Dispelling a Newtown massacre myth – again

As I’ve spent the last few months reporting on gun policy, one myth has kept cropping up – from an adamant gun-range manager in Shasta County to countless snarky emails I’ve received – to which some gun-rights advocates insist on clinging despite all evidence to the contrary: That Newtown shooter Adam Lanza used handguns, not a semi-automatic rifle considered by many to be an “assault weapon,” in his horrific rampage.

I noted here in January that the myth began with a video clip from NBC’s Today show which reported that Lanza had taken four handguns into the school but left the rifle in his car. That video is wrong; it was based on unnamed sources and aired as the news was still breaking on Dec. 15, the day after the shooting, before authorities had briefed the media on what weapons were actually used. The correct information was released later that day. But this video clip has been reposted so many times since – with or without the knowledge that it’s dead wrong – that Connecticut State Police felt compelled to re-issue the correct information in January.

Today there’s a new statement from Stephen J. Sedensky III, State’s Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury, who’s been heading the investigation:

(T)the shooter went to Sandy Hook Elementary school where he shot his way into the building and killed 20 children and 6 adults with a Bushmaster .223 caliber model XM15 rifle. The Bushmaster was loaded with a 30-round capacity magazine. Fourteen rounds were in the magazine when the Bushmaster was recovered by police. There was one round in the chamber.

The shooter took his own life with a single shot from a Glock 10 mm handgun. He also had a loaded 9mm Sig Sauer P226 handgun on his person. Recovered from the person of the shooter, in addition to more ammunition for the handguns, were three, 30-round magazines for the Bushmaster, each containing 30 rounds. Located in the area of the shootings were six additional 30-round magazines containing 0, 0, 0, 10, 11, and 13 live rounds respectively. One-hundred-and-fifty-four spent .223 casings were recovered from the scene.

It is currently estimated that the time from when the shooter shot his way into the school until he took his own life was less than five minutes.

The police found a loaded 12-gauge shotgun in the passenger compartment of the car the shooter drove to the school. The shotgun was moved by police from the passenger compartment of the car to the trunk for safekeeping.

Lest anyone engage in baseless accusations that Sedensky is peddling partisan propaganda, it looks to me as if every one of the Connecticut Criminal Justice Commission members who appointed him to his job are Republican appointees themselves.

Bushmaster XM15

Not that it matters all that much – torn apart by bullets is torn apart by bullets, no matter what kind of gun fired those bullets. But I do believe it’s impossible to have a serious discussion on gun policy unless everyone accepts the facts. These are the facts.

Sedensky also today released search-warrant information which describes items taken from Lanza’s home and car. See the search-warrant documents here:

Adam Lanza Search Warrants

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Further proof that the MSM is not to be trusted.

  • JohnW

    From what I heard on the radio this morning, it took 5 minutes, beginning to end, for him to enter the school, fire off 150 rounds and kill all those people. That’s 30 rounds per minute. I get that an AR15 is not fully automatic and not the M16 I got to shoot in Army basic training. But it ain’t exactly the 22 bolt action rifle the NRA taught me to shoot at Boy Scout camp either.

    Yesterday, I read about a congressman who said he had an AR15 for varmints and self-defense. Those must be some varmints!

  • Publius

    Out of all of the gun related deaths in America last year approximately 300 were from a rifle type weapon. I truly do not understand the liberal fixation with the assault rifle. More people die from bare hands than rifles. Should we ban the closed fist?

  • JohnW

    @3 Publius

    Assuming your statistic is accurate, it is still the case that the semi-automatic, scary-looking AR-15 type rifle and the big magazines have a nasty habit of showing up in places like Columbine, Aurora and Newtown; and, more recently, killing cops in Southern CA. Little wonder that people think of those guns in that context rather than as something used for sport, killing varmints or dealing with intruders. It may well be the case that even getting rid of every AR 15 on the planet would affect only a fraction of the gun homicides. On the other hand, if your daughter or son was killed or wounded in one of the aforementioned tragedies, you might have a different perspective.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    The PBS program, profiling people, who go out in a blaze of glory, by committing mass shootings, was very interesting. Does anyone really think banning some scary looking guns, will keep these bullied, suicidal wimps, from committing the next mass shooting?

  • Elwood

    @ Bruce #5

    Well, some of our fearless leaders do.

    The ones who have never missed a bandwagon to jump on.

