Ken Dixon: Reflecting on day of the unthinkable
It was a Friday like any other between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, almost.
The reporters in the State Capitol had cooked their special dishes and brought them up to our fifth-floor museum/work space, festooned with decades of political and news-making memorabilia, exemplified by the famous photo of Elvis Presley — obviously blasted on drugs, in his Count Dracula getup — accepting an honorary Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs deputization from President Richard Nixon in 1970.
It was the day of the annual Press Corps holiday party, when around noon, top state office holders and their aides arrived for the lunchtime buffet, an occasion for off-the-record chats, a few jokes and remembrances, and some general decompression after another crazy legislative year.
But bad news hung in the air.
It was Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 and phones in the press room began ringing incessantly with the news that something was horribly wrong at a place called Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
After a few minutes, the crockpots were untouched and those not working the phones, trying to find out what we could about the carnage, were watching TV, anxious for any type of hint that the carnage wasn’t as bad as feared.
Gov. Dan Malloy, in his finest hour, was already in his car, a plainclothes state cop at the wheel, racing on an unknowing vector to be, hours later, the one left in the firehouse who had to tell the families of the slain that their loved ones were not going home.
A former student, using a Bushmaster XM-15 military-style rifle, blasted his way into the school, then shot and killed first graders Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Márquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.
He also murdered Rachel D’Avino, 29, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Mary Sherlach, 56, and 27-year-old Victoria Leigh Soto.
The murderer’s mother, Nancy Lanza, who bought the Bushmaster thinking it would help her bond with her sick, raging, deranged son, was the first victim that morning, from a .22 rifle bullet in the head, in her bed.
Remember how the massacre changed the national conversation on military-style weapons? Me neither.
Remember how the debate on a simple, universal background check, supported by the vast majority of gun owners, finally shamed Congress into action? Yeah, right. But the vaunted U.S. House of Representatives a couple days ago decided to approve legislation that would allow a yahoo from out-of-state to openly carry their pistol in Connecticut. There’s some gun safety for you. Thank you National Rifle Association, and your servants in Congress.
Since that sad day five years ago, about 150,000 people have been murdered with a firearm or committed suicide with one in our America, land of the free and home of the brave. InfoWar hoaxer Alex Jones, along with other disconnected, disruptive idiots, claimed it never happened. The guy who is president of the United States these days never responded to a request to renounce Jones’ claims.
Fortunately, within a few months of the slaughter, the majority of Connecticut lawmakers, in a rare, prompt, bipartisan action, expanded the state’s 1991 ban on assault-style rifles. They prohibited the possession or sale of large ammunition magazines. They required gun permits for even the purchase of bullets.
Section 15 of the Connecticut State Constitution: “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”
Five years after Sandy Hook, the Capitol Press Corps’ holiday party was more jovial on Friday, and yet at some point, the dozens of visitors and reporters remembered Sandy Hook, and the swift passage of five years. The state is healing, slightly. Crime is down sharply, the prison population is at historic lows. Violent criminals are serving longer sentences.
Newtown won’t be the same in our lifetime, however. Those 6-year-olds would be 11 now.
The school itself was razed. Same with Nancy Lanza’s house. The hoaxers still spew their lies and fake conspiracies.
Last week Sandy Hook held its Christmas tree lighting party at the bottom of Church Hill Road at Washington Avenue, where thousands gathered, enjoying the lights and the closeness of a Connecticut town in the picturesque holiday season.
Up the hill, in the Newtown United Methodist Church, the monthly spaghetti dinner — meatball or sausage 50 cents extra — was yielding to the monthly bluegrass jam led by Roger Sprung, the legendary banjo pioneer and teacher. Time seems to accelerate.
Life, on its face, is normal, but the reverberations of Sandy Hook are still there for many. On Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the unthinkable, Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, begins at sundown. Let’s take the opportunity to think of the dead in an elementary school, their survivors, and the pressing need for better gun safety.
Ken Dixon can be reached in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or at email@example.com. See twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is kendixonct.hearst.