Newtown shootings: US media reaction

Gun control supporters take part in a candlelight vigil at Lafayette Square across from the White House on 15 December 2012, Washington
Image caption The Sandy Hook school massacre has intensified debate about US gun control laws

The Newtown school shootings have revived debate in the US media about gun control - the same debate that raged, for a while, after previous atrocities such as Columbine and Virginia Tech.

But the fact that 20 of the 26 victims were seven or younger has intensified the argument:

Can such atrocities be avoided by focusing on mental health treatment rather than the National Rifle Association (NRA)? How much responsibility lies with a killer's family, the amount of support received in formative years - and the media itself?

Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook is "another sign that something once considered almost unimaginable has become the terrifying norm in America", argues the Denver Post.

Five months after a gunman killed 12 people at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, the Post says the massacres themselves are not new, but their frequency is.

"What's going on? In part, a copycat phenomenon is probably in play in which savage or sick individuals get the idea of a mass shooting from seeing others do it," it says. "This is an era of media saturation, after all.

"Some experts point to frayed family ties, too. Others highlight the number of mentally ill people who go without supervision or even treatment."

Ready for change?

In the aftermath of Friday's shootings, many have argued for tighter restrictions on guns, but equally vocal are those who say gun ownership is not the problem.

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler does a fact-checking exercise on Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert's assertion that concealed-weapon laws actually result in less crime.

He checks out statistics comparing gun ownership laws in the US with crime-rates, and reaches no firm conclusion.

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Media captionObama: "Are we really prepared to say we're powerless in the face of such carnage?"

"Such laws have not increased the crime rate, as opponents had feared, but it is equally a stretch to say such laws are a slam-dunk reason for why crimes have decreased," says Kessler.

Citing the precedents of Canada or Australia, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times suggests limiting gun purchases to curb trafficking, imposing a universal background check system, making serial numbers on guns - and microstamps on bullets - compulsory and harder to erase, while restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines.

The writer asks for America to regulate its guns as seriously as its cars.

"As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly," argues Kristof. "But we don't shrug and say, 'Cars don't kill people, drunks do.'"

"Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America's traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90% since the 1950s."

But is the US ready to make such changes?

'Exit trenches'

The argument for tighter gun restrictions is less popular now than it was in the 1990s, writes Michael Crowley in Time magazine, despite recent gun rampages such as the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the Aurora cinema massacre.

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama promised change in what may have been "his most theological address", writes Mr Crowley, but can the president deliver?

"Republicans who almost unanimously oppose new gun regulation control the House of Representatives and wield effective veto power in the Senate," he says. "And GOP leaders have kept a conspicuously low profile on the issue since the world learned the name of Adam Lanza.

"Moreover, many moderate Democrats in both chambers are wary of alienating gun rights' supporters in their states and districts."

Advocates and opponents of gun-control are so entrenched in their views there is legislative stalemate, says Robert Leider in the Wall Street Journal.

"The stalemate can be broken, but only if both sides exit their trenches," he argues.

For starters, he suggests: "A risk-based approach reflective of a person's present danger would leave law-abiding, mentally stable citizens free to pursue their hobbies. It also would modernize federal firearm laws by expanding the ability to remove firearms from those too unstable to possess them."

But swift action needs to be taken while minds are focused, analysts say: Even the most horrible tragedies fade from memory, writes Patrick Radden Keefe in The New Yorker, as bills get bogged down at committee level and campaigning minds become focused on the next tragedy - be it a plane crash or a mega-storm.

'Protect ourselves'

It is a mark of the depth of America's gun pathology that Mr Obama's words - "a speech without any specific policy proposals, whose greatest force came by way of implication" - would sound so radical, blogs Amy Davidson, also in The New Yorker.

But in the context of a memorial service, when he might have just spoken about mercy and faith, the president's speech was a point of departure, she argues.

He made an appeal for "meaningful action" against gun crime in the US shortly after Friday's attack, and reiterated this message on Sunday, saying that in coming weeks he would use "whatever powers" his office held "in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this".

So what can be done?

"Let's start by reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons that Congress so cravenly allowed to expire several years ago," argues the Hartford Courant.

"Hunters don't want or need assault rifles with military magazines; these have no civilian application. Yet it is a tribute to the power of the gun lobby and the snivelling cowardice of Congress that there have been more than 60 multiple shootings since a member of Congress, Rep Gabby Giffords, was shot in Arizona in 2011 and no action has been taken."

Citing previous shooting tragedies and their perpetrators, the Courant says more should be done to improve workplace security and mental health assistance for workers who need it.

"The government has failed to protect us from shooters, but we have also failed to protect ourselves by getting help for friends or family members who need it. We need to think about social outcasts, about drug abuse, about violent video games and films, about what the Internet is being used for."

But while the US should weigh the pros and cons of stricter gun control laws, there are strong signs these would not have prevented Friday's shootings, posits the Washington Examiner - chiefly the fact that the killer was blocked by Connecticut's strict gun laws when he attempted to purchase a rifle the week before the attack, so he used his mother's guns instead.

"Setting aside any Second Amendment considerations, there are nearly nine privately owned firearms in America today for every 10 people, according to the Small Arms Survey," says the paper.

Short of universal gun confiscation, it could be decades before any new gun control laws have a noticeable effect, adds the paper.

"By all means, debate guns, but the conversation cannot stop there. It needs to hit closer to home, about the responsibility of parents, teachers and Hollywood to respect the values that America once took for granted."