Friday, September 06, 2013

Connecticut’s Armed Watch

A picture, it is often said, is worth a thousand words. In the case of a picture on the front page of a newspaper captioned “After Newtown,” the picture may be worth a thousand dead end arguments.

The photo shows parents and children milling in the hallway of Henry Barnard Elementary School in Enfield on the first day of school. A bright yellow banner greets the students: “Welcome Back!”

In the foreground of the picture, Kevin Hart, “one of the guards stationed at every Enfield school this year,” stands watch, his hands folded in front of him and a gun strapped to his hip. Mr. Hart is “a retired Hartford police officer hired as a monitor for Henry Barnard.” But for the pistol, he is inconspicuous and would arouse no notice.

"Parents,” Mr. Hart told the paper, “have preconceptions of what this is about, but when they get more information and learn our backgrounds and attitudes, they'll see that by having all this experience, you have people who know how to respond, another set of eyes and ears making sure things are safe."

Late in May, following the mass slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Enfield’s Town Council and Board of Education decided to protect students by placing armed guards in the town’s schools. Around the same time, the town of Newtown, where the children and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary school were brutally cut down, also decided to provide protection for its children by posting armed watchers in its schools.

The resistance to this effort was minimal.  One may speculate that parents familiar with the events in Sandy Hook may have reasoned that few measures as yet taken by the state and federal governments could have prevented so painful a slaughter of children. That speculation is a “best guess” because the final criminal report on the Sandy Hook massacre has been unaccountably delayed -- twice. Then too, Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both reluctant to make schools in their state armed fortifications, had not been able to persuade U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring up in the Senate a gun bill far less restrictive than the one that quickly passed in Connecticut’s General Assembly without benefit of the data in the long delayed criminal report. Connecticut’s General Assembly had speedily voted out a bill -- as speedily signed by Governor Dannel Malloy -- that restricted the purchase of arms by what the bill’s opponents call “law abiding citizens of Connecticut.”

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter who committed suicide upon the arrival at the school of armed first responders, was not abiding by the laws of Connecticut when he appropriated three weapons from his mother, whom he murdered, shot his way into the school with a now banned in Connecticut  AR15 semi-automatic rifle, murdered the school’s brave principal and guidance counselor, both of whom had approached him in a hallway, and, unobstructed by armed school personal, made his way into two classrooms and murdered 20 children and other teachers.

The AR15, the most popular sporting rifle in the United States, is made in Connecticut by Stag Arms, a company that is considering a move to South Carolina, another Connecticut gun manufacturer, PTR, already having moved to North Carolina to escape a hostile political environment.

Across Connecticut, and in other states as well, the Newtown massacre ignited a substantial increase in gun purchases – significantly in rural areas where the expected response time of police is longer than 15 minutes. Gun sales in Connecticut also spiked dramatically in the wake of the horrific much publicized multiple murders in Cheshire.

The gun bill passed in Connecticut makes no provision for response times. Indeed, the police responded in a timely manner in Cheshire but remained outside Dr. Petit’s home until after two parolees had set fire to the house, following the rapes of Mrs. Petit and one of her daughters.

In the wake of the Cheshire murders, Connecticut’s General Assembly abolished the state’s death penalty and began an early release program that very likely would have given early release credits, prior to the Cheshire murders, to the two convicted assailants now awaiting final punishment on Connecticut’s death row. Mostly for electoral reasons, members of the General Assembly abolished capital punishment for future crimes, while leaving the punishment operative for 11 death row prisoners previously convicted of heinous murders. The death penalty in Connecticut is so Byzantine as to be rendered inoperable. Governor Malloy’s Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy at the Office of Policy and Management, Mike Lawlor, regarded the death penalty as inoperable when he argued for its abolition.

Bearing witness from behind the political curtain to all this – the abolition of the death penalty for heinous murders, an insufficient response time in the case of householders living great distances from police stations, a mass slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown that very likely could not have been prevented by ingenious legislation, the presence in Connecticut of a seriously flawed early release program available to violent criminals such as rapists and those who previously had used weapons in the commission of violent crimes – why should we be surprised that responsible Connecticut citizens are purchasing guns to defend themselves or that responsible politicians in Newton have decided to fight the criminal abuse of weapons with armed watchers in their schools?

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