Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Didn’t They Know And Why Didn’t They Know It?

There has been a journalistic breakthrough in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murder case.

It’s always a hopeful sign when journalists rub the sleepy seeds from their eyes and wake up.

Some in Connecticut appear to have been aroused by a story that first appeared in the New York Daily News – significantly NOT in any Connecticut media watering hole. A few days ago, Rick Green of the Hartford Courant speculated on his blog, “Maybe the state police owe us some official details about what happened — before we change laws and spend a lot of the public’s money.” In the future, after all the legislation affecting legal gun ownership has been rolled out, signed, sealed and delivered, the question foremost in everyone’s mind will be, “What didn’t they know and why didn’t’ they know it.”

“Everyone” would include: the news community; the two governmental panels assigned, one by the governor and another by the General Assembly, to bring home the data on the basis of which legislators might produce a bill preventing future mass murders of mothers, school children and teachers; the many politicians, both in Connecticut and elsewhere, who have steadfastly insisted that Sandy Hook should be the impetus for legislation that will keep us safe from mass murderers; and most especially the families of the victims in Sandy Hook who, all along, have been hoping the General Assembly and governor might produce preventative legislation.

The journalistic breakthrough occurred in a story filed by Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News.

“What investigators found,” Mr. Lupica wrote, “was a chilling spreadsheet 7 feet long and 4 feet wide that required a special printer, a document that contained Lanza’s obsessive, extensive research — in nine-point font — about mass murders of the past, and even attempted murders.

“’We were told (Lanza) had around 500 people on this sheet,’ a law enforcement veteran told me Saturday night. ‘Names and the number of people killed and the weapons that were used, even the precise make and model of the weapons. It had to have taken years. It sounded like a doctoral thesis; that was the quality of the research.’”
Partial information about the “active murder investigation,” the often repeated formulation of Lieutenant Paul Vance of the Connecticut state police, leaked out of a conference in New Orleans, where people in the know, mostly police investigators, were sharing information with other people in the know. Up to this point, great pains had been taken to assure that authorized data remained bottled up. Most journalists live in the hope that the truth will out – eventually. The truth usually follows in the train of everything else; it’s often the last actor on the stage before the curtain is rung down.

Adam Lanza, it appeared from the New Orleans conference, was a studious killer well versed in the methods of other mass murderers. His beau ideal of the perfect mass murderer was Norway’s Anders Breivik. Connecticut Commentary first mentioned Mr. Breivik in a blog and column titled “Sandy HookShould Teach Us How To Think way back in December.

Mr. Lanza apparently was trying to beat Mr. Breivik’s record of 77 dead. Owing to the arrival of first responders armed with substantial firepower, Mr. Lanza fell short of the mark he had set for himself, having committed suicide after murdering 27 people, including his mother. Newtown has since set aside enough money to provide all its schools with armed personnel.

The data that leaked out of the New Orleans conference is important. Diagnosis and data are always important for, say, doctors addressing a disease or legislators writing laws. A law is a prophylactic, a legal preventative. There are no fewer than three commissions charged with sifting through the Sandy Hook data so that legislators might write reasonable laws to prevent future Sandy Hooks. BUT THERE IS LITTLE AUTHORITAIVE DATA that any responsible legislator might consult in writing such a law.

And why not? Well, Mr. Vance will tell you that the “criminal investigation is ongoing.” It may be completed in June, long after all the insufficient prophylactic laws have been written. Will those legal remedies, based on partial or doubtful data be effective in achieving deterrence?

Mr. Breivik was not deterred by Norway’s capital punishment law because Norway has no such law. Connecticut abolished its capital punishment law shortly after a mass murder in Cheshire committed by newly released prisoners, only months before Mr. Lanza took up arms against his mother, 20 school children and 6 teachers.

The General Assembly is proposing to add to a long list of proscribed weapons yet another weapon, the AR-15, produced here in Connecticut and the most often purchased sporting rifle in the United States. Will that do the job? Grave doubts have been raised, not only by members of the NRA, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s bete noir of the moment. Most recently, U.S. Senate leader Harry Reid has doomed a federal ban on assault weapons, possibly over the hearty objections of Mr. Murphy and other Democrats in Connecticut who think that state laws prohibiting weapons are insufficient to stop importation from other states.  

At the time he shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mr. Lanza was armed with two semi-automatic pistols – the weapon of choice in most cities, including Chicago, murder capital of the United States and the political nursery bed of President Barack Obama – and a shotgun (left in the car – WE THINK – “ongoing investigation,” don’t you know) that would have been as devastating as the Bushmaster rifle he used.

If Mr. Lanza had survived, Connecticut would not have been able to execute him, because there is no capital punishment law in Connecticut prescribing execution for mass murderers or terrorists. Should there be such a law? Tried on terrorist charges in Norway, Mr. Breivik was declared sane by a panel of five judges and sentenced to 21 years in prison, a sentence that can be repeatedly extended by 5 years so long as he is considered a threat to society.

The two repeat offenders who murdered a family in Cheshire could have received early release credits under a program initiated by Mike Lawlor, Governor Dannel Malloy’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning. Indeed under Mr. Lawlor’s early release Risk Reduction Credit Program, two separate prisoners given early release credits already have committed murders in Meriden and Manchester.

The unavailability of authorized hard data on Mr. Lanza’s multiple murder spree should alarm legislators who are poised to add to a growing list of banned weapons yet one more weapon in an effort to deter such crimes as have been committed by Mr. Lanza and Mr. Breivik. Are such legal placeboes palliatives rather than real solutions to real problems?
Everyone in Connecticut – those who fear for the safety of children, legislators, the families of the victims, the tribunes of the people -- should be insisting that the criminal report be released right now.  Tomorrow will be too late.

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