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Remembering the children of Sandy Hook
02:47 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A Connecticut school shooting killed six women and 20 children, ages 6 or 7, a year ago

Federal gun reform proposals fail, but some states now have tougher gun laws

Mental health problems are now being cast as "brain health" issues in a public campaign

A town's compassion is tested when deciding to build a new school on the same site

CNN  — 

Horror struck Newtown, Connecticut, in such a disturbing way that the nation still struggles with its impact a year later.

The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is so profound that it cannot hold just one meaning. It holds several. That’s because the crime itself conveys multiple issues in its summary:

A mentally ill 20-year-old recluse obsessed with school shootings enters Sandy Hook Elementary School after the morning bell and kills six adult women, 12 girls and eight boys in 11 minutes. The children were 6 or 7 years old. The heavily armed Adam Lanza, who first killed his mother before taking her car to the school, also killed himself, in a classroom.

On the anniversary of the December 14 slaughter – under the shadow of another school shooting, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado – country and community alike pause and reflect on an event known simply as “Newtown” or “Sandy Hook” and what it says about America on the matters of guns, mental health, healing, and the human spirit.


Whether the United States has reformed its gun laws after the Newtown massacre may depend on your point of view.

Clearly, America affirms a right to bear arms.

President Barack Obama was unable to persuade Congress, as he vowed in Newtown’s aftermath, to “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics” about gun reform.

Obama failed to even expand background checks on firearm buyers, though he signed 23 executive actions to strengthen existing gun laws and take related steps on mental health and school safety.

However, Paul Barrett, author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,” said it’s easier today to own a firearm in some states than a year ago.

“The one-word answer is yes,” Barrett, an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, told National Public Radio. “And I say yes because I think the overall environment in the United States has moved in a libertarian direction, in a pro-gun direction, away from the idea that the regulation of the lawful acquisition of firearms has much effect on crime.”

Others disagree and point to how a growing number of states have reformed gun laws – in the absence of the federal reforms. Barrett acknowledges the success in those states, indicating it’s not easier to own and operate a gun in those regions a year after Sandy Hook.

Those are major victories, according to gun reform advocates who have spent years working on their cause.

Those activists assembled this month a report card on all 50 states, grading their regulations on guns and ammunition, background checks, and prohibitions against dangerous people buying weapons.

High grades went to eight states that have enacted major gun reforms: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Low grades were given to Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota – states with some of the highest gun death rates in the country, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“States have clearly led where Congress has failed, and passed gun measures that will save lives,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said in a statement. “But to make this the truly safer nation we all want, we need the same laws on a federal level.”

Newtown marks the anniversary

Mental Health

Lanza, 20, suffered mental health problems. Many people, including the parents whose children were killed by Lanza, say society needs to better treat these problems to prevent another disturbed gunman committing a massacre. In fact, to combat the stigma-loaded phrase of “mental illness,” some Newtown parents have advanced a new wording to illustrate how the issue is deeper or more organic: “brain health” or “brain illness.”