  • JohnW


    The guns aren’t just scary looking. They are also very efficient for mass shootings. More than 20 people mowed down and 150 rounds fired in Newtown in just 5 minutes,

    For the deranged “blaze of glory” types you mention (typically males under 30), the scary looking guns represent both inspiration and opportunity. They are to the blaze of glory killer what the GG Bridge is to the suicide-inclined. To borrow from Marshall McLuan, the medium is the message. The scary looking gun has been popularized in both movies and video games like Call of Duty. For most of us, that’s not a problem. But, in the case of the deranged young male, it is.

    The biggest school mass-killing/suicide in U.S history (Bath Township, Michigan in 1927) involved explosives, not guns. But you don’t see that often imitated. It doesn’t have the same real world video game appeal as running into a school or theatre with a military-looking gun and taking people out in face-to-face confrontation.

  • JohnW

    The Wall Street Journal (4/3/13) reports that, since Newtown, states have passed more measures expanding the right to carry firearms than laws restricting firearms.

  • bbox231

    @4 – The hypothetical narrative re being caught up in one of these catastrophes works equally well on both sides of the argument, IMHO.

    It was Bill Maher that posed the question – “If you or your loved ones were in that theatre at that tragic moment, would you have welcomed more or fewer citizens who, if armed, could have returned fire?”

  • JohnW

    @9 Bboz231

    I remember that from Bill Maher. It’s what I like about him. He’s generally liberal and libertarian, but is not hesitant to take on the Left when he thinks they are full of poo about something. But I don’t buy his point about Aurora.

    A more realistic counter-scenario to make Maher’s point would be if the principal or school psychologist in Newtown had had a shotgun. It’s possible they could have stopped the intruder in his tracks — possible in that particular case. But proficiency with firearms is not generally high on the list of qualifications for those jobs.

    But, to answer the Bill Maher specific Aurora example, I would have welcomed it if the theater had had an alarm on the emergency door that Holmes propped open from the inside, so that he could bring in the weapons and smoke bombs from his car. They had had previous problems at the theater that would have warranted armed security. If, by chance, somebody had had a gun in the theater and managed to shoot Holmes and prevented a member of my family from getting shot, then yes, I would have welcomed that. However, I would not have welcomed the more likely scenario — that somebody pulling out a firearm in a dark theater and firing in the direction of the gun flash and smoke bombs would have hit innocent people in the crossfire.

    Many people, self included, are only a couple of degrees of separation from tragedies such as these when they occur. So, it’s not inappropriate to stop and ask the “how would you feel” question.

    I used to live in an apartment in Aurora about two miles from the Century 16 theater. I don’t know anybody who was shot there, or any of the families. But I know people who do. When the live TV coverage outside Columbine started while the killing was probably still underway inside the school in 1999, I was watching on the TV in my office, about five miles away. I was also a colleague of the Green Bay, WI cable system general manager and program director who were shot to death in their offices by a deranged ex-employee in 1986. At the time, I was a personal friend and colleague of the gentleman the company appointed to take the GM’s place and who had to work through all the post-traumatic counseling issues with the surviving employees. So, when events like this happen, I do think it’s a good idea to try to put oneself in the shoes of the people directly affected rather just sticking to sterile political talking points.

  • RR Senile Columnist

    John W: Have you recently cruised on a Carnival liner? Just wondering.

  • Bbox231

    The answer is we’d all invite someone to return fire.

    You’re right that doing so might very well add to the carnage. But give me a chance to fight back !

    Having said that we now must also be willing to accept the unintended consequences of those same firearms in our presence in every other situation. And on this front my instincts and hard data suggest that the tradeoff in the form of rare but occasional accidental discharge and/or misunderstood circumstance would result in considerably greater numbers of accidental casualties than might be avoided in real acts of self defense.

    You’re also right about Maher. Anyone that generalizes him as liberal hasnt listened to more than a few select sound bites. He at least puts some thought to his position and which seems to be divorced from any singular party dogma.

  • JohnW

    @11 RR Senile Columnist

    Negative on Carnival. But, come to think of it, my dad was born the year the Titanic went down!

    I do have some Forrest Gump-like proximity to other misfortunes. When I was a student at Michigan State, George Wallace gave one of his last campaign speeches there before getting shot in Maryland a few days later. Same thing for American Nazi Party founder, George Lincoln Rockwell. Not that Rockwell’s demise is an argument in favor of gun control! Yes, I attended both speeches. Then, when I was in the Army in Indianapolis, I went to Janis Joplin’s concert there just a few weeks before she OD’d. I was on the rope line for President Ford in Bloomington, MN the day before Lynette Fromme tried to shoot him in CA.

    Best not to hang around me too much.