Inside the News with Peter Mansbridge

Last Updated: Aug 8, 2013 11:16 AM ET

Six months after Newtown

Family members of those lost in the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, Mark and Jackie Barden, with their children Natalie and James, who lost Daniel; Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, upper left, and and Jeremy Richman, father of Avielle in the back, stand together as President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

In another few days it will mark the six month anniversary of the Newtown shootings. Half a year since we were all consumed by the horror of what happened there. Twenty, five and six year-old kids cut apart by high caliber bullets fired in bursts from a military style assault weapon. Bullets so powerful, they ripped through school walls, across the schoolyard and through the doors of parked cars in the school lot.

The bloody, cold, hard facts of this story gripped a nation. The overwhelming majority of Americans thought, and clearly wanted, Newtown to be the massacre that would change things. Significantly. That legislators would unite in grief and change gun laws, restrict certain weapons and make it harder for people with questionable backgrounds to buy weapons.
While some gun advocates argued against such action, those early days following Newtown seemed to conclude they had little clout against the powerful emotions of change that were blanketing the nation. Almost all media commentators agreed, change was coming.  Almost all.

At The National's main desk we too were convinced Newtown had to be different. The United States had not changed after assassination attempts or mass shootings in theatres, parking lots and shopping centres. But how could it not, after this. All those little kids. All those weeping young parents. All those tiny coffins. Gun violence had finally gone too far, and there were some early indications from state legislatures that some new laws were passing.  Surely Capitol Hill would follow.

We were demanding stories night after night from our reporting teams in both Newtown and in Washington. Newtown delivered the kind of gripping journalism you would expect from the excellence of experienced journalists like David Common and Paul Hunter, both of whom had been there within hours of the first shots. And then there was Washington, where if change would happen, it would come through legislation going through the U.S Congress. Neil Macdonald was covering that.


I've known Neil for 29 years. We met in Florida while covering Canada's first astronaut in space, the then, Navy Commander Marc Garneau. Neil was working for the Ottawa Citizen, I was hosting our news specials from Cape Kennedy.  There was a lot of down time, first waiting for the launch, and then second, waiting for Garneau's return. We got to know each other back then and over the years that followed I was determined that Neil join our team. 

Eventually, in the late 80s, he did and he's been a solid part of our system ever since, first at home and then overseas in various foreign postings.

One thing about Neil is that he knows his stuff, he has strong views, and he's afraid of very little - including fighting for his position. He's been sued, attacked by special interests, and made a few enemies within the corporation. We've fought over the years, and we've told each other off more than a few times. But here's the bottom line, he's one of the finest journalists I've ever met - anywhere.

But I digress.  Back to Newtown.

Neil was adamant in those days immediately following the massacre. Nothing would change, he said. The power of the National Rifle Association lobby mixed with the ever present partisan deadlock in Congress were just two reasons blocking the way.  Neil was a lone voice at that time. Almost everyone else, and I include myself in that group, felt something would change.

There were some tense moments in our relationship, but I've often felt that's what makes good newsrooms - aggressive debate.  In the end Neil found the balance we all wanted - his daily news coverage focused on the developments surrounding the debate, while his column on became home for some hard hitting analysis. 

Half a year later, this piece, written very soon after the shooting, certainly looks prophetic now.

READ:  Neil Macdonald: Death and delusion in a nation of assault rifles

A lot of people who read that back then, probably wanted Neil  to be wrong. He wasn't. So now the victims of Newtown lie buried. Their families, still, I'm sure, weeping quietly every night. Six months on.  

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