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By Frank Smyth
What was the mother of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter thinking over a year ago?
Trying to find a way to somehow help her clearly troubled youngest son.
Gun culture is often associated with red states in the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountains. But gun ownership is a time-honored tradition in many blue states, too, like among the bedroom communities within commuting distance of New York City in Southwestern Connecticut.
The late Nancy Lanza in Newtown grew up with firearms and had a pistol permit. She returned to shooting with more intensity, according to one family friend, after her 2009 divorce. She wanted to bond with her youngest son, Adam, especially, who five years before, at 13, had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and who, instead of getting better, had been showing signs of social dysfunction and anxiety.
"Shooting was a pastime in which the family engaged," reads the Connecticut State's Attorney report of the Sandy Hook massacre released last month. "Both the mother and the shooter took National Rifle Association (NRA) safety courses. The mother thought it was good to learn responsibility for guns. Both would shoot pistols and rifles at a local range and the shooter was described as quiet and polite."
David B. Lyman is the owner of the Blue Trail Range, "New England's finest shooting range," according to the range's website, "where shooting is a family sport." Lyman is also an NRA-certified instructor and former national sports shooting champion. He does not seem to have spoken with reporters much since the New York Post last year in the early days after the shooting named the Blue Trail Range as the Lanza family's preferred gun range.
Did Nancy Lanza go shooting there with one or both of her sons?
"He will not be calling. I can guarantee it," said a woman about her boss David Lyman after she answered the phone at the Blue Trail Range in Wallingford, about 40 miles from Newtown. An email from bluetrailrange.com later directed queries to Lyman's lawyer, Craig Fishbein.
"There is nothing that has ever been confirmed," said Fishbein about whether the Nancy and Adam Lanza went shooting at the Blue Trail Range. "There's a sign-in process. There's never been anything showing that."
David Lyman's wife, Debbie, runs the "Junior" or child shooting division of the Connecticut State Rifle & Revolver Association based in New Haven. One category among Junior competitors is the Smallbore or .22 caliber rifle. One popular rifle among Juniors is the Mark II made by the Massachusetts-based Savage Arms, which describes it as being "light enough to be a child's first rifle."
Nancy Lanza owned a Savage Mark II, which was later found near her bed. In the years before she died, she may or may not have encouraged her youngest son, Adam, to use it. All we know now for sure is that he did not partake in shooting competitions. Instead Adam, who was 20 a year ago when he perpetrated the massacre, preferred isolation, computers and video games. One friend told The Wall Street Journal last year that Nancy brought Adam to the range to not only bond with him, but to try and teach him responsibility.
This past spring, as the Sandy Hook heartbreak continued to resonate in Washington and around the nation, the Connecticut State Rifle & Revolver Association held its annual All-State Awards Dinner in Wallingford to honor Junior shooters. Junior Director Debbie Lyman presided over the ceremony, where dozens of boys and girls, some of whom were already bound for college, were honored for having successfully shot in Junior matches.
Did the Sandy Hook shooting ever come up?
"I'm not going to make any comment on the Sandy Hook issue," Debbie Lyman said this week by telephone from her office at a university-affiliated medical office.
The Guest Speaker for the Junior awards dinner was NRA board member Patricia Clark, who works as a hospital laboratory technician. Earlier this year, I identified her in Mother Jones and The Progressive as the former Chairman of the NRA's shadowy Nominating Committee, which hand-picks candidates to control elections to the NRA board.
Clark remains an NRA board member and member of the board's executive committee. She also happens to live little more than a few miles from the site of America's worst gun tragedy, the now torn-down Sandy Hook Elementary School.
NRA Director Clark declined to return both voice and email requests for comment.
Clark is a nationally recognized Smallbore rifle competitor. Both David and Debbie Lyman are NRA Double Distinguished Expert shooters with the Smallbore rifle, according to an Ohio State website and biography of their son, Remington Lyman. A member of the Ohio State Rifle Team, Remington, who shares the namesake of America's oldest arms manufacturer, shoots air and Smallbore rifles for the Buckeyes at National Collegiate Athletic Association Rifle competitions.
Surrounded by so many families who have, by any measure, successfully bonded with their children while shooting guns, Nancy Lanza perhaps thought that giving her mentally ill son Adam guns including a Smallbore rifle might somehow help draw him out of his shell. Instead he turned the .22 caliber rifle on her.
"Prior to going to the school, the shooter used a .22 caliber Savage Mark II rifle to shoot and kill his mother in her bed at the home where they lived," according to the Connecticut State's Attorney report.
Adam brought two handguns -- a Glock 20, a10 mm semi-automatic pistol and a Sig Sauer P226 9 mm semi-automatic pistol -- along with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle with him into the Sandy Hook school. He used the Bushmaster to quickly discharge over three hundred rounds, causing the fatal, unspeakable carnage that left 20 first-grade children and six of their teachers dead on the ground.
By then Adam had already left the Savage Mark II behind, back in his mother's bedroom, after taking the time to use the bolt-action Smallbore rifle to shoot Nancy Lanza four times in the head.
The Connecticut State's Attorney report concluded that the motive for Adam's behavior may never be known. But his mother's actions suggest a different story. No doubt she never should have introduced her youngest son to guns. But her motive for bringing him to a shooting range seems to make more sense once one glimpses the successful families of sports shooters within her community.
One reason gun reform has failed since even the Sandy Hook tragedy may be that advocates have failed to grasp the depth of gun culture in not only red states but also blue ones. Another could be that gun reform advocates have yet to find a way to talk to gun owners without the gun lobby led by the NRA twisting the discussion.
Frank Smyth is a freelance journalist who has covered the National Rifle Association for The Village Voice, The Texas Observer, Mother Jones, The Progressive and MSNBC, where, over the past year, he has been a frequent on-air contributor. His clips are posted at www.franksmyth.com, and his Twitter handle is @SmythFrank.
Photo: Flickr user Gordon Tarpley, creative commons licensed.