Gun control comes to Times Square

Choreographer Lorin Latarro and dancers from “Wicked,” “Chicago” and other Broadway shows swarmed Times Square over the weekend, conducting a flash-mob performance piece honoring the victims of the Newtown shootings.

"We took one of the most commercial spaces on earth," said Latarro, "and transformed it for a few moments, into a silent, holy place."

As half the performers lay down on the ground, the rest hovered over them, then outlined their bodies in white chalk. The performance took place while crowds of surprised tourists looked on, taking pictures, watching as the ‘victims’ slowly arose and words were written within the chalk outlines: “Ailene, age 6,” “AK-47,” “murdered,” “background check.

Although the video comes from “Artists in Support of Gun Control,” Latarro said her effort was “intended to hit deeper than politics.”

"Sometimes you can communicate more without a sound. As a dancer, I live in that realm."

The Truthers are Back… at Newtown

Yes, the truthers are back, and this time they think it’s a conspiracy to pass gun control legislation.

From Salon:

In the latest angle, theorists think they have found “absolute proof” of a conspiracy to defraud the American people. “You reported in December that this little girl had been killed,” a reader emailed Salon in response to a story. “She has been found, and photographed with President Obama.”

The girl in question is Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old who was shot multiple times and killed at Sandy Hook. But for conspiracy theorists, the tears her family shed at her funeral, the moving eulogy from Utah’s governor, and the entire shooting spree are fake. Welcome to the world where Sandy Hook didn’t really happen.

There are dozens of websites, blog posts and YouTube videos extolling the Emilie Parker hoax theory. If you Google her name, the very first result is a post mocking her father for crying at a press conference after the shooting. One popular video, which already has 134,000 views, was made by the producers of a popular 9/11 Truther film. “Just as the movie ‘Operation Terror’ shows the 9/11 attacks were a made-for-TV event, so too were the mass shootings … There can be no doubt that Sandy Hook was a staged event,” the narrator intones. He goes on to say that the adults who participated in the media coverage of the shootings “should be prosecuted as accessories after the fact in a mass murder”

I’ve been asking various 2nd amendment scholars what they think will emerge from the Newtown tragedy. Randy Barnett, a professor at George Washington University Law Center, had this to say — it sounds a lot like what gun owners in other states have told me in the past, that gun control advocates like Mayor Bloomberg are hypocrites:

"It is appalling to see this tragedy exploited to advance measures that would have done nothing to prevent it.  I want to know the types of weapons Mayor Bloomberg’s bodyguards use to protect his safety, and whether he will order them to disarm.  If not, why not?  Is his safety more important than that of mere citizens?”

Given the combative tone of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre earlier today, we’re looking at a serious gun control brawl in the coming months.

See Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the NRA earlier today.

Like everyone else, I’ve found the Newtown coverage almost unbearable to follow, and yet that’s my job, so I read everything I can, and gaze at images of little coffins being carried into hearses.

There have been times over the past couple days when I’ve found myself inexplicably tired. And then I realize that this is my body’s response to the news: it’s exhausting to grow emotional every few hours.

What’s going to come of all this? Too early to say, and although terrible shooting tragedies have happened before, with no legislative impact, one activist I spoke to is feeling hopeful.

"I feel encouraged," said Jackie Hilly, who runs New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, "because I think the emotional component of what has happened in the last week, I really think it’s a turning point."

She turned to Civil Rights history to find an appropriate analogy.

"It’s reminiscent of the 4 girls being bombed at the church in Birmingham. There are certain episodes in our history that the tides just change, because the victims are so innocent."

Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference at City Hall on Monday had the feel of a historic event. In the wake of the Newtown massacre, the question in that packed room seemed to be, “Is this his moment?”

Because Bloomberg has emerged as the most prominent gun control advocate in the country. But although he put forth concrete proposals — like requiring background checks before all gun sales, and banning assault weapons — the Mayor hardly sounded confident that anything would happen, even this time.

"If this doesn’t do it, what is going to?" he said. "But that doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t try."

The most hopeful person in the room, oddly enough, was one of the family members of gun violence victims that Bloomberg surrounded himself with during the news conference.

Sandra Moses lost her son Steven 25 years ago and said that after an initial period of making public speeches and fighting for gun control, she gave upthe cause. She said it felt pointless, and sensed early on it would take an event of great, almost unimaginable magnitude to change America’s mind about gun control. She now believes the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary rise to that level, and that change is set to unfold.

In an interview on Sunday, Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, renewed his call for tougher gun restrictions, including banning assault weapons, requiring background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows and prohibiting gun sales to anyone on the nation’s terrorism watch list.

But Mr. King said he doubted that the shootings in Connecticut would alter the gun debate in Congress, saying that outside the Northeast a gun culture exists that is resistant to any kind of firearms regulation. “I hope I am wrong,” he said, “but I don’t think it will have a major impact on the debate in Congress. We’ve had a number of gun tragedies in recent years without any action being taken.” [NYT]

The teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary

I find it almost impossible to write meaningfully about the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Not just because it’s emotionally overwhelming — it is — but because it is simply inexplicable. Beyond what language can contain.

Instead, I’d like to say a word about the 6 women who died at the school that day:

  1. Dawn Hochsprung, 47, School principal
  2. Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher
  3. Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher
  4. Mary Sherlach, 56, School psychologist
  5. Victoria Soto, 27, Teacher
  6. Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher

As a child growing up in Texas, my Hindu parents taught me to regard education — the acquisition of knowledge — as a serious thing. That it is in fact sacred, the preserve of deities like Saraswati and Ganesha. When you’re a kid, that can be a little abstract, but certain basic rules — no defacing books, no touching books (or even paper) with your feet — take root.

One of the most fundamental principles, as far as they were concerned, was that teachers were to be respected. So for my folks, and for me now as an adult and parent, it was always mystifying to see teachers in this country, and teaching, be disparaged. Legitimate public debates over education reform seemed to cross a line at some point when they allowed the regular and casual vilification of teachers, to suggest that as a group they’re underperformers, or couldn’t make it in the ‘real world.’

And then things like this happen.

No teacher should think their lives are on the line when they enter a classroom, but tragedies like Newtown are stark reminders of the responsibility school instructors bear on a daily basis. My hope is that Victoria Soto — the 27-year-old Sandy Hook teacher reportedly shot dead as she rushed her kids into a storage room — will be remembered as not just an individual hero, but someone who helped redefine her profession.

Because just as we acknowledge with police officers and fire fighters, and with members of our military, the pay for teachers is rarely equal to the work put in. But the least we can do as a society is accord honor to those willing to serve.