Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Sandy Hook shootings put US gun control debate centre-stage

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 7 January

Sandy Hook shootings put US gun control debate centre-stage

by Helen Ward

Gun control – who is and isn’t allowed to own a gun – is a controversial subject in the US, where a task force to discuss gun violence was set up last month by Barack Obama after the shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The United States constitution, which is the country’s supreme law, includes an amendment which protects the right of people to own guns. Many Americans believe that firearms are essential for self-defence.

But newspapers reported on 7 January that measures being considered by the task force would make it much harder to possess a firearm.

The task force was set up after 20 children aged six and seven and six staff members were killed by Adam Lanza, 20, in a shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school on 14 December. The gunman also killed his mother, who was found dead at their home nearby.

After the shootings, President Obama asked vice-president Joe Biden to lead a group looking at how to address gun violence. He was told to come up with proposals by this month (January).

Existing American gun control laws are considerably more relaxed than in the UK – where taking ownership of arms is extremely difficult – and similarly in the most of the rest of Western Europe.

The new rules being considered are much stronger and would include a universal background checks for firearm buyers, tracking the movement of weapons through a national database, strengthening mental health checks and stiffer penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to children.

At the time of the shooting President Obama said: “The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce violence and prevent the very worst violence.”

But there are some people in America that believe the best way to prevent massacres such as the one at Sandy Hook is to provide armed guards in schools. In particular the National Rifle Association, which represents many who want to protect the right to own a gun, has been lobbying for such a measure to be implemented.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice-president, told a press conference.


  • Should everyone have the right to own a firearm? What do you think?
  • What could be done to raise awareness about gun crime in our own country?
  • Do you think that our attitudes towards violence are too relaxed?
  • “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Do you agree? Why/why not?

Related resources

Who holds the power in the US political system?

  • This lesson enables students to find out about the three different branches of US government.

US constitution

  • Encourage your pupils to make a thorough assessment of how the constitution works in practice with this lesson plan.

Gun crime

  • A range of comprehension, analytical and writing tasks on the theme of gun crime.

Powers of the president

  • Discover the role the president plays within the US political system.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

The UK experienced its second wettest year on record in 2012, with warnings that the country faces a future of increasing downpours and floods.

Data from a national census conducted in 2011 has revealed that the UK is in the midst of "an astonishing era of demographic change", with the number of foreign-born residents rising by nearly three million since 2001.

Sir Patrick Moore, the popular astronomer and broadcaster, has died aged 89.

A Swedish artist has claimed he stole ashes from a Nazi extermination camp to create a painting now being displayed in one of the country's galleries.

In the news archive index