School Shootings & Conspiracy Theorists: Background information when reading Only Child

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Only Child

by Rhiannon Navin

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin X
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
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    Feb 2018, 304 pages
    Feb 2019, 304 pages


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School Shootings & Conspiracy Theorists

This article relates to Only Child

Print Review

Rhiannon Navin's novel Only Child is in part inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place on 14 December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  On that date, 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered his mother at their home and then drove to the school, fatally shooting 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult staff using a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle (aka AR-15).

Astonishingly, some conspiracy theorists believe the absurd claim that the shootings never happened.  They propose that the whole thing was staged using child actors by the then-Democrat-controlled federal government as a way to convince people that stricter gun laws were needed – maybe even to sponsor a repeal of the 2nd Amendment.  Social media has enabled these "hoaxers" to widely spread their disinformation and influence others to take action against those they maintain are lying to the American people – which tragically includes the parents and survivors of Sandy Hook, many of whom have been the targets of non-stop harassment since the shootings.

A quick Internet search brings up many sites and individuals who continue promoting the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax. In 2015, James Fetzer, an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota, published a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.  A 30-minute video was also available on YouTube entitled The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed which examined supposed inconsistencies in the police reports that it insisted were evidence of a conspiracy.  Snopes, long known as a reliable, non-partisan fact-checking organization, has fully debunked the video and other conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting, and YouTube pulled the video for violating its policies; nevertheless, there are people out there that still believe it never happened.    

The current leading conspiracy theorist is Alex Jones, the host of Infowars, a web site/blog devoted to exposing events which he declares are hoaxes, such as Sandy Hook.  He also has a syndicated alt-right radio show out of Austin, TX that bears his name.  As recently as 2017 Jones was in the national news with his theories, appearing in a controversial Megyn Kelly interview and garnering the support of Donald Trump, who appeared on Infowars via live web chat from Trump Tower when he was running for election. Jones often brags that Trump called him after he was elected to personally thank him for his support and that he regularly speaks with the president "about freedom and our common goal to destroy our enemies." The president hasn't confirmed or denied Jones' boast.

Lenny Ponzer, the father of Noah Ponzer, the youngest child murdered at Sandy Hook, is waging his own battle against those who won't recognize his son's death. A former conspiracy-theorist himself, he was shocked to find that so many didn't believe that his six-year-old son had truly died – or had even existed in the first place.  He believes that "some are drawn to the hoax narrative because they cannot deal with the fact that small, innocent children were slaughtered at a school. That would entail having to accept the reality that this could happen to their family. It's much more comfortable to believe that women and children did not die and that the government they love to loathe is coming for their guns."

He particularly takes issue with people such as Jones, who make a profit out of fearmongering and stoking hate.  He's decided that "the right response is not to ignore, but confront people whose only motivation is to make a profit out of others' paranoia."  He's started an organization called HONR which takes legal action against those who harass Sandy Hook survivors and families.

School shootings by decadeTotal school shootings: In the six plus years since the "never again" events at Sandy Hook School there have been at least 418 shootings in US schools resulting in over 500 people shot, of which 173 are dead. This includes the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.*

School shooting incidents with multiple victims: No other country comes close to the USA. In the first decade of the 21st century, you have to add up the combined totals for 36 countries with a population of almost 4 billion (more than 10 times the population of the USA) to match the number of school shooting incidents with multiple victims.

Mass shootings in the USA: Since 2013, America has endured over 1,968 mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter). That's more than one a day.

Total gun deaths in the USA: In a typical year in the USA there are well over 10,000 gun homicides. A further 20,000 people commit suicide with a firearm. For every person killed with a gun, two more are injured.

Guns and mental illness: Research in the USA indicates that only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns.

Teen survivors of the Parkland massacre organized a march on Washington to demand action on gun control. The March for Our Lives took place on March 24, 2018, with local student organized marches coordinating across the country. The conspiracy theorists quickly started their attacks.

*Observant readers may notice a small discrepancy between the stats shown in the text regarding total school shootings compared to the graph, which is due to the data originating from different independent sources. As a result of the 1996 Dickey Amendment the Centers for Disease Control is effectively forbidden from researching gun related deaths, thus it is left to non-government groups to track statistics as best they can. The most recent data available from the CDC is for 2013 and is limited to the broadest brushstrokes.

Filed under Society and Politics

This "beyond the book article" relates to Only Child. It originally ran in February 2018 and has been updated for the February 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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