They were his mother's guns – bought by her and registered in her name.
That fact has been “out there” since late Friday. And yet in the knee-jerk coverage of the horrors at the Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead, it barely figured in initial coverage.
Which was, at first, riddled with error, including the name of suspect Adam Lanza (he was carrying ID for his brother, Ryan), which of his guns was used for most of the murders and his mother's connection to the school (it is now said she officially had none).
It is both pointless and far too easy to indict American media for getting so very much wrong in the initial reportage of such a traumatic event. Almost every reliable source will be a “first responder,” or a superior of one, with far more important duties to be discharged amid unfolding chaos and the thought of 20 slaughtered children.
“The fog of war,” Frank Sesno rightly called it Sunday on Howard Kurtz's “Reliable Sources” on CNN.
I wasn't as put off by how much that came out was incorrect. On the other hand, I was, quite rapidly, horrified by the tone-deaf reflex coverage everywhere, all of which seemed to fit into a computer mourning template for American media that seemed to miss entirely one immense reaction to this traumatic event.
That is where the modern new world of social media has much to teach current journalism. This one felt different from the first time the fact of it hit you in the gut. The second I heard that many young children were involved, I felt equal parts horror – and anger.
As I watched the coverage Friday and much of Saturday, I kept saying what many were moved to say in social media: “No more sorrow. No more grief. Please.” What I wondered is, what right do we have to mourn in a country that let its ban on assault weapons lapse? Mourning is for the people of Newtown, Conn., and suffering stricken families, wherever they are. The rest of us need to be angry. And stay that way for the long struggle to come. We can't have any more murdered first-graders. That's not a country I want to see my 3-year-old grandson grow up in.
I kept hoping that some Hal Holbrook would show up in a TV network parking garage and tell some ace reporters “follow the guns, for pity's sake. And the bullets. Whose are they? What are military assault weapons doing in the hands of private citizens living in a sleepy and ostensibly idyllic American suburb?”
As the weekend proceeded to Sunday, we began to find out what we should have known as soon as it was established that all the weapons used were registered to Adam Lanza's mother, Nancy.
What we now know is that she was a gun collector and enthusiast who was, as her sister Marsha put it, “prepared for the worst” – an emblematic figure in what we have taken to calling “gun culture.”
Something seemed obvious by the time President Obama, at a Newtown memorial service, told a prime-time TV audience “these tragedies must end” and pledged the powers of his office to see to it. This horror has almost certainly become as different as it initially seemed from the first brutal punch in our guts – the one accompanied by what may well turn into a majority sentiment of “never again.”
I understand the mass sorrow and grieving, of course. Who could be so cold that they don't feel it? But are we truly serving those kids and those heroic teachers and school administrators by indulging our constant sorrow-filled rituals? Or can those tragically lost people – so many of them so young – be remembered as the reason we started doing some things right that we've so clearly been doing so very wrong for a long time?
Obama pledged “whatever power this office holds” to eliminate any more Newtowns. “What choice do we have? Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
He was, in other words, ready to take on the gun lobby. Hallelujah.
Meanwhile, back at many precincts in the self-satisfied Commentariat, you could hear endless punditry anticipating the whole event to be just like all past traumas caused by the godawful combination of deeply disturbed young men and ruthlessly efficient weaponry.
A traumatic story, in other words, that to some will capture the fickle American brain for a weekend and then be set aside for the latest Kardashian divorce.
I don't think so. And I didn't from the time I groaned involuntarily reading the story.
As the air went out of us after that first punch, you could practically feel the forces of “never again” beginning to mobilize.
I fully understand all congressional and presidential caution in the opening hours. The gun lobby is, arguably, as powerful a force as there is in American politics. No one relishes a tussle with it.
That is especially true at this political moment when the highly charged specter of the “fiscal cliff” has to be eluded before Dec. 31, lest budgetary calamity befall us all.
Into the most politically charged weeks of the year, there suddenly has come an old question that had once been settled and then been allowed to unsettle.
And that is why the Lanza family seems a specimen family of what all the gun sanity forces have been trying to eliminate: There, for all to see, is what can go so horrifically wrong when domestic access to such unnecessary firepower is left inches away from a very disturbed young man.
Liberals and progressives have disenfranchised anger in the last 60 years. In the complacent Eisenhower 1950s, the word denoted a struggle for righteousness. Look at the era's movie titles – “12 Angry Men,” “The Last Angry Man,” “Seven Angry Men,” “The Angry Silence,” “This Angry Age.” The last 20 years have handed the word to angry white males of the conservative persuasion. Newtown may have put it back into the vocabulary of the Americans who re-elected Obama as president in November.
It isn't a matter of pure legalities but rather one of climate. And that, we know from history, takes time. But I've seen, in my lifetime, the magnificent civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s lead to the black president no one ever thought we'd live to see. (When I reviewed James Earl Jones in the movie “The Man” 40 years ago, it was purest fantasy.) And I've seen gay rights advance to the legalization of same-sex marriage in nine states.
Majority ideas change over time. Media figure in a massive way. The combination of television, the Kennedys and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. set America on a struggle that turned the country upside down and made some dreams into realities.
The invasion of TV sitcoms by gay writers normalized ideas for young viewers that their parents had been taught to fear.
What happened in Connecticut on Friday may quite possibly touch off a gun sanity movement in which the idea of an upper-class suburban home doubling as a deeply disturbed military fortress becomes progressively less likely.
Hunters can still eat their fresh venison. But citizens – and their 6-year-old children and grandchildren – can be safe from deeply disturbed people with access to weapons that, in a sane world, only cops and “well-regulated militias” would possess.