and had serious mental illnesses, however, no facts emerged to provide an adequate explanation for his motives and the damage he did.

The massacre convinced many people that the gun laws in place were weak and that changes needed to be made in order to prevent tragedies like this one. President Obama hoped to make gun laws stricter, however, the Senate had other plans. Three different proposals were made, all of which were rejected by the Senate. The 2013 Assault Weapons Ban would have prohibited the sale of magazines that carried more than 10 rounds of bullets and many specific gun models. Another bill would have required criminal background checks before online or in-show gun purchases. Some restrictive gun laws were passed in specific states, but nothing made it to the federal level.

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After no success with changing gun laws on the federal level, nine families of victims decided to collectively sue Remington. The company Remington manufactured the AR-15 that Lanza used in the attack, therefore the families wanted to hold gun manufacturers accountable. Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son was a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting said: 'Nothing will bring Dylan back. My hope for this lawsuit is that by facing and finally being penalized for the impact of their work, gun companies along with the insurance and banking industries that enable them, will be forced to make their practices safer than they've ever been, which will save lives and stop more shootings.'

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 when the Remington lawyers argued that they were protected by federal law which states that gun manufacturers cannot be held liable for the misuse of their products by others (Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act- PLCAA). Despite this obstacle, the plaintiffs found a different legal angle to pursue when the lawsuit was opened up again in 2019. This time around they sued Remington for their illegal advertising tactics, which violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA). The plaintiffs accused the company of targeting mentally unstable kids through their advertisements of memes and cartoons. On February 15, of this year, almost a decade after the incident, the Sandy Hook families settled on $73 Million with Remington. While this settlement did not change the unthinkable events of Dec 14, 2012, it accomplished something by giving hope to others in similar positions who were afraid or unable to sue the large companies responsible for the death of their own loved ones.

Much can be learned from the commonalities and differences between the Stockton Shooting and Sandy Hook. Starting with the basic similarities, both incidents occurred at elementary schools and were committed by a white male in his twenties who attended the school in the past. In both cases, Lanza and Purdy had easy access to the assault weapons they used in their attacks. Purdy purchased his weapons illegally while having an extensive criminal record and Lanza stole the guns that he used to carry out this crime from his mother. This shows that even after so much time America was still struggling immensely to prevent the wrong people from getting ahold of guns. Adam Lanza did not have a criminal record, however, he did have severe mental illnesses and his mother should have been more protective of her weapons, especially knowing her son's condition. Purdy, however, had no record of mental illness.

These comparisons bring up an important debate. When considering taking preventative measures and the underlying factors that cause shootings like these, some argue that mental illness is what needs to be taken care of, while others argue that a change in the laws is what is necessary. While mental health is something that can be dealt with on a more personal level, within institutions and communities, gun control cannot be. As a result of the Stockton shooting, there were state laws passed to prevent the use of assault rifles and the President even signed a law to limit the importation of assault weapons. But that is all because for centuries gun lobbyist organizations like the NRA which represents gun owners, and the NSSF which represents gun manufacturers. have made it extremely difficult to get Congress to pass federal laws regarding gun control. For example, they sell more guns to school security teams, further risking that the guns get into the hands of someone they shouldn't be in.

The devastating Uvalde shooting that happened just days ago emphasizes that even now we are still dealing with the same issues that we were over forty years ago. We are faced with the reality that no real progress has been made if these many children are still dying at the hand of gun violence. As of now, the Second Amendment remains, 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.' But who knows where America will stand on 'bearing arms' in a year, ten, or forty?

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Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: Critical Essay. (2023, November 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from
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