America will never again travel happily into the holiday season without snagging on the memory of Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman massacred 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Nor should we. It was a horrific event that shone a bright light on the nation’s obsession with guns and also the prevalence of mental illness. Adam Lanza, the disturbed 20-year-old gunman, shot himself inside the school. He also murdered his mother, Nancy Lanza.
The nation will observe the second anniversary of the shootings on Sunday with vigils and prayers. These are appropriate gestures of respect. But we have failed to honor the victims with meaningful actions to reduce gun violence or help people with mental illness.
Guns are still sold at trade shows and over the Internet without background checks. These are huge loopholes that polls show more than nine of 10 Americans want fixed. But the U.S. Senate, to its lasting shame, shut down an effort to do so in 2013.
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States like Missouri and Kansas continue to pass reckless legislation making it easier for people to purchase weapons and carry them in public places, even if local communities object.
Politicians responded more constructively to the need to help people experiencing mental health crises. New resources and programs were promised and some have been provided, including in Missouri and Kansas.
But both states — especially Kansas — are too cash-starved to devote enough resources to mental health. Neither has expanded Medicaid eligibility, so thousands of people in both states lack consistent behavioral health services.
Health officials in Connecticut performed an admirable service this year with the release of a report documenting how Lanza’s mother and the Newtown Public School District failed by allowing him to refuse services and live in near isolation. Those findings may help avoid similar mistakes.
But the landscape since Newtown is littered with mass shootings — in schools, near college campuses, in workplaces and shopping centers. The latest unfolded Friday afternoon in Portland, Ore. In September, the FBI released a study documenting increased frequency of mass shootings since 2000, citing mental illness, copycat killings and the easy availability of firearms as reasons.
We are learning how to mourn the murdered children and staffers at Sandy Hook. But we have not learned how to do better in their memory.