The names and ages of the victims of the horrific Newtown tragedy in the US state of Connecticut have been released. According to the official list, all 20 children, mostly girls, were between the ages of six and seven. Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old sole shooter, killed his mother at home before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School and opening fire on a class of innocent children — who were shot repeatedly — in one section of the school. Though carrying three guns registered to his mother’s name, thus legally obtained, Lanza solely used a semi-automatic rifle to conduct what is being termed “America’s most horrific mass shooting.”
Newtown, Connecticut, is a quiet, affluent area housing close-knit communities and rarely ever host to such deadly shootings. But things will never be the same again. The families of the victims will never be the same. The teachers who taught at the school will never be the same. The 500 schoolchildren who attended Sandy Hook that morning will never be the same. And neither will Christmas for the grieving families.
Since 1979, when gun death data was first collected by age, close to 120,000 children and teens have been killed due to gun violence. President Barack Obama emotionally and quite rightly stated that “meaningful action” must be taken to avoid future attacks like this but most analysts predict that unfortunately, few concrete steps will be taken to address the gun control debate and introduce more stringent state laws. According to Federal Law, US citizens can purchase guns for defensive purposes. Reality, however, illustrates otherwise. In 2011, House Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona and earlier this year, a mass shooting occurred at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado as well as at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Previous incidents include the Fort Hood shooting (2009), the Virginia Tech massacre (2007) and the Columbine High School shooting (1999).
The guns may be bought and registered legally, however their use is debatable. While those who buy them have to undergo written tests, submit fingerprints, undergo background checks and submit letter of references — unlike in Japan — the United States does not rigorously conduct medical and psychological examinations before clearing a citizen to purchase a gun. Again, this varies according to state. Gun control remains a controversial debate and some argue that President Obama’s fresh mandate will allow him to push certain policies more aggressively. It is, however, uncertain that this will happen.
In Pakistan, another debate has arisen. While some Pakistanis held candlelight vigils and vociferously condemned the shooting on social media outlets, others simply question: why should we even care? On a daily basis, innocent children in Pakistan are killed by drone attacks or caught in the middle of ethnic-religious conflicts. They are more worthy of our prayers and the need to highlight an American tragedy is both unnecessary and dare I say, beyghairati.
My simple answer to that is that tragedies do not compete. Many Pakistanis, while realising that they can do little to curb violence, never forget to say at least a small prayer for those who have died. When we mourned for Malala Yousufzai, we expected the rest of the world to sympathise as well, show solidarity with us and condemn the daily killing of children, whether through terrorist attacks or drone strikes. So, why shouldn’t the children of another religion and country deserve our prayers as well? A massacre is a massacre, regardless of geographical boundaries, whether it is an 11-year-old Pakistani girl going to school in Swat or a six-year-old American boy going to school in Newtown.
Unfortunately, Pakistanis endure and witness such atrocities every day and realise first-hand the psychological trauma associated with such heinous crimes. That is not an excuse to be selective in our mourning. It is, in fact, reason enough to stand united, not as citizens of Pakistan but as citizens of the world and show solidarity with those who are hurting, just as we are hurting, every single day.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2012.