December 31, 2012
Trayvon Martin
Trayvon Martin (AP Photo/Martin Family)

Aside from the historic presidential race, the thing I will remember most about 2012 is how it was book-ended by tragedies that shocked the nation.

In February, Trayvon Martin was making his way back to his father’s girlfriend’s apartment in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. He was returning from a 7-Eleven with an iced tea and a bag of Skittles. George Zimmerman, a gun-toting neighborhood watch volunteer, thought Trayvon was “a real suspicious guy” and called the police. By the time police arrived, the unarmed 17-year-old was dead from a single gunshot to his chest.

What happened next would outrage much of the nation. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was released without being charged thanks to Florida’s crazy “stand your ground” law — a dangerous law pushed by the National Rifle Association (NRA)  that allows someone to “meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”

There was nothing reasonable about what happened that rainy night on Feb. 26. What happened to Trayvon awakened many Americans to the many dangers black men face because of other people’s suspicions. It took until April 11  to place Zimmerman into custody and charge him with second-degree murder; without national outrage, he probably would not have faced prosecution at all. Even still, there’s a not-so-remote possibility that the killer of Trayvon Martin could walk.

Families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School
Grieving families at Sandy Hook Elementary School (Adress Latif/Reuters)

The horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., didn’t take long to stun the nation. We’d been through mass shootings before. We’ve even suffered through school shootings. Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shook us to our core. But the hell unleashed in Newtown, Conn., around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14 was altogether different.

Adam Lanza allegedly slaughtered seven adults and 20 children by shooting his way into the school with assault weapon and targeting kids who were just six and seven years old. A stranger targeting children for murder inside their school was something we’ve never before encountered. The emotional punch of such evil was personified by a tearful President Obama.

The NRA with its resistance to any sensible gun-control measure instantly became the focus of national anger. And the speech made by the organization’s Wayne LaPierre a week later was an insult to the victims, the survivors, their families and anyone else who want the NRA to stop standing in the way of their safety.

After every mass killing the nation has suffered, we’ve said this time would be different. This time there would be change to the nation’s gun laws. This time we would find the political will to bring common sense to our gun laws and stop the endless flow of tears of families torn asunder by an armed madman. Maybe next year.

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.