Commentary: Connecting to Connecticut with grief and incomprehension

Town of Newtown Black RibbonBy Len Lazarick

I have a brother-in-law who teaches elementary school in Connecticut. He came first to mind as the news broke Friday morning. But his school is many miles away from Sandy Hook Elementary.

I have two daughters who are public school teachers, one in elementary school. I have a grandson, almost 5, in pre-school. His name is Noah, the same first name as one of the 6-year-old victims to be buried today. My middle-school teacher daughter has the same name and is the same age as one of the teachers killed. She reminded me that her classroom is near the front door of her Montgomery County school.

In many ways, I feel connected to the people of Newtown, Conn., their grief and incomprehension. Many without such connections feel similar empathy.

I don’t have any handguns, and the hand-me-down World War II Japanese rifle I once had now sits in a military museum in Utah.

First and Second Amendment

I was persuaded long ago by a piece in a journalism magazine that I couldn’t very well embrace an expansive interpretation of First Amendment freedoms of speech and press, and then take a very narrow view of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

I do not believe that only cops and soldiers should be allowed to have guns, but I don’t particularly want to own one. I can understand why residents of some neighborhoods want to carry one, why store owners have one at the cash register, and why people will keep one next to their bed.

A .223 Bushmaster (Photo by aconoway1 on Flickr)

A .223 Bushmaster (Photo by aconoway1 on Flickr)

But I really don’t understand why Nancy Lanza felt the need to have six guns in her home, and I especially don’t understand the need to own a semi-automatic assault rifle. To arm yourself when the dictatorship comes? To have in the closet when civilization collapses? To practice at the local gun range?

Why the assault rifles?

By all accounts, Connecticut, home of the Colt 45, has stringent guns laws, and the weapons were legal. But for what purpose do people own military-style assault weapons? Why did Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs have two Defender 2000 assault rifles (AR-15s) among the nine weapons he recently turned in after he was named in a domestic protection order?

Yes, it’s the people holding the guns who do the killing, but an assault weapon in the hands of the angry or deranged can do far more damage than a knife or a pistol.

A New York Times piece on Sunday explained the appeal of this kind of weapon to hunters and marksmen, and why more than 3 million have been sold commercially. Would banning their future sale make much difference? What of the 30-round ammunition clips Adam Lanza was armed with?

I do not have answers. But we have to put a roadblock into the intersection of mental illness and high-powered weapons. As President Obama said last night, “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

Briefly: Political ricochet on Facebook

There was abundant Facebook reaction to Friday’s massacre. What particularly stirred the political pot was a posting of a photo of Del. Mike Smigiel, R-Cecil, an aide and others holding automatic weapons. Arthur Hock, a defeated Democratic candidate for delegate in Smigiel’s district, posted the photo, apparently from one of the fundraisers Smigiel has hosted at a gun range.

Hock took a lot of grief for posting the image, but among the 140 comments, he also drew praise and support, including a series of pro-gun-control comments from Melanie Miller, daughter of Senate President Mike Miller, who practices in his law firm. Smigiel, a strong advocate of concealed carry and other first amendment issues, hosted a “BBQ, Bullets and the Bay” fundraiser as recently as July.

Other Maryland GOP politicians have raised money at similar events, such as the one Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore-Harford, offered on Preakness Day in May. Top donors of $500 could shoot the automatic rifle of their choice and get a photo with the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Disturbing, but....

    It’s worth remembering that almost all firearms have design origins in military weapons. That includes bolt action center-fire “hunting” rifles. And every 9mm pistol known to man. Nothing new about civilians owning rifles and pistols that are or were once used by the military. What’s more, distinguishing between weapon types is unlikely to have much influence on homicide rates, so long as widespread firearm ownership is common in the U.S., as the culture and the Constitution encourage.

  2. Josh Miller

    It is white males between the age of 16 and 30 that fly through the “intersection of mental illness and high-powered weapons.” The roadblock at this intersection has to allow for a little profiling…sorry, but the statistics can not ignore the need to focus on this demographic–even if blatantly discriminatory. A small price to pay that possibly could have saved 20 children.

    • Dale McNamee


      I agree with you. One story that isn’t reported is that he was DENIED his legal purchase of a rifle by Connecticut’s current gun law…

      So, the “system” worked in that case, but how can any system or law control weapons that are stolen ?

      Also, is anyone able to tell, just by looking at someone, tell if that person is mentally ill ?

      “Preventative detention” based on “hunches” raises Constitutional questions !

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