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Alone in grief, in call to action

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In this Dec. 15, 2012 file photo, a U.S. flag flies at half-staff on Main Street in honor of the 26 people killed when gunman Adam Lanza opened fire inside a Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown.

DAVID GOLDMAN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

In this Dec. 15, 2012 file photo, a U.S. flag flies at half-staff on Main Street in honor of the 26 people killed when gunman Adam Lanza opened fire inside a Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown.

For Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the victims’ families and friends have asked to be left alone. Their town is similarly inclined. First Selectman Pat Llodra of Newtown, Conn., has asked that residents be spared a media spectacle in favor of "time for personal and communal reflection."

The call for solitude is understandable, of course. But in one important sense it seems superfluous. After all, we left the Newtown families stranded and alone months ago.

The loss of a child under any circumstances creates ripples through a community. A child’s funeral draws sympathetic strangers. Distant neighbors who wouldn’t consider sending condolences after the death of an adult might feel a need to register their sorrow, and solidarity, with grieving parents.

A massacre of children and their teachers is an event of another order of magnitude. The families of the victims acknowledged as much on their collective website, giving thanks for "the outpouring of kindness, love, prayers and generosity received from the entire world."

In the days after the killings, Newtown residents derived solace and strength from their identity as Americans. American flags were seemingly everywhere: hanging from trees, from poles, from makeshift scaffolds and cemetery fences. The people of Newtown experienced the crime as a national, as well as personal, tragedy.

Gun massacres are not uniquely American, but they are distinctly so. The United States dominates the category. Since 2006, a mass shooting has taken place in the U.S. roughly every two weeks. Some 200 children have died of gunshots in the year since Sandy Hook.

Gun sales — or the roughly 60 per cent of sales that are at least quasi-traceable — continue at a brisk pace. As for sales in the nation’s vast unregulated gun market — well, who really knows?

The families of Newtown wrapped their anguish in the American flag, then called for collective action. The nation’s response was crushing. Congress failed to pass even a rudimentary (and overwhelmingly popular) background check law to make it more difficult for the criminally insane to access firearms. In 40 states, 136 bills seeking to nullify federal gun laws have been introduced. Of the 109 state gun laws enacted in the year since the massacre, 70 actually loosened regulations.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, the families of Newtown have opted to grieve in private. The decent thing to do is to leave them alone. We have proved we know how to do that.

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