Vigil in Lowell for victims of Newtown massacre

More than 50 people gathered this evening at a snow-dusted Tyler Park for a candlelight vigil for the victims of Friday’s mass shooting in Connecticut. With sleet lightly falling, most huddled under the three small canopy tents someone had brought and shared a flame from candle to candle. A couple of people read poems and then the roster of the victims. As each name sounded, a white balloon was released skyward. After that a recording of “Imagine” by the Beatles was played and then everyone sang “Silent Night.” With that, folks blew out their candles but loitered for a while, enjoying the company of others. Below is some video I shot that might give a sense of the gathering.

Will Newtown be any different by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog. Check it out too.

How many times after a tragic shooting have we heard politicians say, in the guise of respect for the victims. ”this isn’t the time” to talk about gun control.   White House spokesman Jay Carney used the same language on Friday.  “There is, I’m sure, will be, rather, discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don’t think that day is today.”

In the wake of the horrific slaying of 20 small children and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut, I say, there is no better time than right now.

Don’t give me the standard gun owner’s response, guns don’t kill; people do.  Don’t tell me that Adam Lanza was a nutcase, and the problem was his mental disorder not the weaponry.  The day before the Connecticut slaughter, 22 children and one adult were attacked by a crazy man in China, Min Yingjun.  It was a terrible incident, but he did it with a knife, and no one died.  No one. We simply have to limit the availability of assault weapons, be they handguns or rifles, to people who would do grievous harm to others.  Several bills have been filed but died. Yet this is a no-brainer.

In the wake of mass shootings, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Australia and Norway have all  moved to ban private ownership of most handguns or severely regulate other guns.  The reduction of mass murders has been measurable since the laws were passed.

There are now more than 300 million guns in circulation in the United States (an average of three per household), and for what?  Surely, we can move in the direction of gun safety, limiting ownership to sportsmen and people with legitimate security needs.  Banning private ownership of weapons of warfare.  Better background checks, waiting periods. Dan Kennedy suggests starting small, barring paranoid schizophrenics from gun ownership.  The Justice Department has shelved proposals for improving background checks. According to Nick Kristof, we regulate toy guns more than those with the actual power to kill.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said just before the Connecticut slaughter that “the time is right” to “consider” gun control.  Consider?  This statement was made on the very same day that the Michigan legislature passed a bill permitting, among other things,  concealed weapons in schools!  And I’m sure we’ll hear from the gun lobby that, if the teachers in Connecticut had guns, they could have stopped the killer from continuing his killing spree.

Gun control advocates talked about taking gun safety steps in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.  Nothing was done.  More recently there was a mass shooting at an Oregon mall.  Two other smaller scale killing events reported just last night.

American public opinion is generally  not encouraging. A Pew research study showed support for guns about the same before and after the Aurora shooting.  A Gallup poll tracking support for gun control over more than a decade has gone down from 60 percent to 20 percent.  Gun sales are at an all-time high.  But while the gun lobby can point to its success in achieving these dispiriting numbers, supporters of gun control (notwithstanding heroes like Boston’s own John Rosenthal and his Stop Handgun Violence campaign, outspoken mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Tom Menino) have been largely quiet.  Cowering before such statistics, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney took up the issue during the campaign.

Yet there is public support for gun safety measures.  Some positive signs include public support for certain gun safety measures, related to background checks, registration, banning high-capacity clips and semi-automatics.

Today, President Obama goes to Newtown, just as he did after shootings at Ft. Hood, Tucson and Aurora.  Where will he go from here?  Shrines, vigils, prayer services and tears across the country. We’ve become very effective at mass grieving.  We must become equally effective at changing our gun laws and better protecting public safety.  As others have rightly observed, hugs are not enough.

The coming gun debate

Everyone in America was touched by Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut. Sorrow abounds but so do strong emotions about the role of guns in our society. I have strong feelings on that topic but I think it best to delay writing about them for a while. The debate over guns will be a nasty, divisive one with little possibility of finding common ground. I’m willing to engage in that argument with anyone; just not right now. The bodies in Connecticut have not yet been buried and then Christmas will be upon us. The gun debate can wait until 2013. I’ll go so far as to say that should John Kerry become Secretary of State and a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat he now holds be held in the spring, the position of the candidates on guns will be a big part of that campaign much like health care policy dominated the last special US Senate election in the Commonwealth.

Another reason to put off the gun debate is that accurate information about what exactly happened remains elusive. During the day on Friday, everyone was riveted to whatever source of news was available. As the story spooled out we were told that the shooter’s mother was a teacher at the school (not true); that the shooter had been “buzzed in” to the school (not true); that a second person was in police custody (true, but he had nothing to do with it); the body of the shooter’s father had been found in his New Jersey home (not true); the girlfriend of the shooter’s brother was missing in New Jersey (perhaps, but it was irrelevant); and although the shooter had a rifle, he only fired shots from two handguns (not true). Forty-eight hours later, the available facts seem more solid, but there has to be more relevant information to come.

