Within hours of the carnage inside a Connecticut grade school, the reactions of Napans ranged from undiluted shock, to urgency about restricting gun use, to wondering how to avoid more such mass killings.
Key details remained elusive in the wake of Friday morning’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman the Associated Press identified as Adam Lanza, 20, killed at least 26 people — including 20 children and his mother, a teacher at the school — before taking his own life.
Meanwhile, some locals were left to wonder about their grim familiarity with other mass killings of the recent past.
“I was horrified; my first thought was, ‘This is Columbine all over again, or even worse,’” said Napa resident Janet Morris, mother of a 20-year-old son in college, some 8 1/2 hours after the Connecticut shootings.
News of the killings — and of the suspect carrying two semiautomatic handguns into a school with pupils as young as 5 — appeared to expose tensions over how strictly to regulate firearm possession, and those tensions were apparent even in Morris’ thoughts.
“I don’t think gun control, by itself, will stop what’s happening, but I don’t know what it is that separates us from other countries where this doesn’t happen,” she said. “And I’m questioning how a private citizen could have gotten so many rounds.”
Other Napans, however, were more certain in their convictions.
“We need more attention to mental health, early intervention — and reduced access to weapons. I’m opposed to weapons,” Linda Jesmok, a retired federal worker living in Napa, said flatly.
When 14-year-old Christopher Weygant got the news Friday afternoon while visiting his grandmother, his first thought was for those in Connecticut who had their children ripped violently away from them.
“Those parents must be very sad, that this happened two weeks before Christmas — maybe they had the gifts wrapped for them already,” he said.
“People should have the right to bear arms, but there should be tests to show you’re mentally stable enough to have a gun,” he added.
A British expatriate in Napa said the Connecticut bloodbath exposed not only the wide gulf in public attitudes toward gun possession between the U.S. and his home country, but also revived memories of the United Kingdom’s worst campus killing: the fatal shootings of 16 pupils and a teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, in March 1996, which inspired tighter firearms restrictions in Great Britain.
“That was my first thought, Dunblane,” said Malcolm Jessop. “... Something’s going to have to change in the laws. I’m so shocked that guns are so readily available here. I’m 53 and I’ve never known any family or friends back home who’ve owned a gun. There’s a big difference between a farmer and his shotgun, and having body armor and an automatic weapon.”
Perhaps more troubling to Jessop was the seeming normality of such massacres in the U.S. to those on the other side of the Atlantic.
“Sadly, when I talk to people back in England, it doesn’t come up in their conversations,” he said. “They’ll just go, ‘Well, it’s another one, and another one.’”
Another Napa resident joined him in hoping people’s attitudes never become too calloused to shrug off the Connecticut massacre, or similar killings.
“It’s shocking to see another one,” said Sarah Jones. “I just hope people don’t get desensitized to these things, to the fact this happens so often.”