For the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, for the 20 children who died at the hands of the kind of man they never knew existed, and for their grief-stricken parents who will forever ask why, Gov. Chris Christie said we owe it to them to find the answer.
It won’t be easy, Christie told a packed crowd during a recent town hall meeting in Belmar, and there’s no one area we can point to and say "that’s it." What unfolded last Friday morning in Newtown, Conn. was a confluence of a series of events and manifested emotions unleashed on a group of innocent people.
But, while there’s no simple explanation for why Adam Lanza shot his sleeping mother and then set off for a seemingly random elementary school to target children, and in the process killing 26 people before shooting himself, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t as least try and understand why it happened and how we can prevent it in the future, Christie said.
Christie’s comments came during a town hall meeting focused primarily on New Jersey’s post-Hurricane Sandy recovery. A young student asked Christie about the shooting and how the state would help make schools more safe and secure for the children attending them.
Reactionary considerations, like stationing armed guards outside of school classrooms, isn’t the right place to start, Christie said. “One thing we can never completely stop is when bad people want to do bad things,” he said. As a society we can, however, do a better job of identifying issues and reaching out to those in need before it’s too late.
Though the reports on Lanza’s life are somewhat muddled, most of the details culled from interviews with neighbors and acquaintances who never knew him well, the 20 year old is believed to have been suffering from a mental illness. The massacre, Christie believes, is likely tied to the failure to get Lanza treatment for mental illness.
Society needs to be more forthright when it comes to not only identifying those who suffer mental illness, but providing treatment, too. It is a difficult proposition, he said, one we need to move beyond if we want to prevent incidents like this from happening again.
“There’s a stigma attached to (mental illness), everybody,” he said. “We need to remove that stigma.”
When Christie first heard news of the shooting, delivered in a rushed conversation down some corridor in the Statehouse that Friday morning, the first thing to enter his mind before he could even completely process what was told to him were his three children.
It’s a devastating and unnatural grief, Christie told the crowd, when a parent loses a child. As a mother, as a father, your only expectation is that your children will be there, will live on after you’ve passed away, he said. It’s a daunting task, responding to a tragedy like this, but for the sake of the children, what parents, teachers and legislators must do now is preserve an environment that’s conducive to education, not fear.
“The adults are going to be responsible about this, I think,” Christie told the young questioner, adding that the student's only job in school is to continue concentrating on getting smart.
The wide picture needs to be examined before any decisions are made going forward, Christie said. Yes, gun control needs to be examined. New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, Christie said, coming in second only to New York. The country, as a whole, also needs to address the culture of violence that permeates our society, he said.
Lanza, Christie said he’s read, spent hours and hours locked away in the basement of his mother’s home playing Call of Duty, a realistic military-style first person shooter. It’s hard to imagine that playing what ostensibly amounts to a repercussion-free murder simulator with a realistic depiction of gun violence doesn’t contribute to desensitization.
But, Christie cautioned, it’s not just about video games, or the depiction of violence across the various forms of media. It’s not just about guns, which Lanza had ready access to and training with. It’s not even just about mental illness, either. It can’t be just one thing.
“If we focus on just one of those things…we’re going to miss it,” Christie said.