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Sun., Dec. 16, 2012

Smart Bombs: How many have to die?

When I heard Friday’s news of the elementary school massacre, I thought of my kids. When I dropped them off at their schools, we didn’t know about it. I tried to remember what we said. What would’ve been their final words if it had been them?

Did I say, “I love you”? Certainly not to my high school son. It’s a guy thing.

I often say something along those lines to my sixth-grade daughter, but did I that morning? All I can remember is the conversation about taking money out of her savings account so she could secretly buy me a Christmas present.

“Will $300 be enough?” I joked, as she walked away. Don’t know if she even heard me.

In nine days, children everywhere across the country will tear open presents and give their parents hugs. What becomes of the gifts for kids who were gunned down? It’s all so unimaginable.

Twenty-six bodies in an elementary school; 20 of them children. The rest needed to be evacuated.

“The police took us out of the school. We were told to hold each others’ hands and to close our eyes. We opened our eyes when we were outside,” said a 9-year-old student at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Let’s close our eyes and imagine carnage of this scale being played out morning after morning for 239 days. A total of 5,740 children and teenagers were killed by guns in the United States over 2008 and 2009, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. That’s equivalent to about 239 classrooms of 24 children each. Fewer police officers than preschoolers were killed over the same period.

Yes, some of those shootings are suicides; some are accidental. Still, if the toll mounted on consecutive days as mass shootings, we wouldn’t stand for it. Even in America, where gun rights are cherished like nowhere else on the planet, we wouldn’t stand for it. Even in a country where our children are far more likely to be slain than in other advanced nations, we wouldn’t stand for it.

It’s unimaginable that we would.

However, the killings are spread out, so they don’t shock us or break our hearts. The mass shootings are also sufficiently spaced out to thwart action. On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said there’s a day for gun control review, “but today is not that day.”

But it happens all the time. On average, eight children a day were killed by guns over 2008 and 2009. We’ve tried waiting periods on gun-control solutions, and they don’t work.

Let’s open our eyes and do something. Now.

On the home front. Gun-rights defenders are sure to point out that even with the easy availability of weapons in the United States, gun-related fatalities have dropped. But this is largely a medical triumph, not a victory over violence.

The number of homicides has been declining for 20 years, but the reported number of people treated for gunshot attacks has increased by almost 50 percent, according to a recent U.S. News article.

As Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police said, “Did everyone become a lousy shot all of a sudden? No.”

Rapid-response helicopters and advances in trauma care have spared lives. Doctors and emergency medical technicians have borrowed techniques from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, where troops are surviving wounds that would’ve killed them in previous wars. This doesn’t account for the entire decline in homicides, but experts say it’s a major factor.

So, yes, it actually is bad news that our country has become more of a war zone.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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