The Sandy Hook Syndrome

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By Keith Dauch

In a quiet suburban home I sat down with John [whose name has been changed to protect his identity]. His wife cooks dinner in the kitchen, and his kids, slumped over the furniture, play video games.

“How much for a gun,” I ask in a conspiratorial whisper, even though I’m not actually looking for a gun. He laughs. “Why are you whispering?” he asks. “It’s not a big deal. In fact everyone knows someone who can get them a gun.” “Oh,” a bit taken back, I look around the house again and it loses the feel of criminality. It begins to feel simply like a home, which in retrospect I find a bit sicker. These transactions do not happen in dark alleyways and in hushed tones. They happen in neighborhood homes, and the buyers and sellers many times are children. According to a 2009 Connecticut School Health Survey, an estimated 6,500 high school students carried a weapon (gun, knife, or club) on school property on at least one of the 30 days before the survey was conducted.

“So,” John continues, “the first thing the seller is gonna want to know is if you want bodies on it.”

My look of confusion prompts him to continue.

“If a gun has been used in other crimes that will drive the price way down. But, you have to be careful because if you are caught with that gun, you will be charged with the other crimes as well,” he informs me.

“How much will a gun cost with bodies?” I ask.

“Around 100 dollars. Or if you wanted a gun that is still in the package, never opened, never fired, that is gonna cost a lot more.”

I leave shocked at how easy it is to purchase a gun illegally. I wonder why this is all but forgotten by the same news sources that continuously write articles on stricter gun laws since the Sandy Hook shooting. I wonder why politicians wait to fight for the safety of the children until 26 students and teachers are slaughtered in Newtown, while the children in urban areas continue to suffer from gun related violence. It may very will be the unfathomable depth of the problem itself, but after a twelve year study on child fatalities conducted by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate, Assistant Child Advocate and the Child Fatality Coordinator and author of the report Faith Vos Winkel, has learned that, “We may not be able to stop all of these deaths, but we have an obligation for the kids to try.”

The report, released in January of 2013, which studied twelve years of gun related deaths and injuries in the state, looked at the years between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2012. Within that time, 94 children between the ages of two and 17 died from gunshot wounds, in addition to 924 children injured by guns. Of the gun related deaths, 79% were homicides, 77% were boys, and 46% were white while 43% were black. Over all 47% of these gun related deaths occurred in one of three cities in Connecticut: Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. At first glance, less then half of all gun related homicides might seem low for three of Connecticut’s largest cities, but since only 11% of the overall population resides in these cities, the numbers become far more menacing.

Even more disturbing are the facts surrounding gun related injuries. Roughly 88% involved were boys, 61.6% were black children and 63% of these injuries occurred within the borders of Hartford, New Haven, or Bridgeport.

On the national scale and when looking at the populations of Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven as a whole, the numbers become devastating. The total percentage of African-Americans in the U.S. is 13.6%. The city of Hartford is home to 38.7% of the African-American population in Connecticut. Bridgeport is home to 34.6%, and New Haven is home to 35.4%. But, combined, these three cities are the scenes for 67% of the state’s homicides, 62% of all armed robberies, and 81% of aggravated assaults.

Mrs. Vos Winkel wonders if, “we would be having such a substantial gun debate in Connecticut if it wasn’t for the tragedy of a massacre.” She goes on to say, “It’s sort of the mass causality nature…that calls us to action in a way that other things may not.”

But her work with child fatality for over 12 years makes her believe that there is an “unfortunate inherent bias when people in the city are shot. I think when it reaches the suburbs there are more alarms that go off.

“Acceptance that inner cities are dangerous, and complacency about poverty, violence, and the children that become trapped in those webs, help excuse the turning of a blind eye to the gun violence that rages on in between the news coverage of the next mass shooting.”

During Vos Winkel’s research she talked with youth throughout Connecticut, including some from the Manson Youth Correctional Institution, a high-security detention center for inmates under the age of 21.  She found the prevailing idea shared by these kids was that they did not expect to live past their teenage years or early twenties.

Psychologically this can be described as “learned helplessness.” Simply put, when overwhelming obstacles and situations in life continue to defeat these children, they learn to no longer attempt to break free from their helpless situation and succumb to it. Growing up in a combined area that holds 11% of Connecticut’s population and watching half of Connecticut’s gun related homicides happen in their neighborhoods, these kids quickly learn the impossibility of survival.

Vos Winkel goes on to explain that it is not just the gun violence rate that is disturbing, but it is also the ease with which a gun can find its way into the hands of a child. During one of her meetings with a young inmate she was told, “that he could get her a gun quicker then he could get her a joint.” The hope is that the new legislation will help end the influx of legal guns into this dangerous and illegal market.

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