One final point concerns some of the terms being used. I’m no expert on guns but neither are most of the journalists and commentators covering the story. So here’s a layman’s explanation of some relevant terms for folks who don’t know anything about guns. Perhaps the term that is most often misunderstood is “semi-automatic.” That refers to any gun that allows you to fire a second bullet simply by pulling the trigger. The gun used by Chuck Connors in The Rifleman was not semi-automatic: he had to work the lever located behind the trigger to eject the “spent” cartridge and place a new one in the chamber ready to fire. Neither was the Springfield Model 1903 rifle, used in World War One and as a sniper rifle through the Vietnam War: each time it is fired the shooter must work the bolt on the top of the weapon to eject the used cartridge and load a new one. Almost every handgun (i.e. pistol) in use today is semi-automatic: keep pulling the trigger and it will keep shooting, as long as the bullets last. Same with military-style rifles sold to civilians, such as the AR-15 used in this case. Keep pulling the trigger, keep shooting. A gun that is “automatic” is a gun that will continue firing when the trigger is pulled and held for as long as the bullets last. A machine gun is automatic. The military-version M-16 had a selector switch that allowed the shooter to toggle between semi-automatic (one shot each time the trigger is pulled) and automatic (pull and hold the trigger and the gun keeps firing until all the bullets are gone). Automatic weapons have long been illegal for civilians in America and are not an issue in this debate.

Most guns, including all involved in this case, use a “magazine” to hold some number of rounds (i.e., bullets). A magazine for the old .45 pistol held 7 rounds; contemporary 9mm pistol magazines typically hold between 8 and 15 rounds. (Contrast this with a revolver in which bullets are loaded into individual chambers in a rotating cylinder – a revolver does not use a magazine). When it first came out, the M-16 rifle magazine held 20 rounds but then 30 round magazines came into use. For both pistols and rifles, specialized hi-capacity magazines, some holding up to 100 rounds, are readily available. The significance of the capacity of the magazine is that the more bullets it holds, the less frequently a shooter has to reload. Since reloading consists of pressing a button to release the empty magazine and then inserting a new, loaded magazine into the weapon, the act of reloading can be accomplished very quickly but it does cause some pause in shooting.

Finally, guns are often identified by the width of the bullet fired. Sometimes that is done in fractions of an inch (a “22″ fires a bullet that is .22 inches wide) or in millimeters (a “9mm” fires a bullet that is 9 millimeters wide). Most pistols/handguns today fire a 9mm bullet. The M-16 and its civilian version fire a bullet that is .223 inches wide (which translates to 5.56 mm).

So there’s a brief primer on gun terminology for the coming policy debate.

Lowell and the Battle of Galveston

The Lowell Historical Society forwarded an email that was addressed to me from some folks who have made a great video from a Civil War era photo album depicting many Lowell residents. The pictures are amazing and, as a bonus, we learn something about the Battle of Galveston which I confess not knowing much about. Immediately below is the contents of the email and at the bottom is the YouTube video. Please check it out.

Hi Mr Howe

2nd Lt Benjamin Franklin Bartlett served in the 42nd Regiment Company I during the Civil War. He was from Lowell. We have his photo album with all his friends and family pictures that lived in Lowell. His wife worked in the mills and we have pictures of the Mill Girls. One of his friends was Dr Josiah Curtis,
MD and his wife. We have their pictures. He was an early member of the American Medical Association and wrote about working and living conditions in Lowell.
Also, in the video is Ebenezer Nimrod Bartlett and his wife. They lived in Lowell & Dracut and he was a carpenter in Dracut. He served in the 6th Light Artillery Battery from Lowell. He died in 1864 in the Battle of New Orleans along with his 15 year old son Nimrod Bartlett.

We put together a video using all the pictures from Benjamin Franklin Bartlett’s photo album from the Civil War for a 150th year tribute of the Battle of Galveston, which he fought in. He died as a prisoner of war in 1863.

We thought you would like to see all his family and friends. It is on YouTube www.YouTube.Com/JohnstonLeonard The video is called Civil War the Battle of Galveston.
We come from Lowell and grew up there and we thought this 150th anniversary of the Civil War would be interesting.

Pamela & Michael Caliandro
Josiah Curtis, “Health Conditions in Massachusetts”,

St Patrick’s School needs a new roof

Dave McKean, keeper of the Lowell Irish blog and a graduate of St Patrick’s School in Lowell, recently paid a visit and learned that besides all the other things needed by this inner-city school that does great work, the facility is in need of a new roof. The sisters who operate the school have set out to raise the funds necessary for the task as Dave explains in a recent blog post. Now is the time of year when many of us feel most generous, so consider sending a check to St. Patrick’s School. Here’s some of what Dave wrote:

In the middle of our chat Sister said, “I need a roof.” The new school is not so new anymore. The roof leaks, literally. So on top of all she does she needs to raise money for a roof. We try to give back when we can. I know many alumni and people who share the mission of the school do what they can. I am humbly and earnestly asking that if any readers, in this season of giving, feel called to help out. Please do so. She needs your help. They need your help. If you can please do what you can now. Their need is immediate. I feel like Bing Crosby in The Bells of Saint Mary’s. If you can’t give, offer a prayer. You can contact Sister Joanne at St. Patrick School 311 Adams St. Lowell, MA 01854. Or take a look at their website