As the father of two small boys, I’m as haunted by last week’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., as anyone who didn’t know personally the victims or their killer.
I have the same fears as all parents anticipating the long, potentially treacherous path ahead of their children in this broken world of ours. My fears are only multiplied by my doubts there are many real options for thwarting future slayings in other unsuspecting towns.
The two primary questions we ask after mass killings are: Why do some people act so heinously? And how can we keep others from doing so?
The first question invariably draws answers like: madness, isolation, social awkwardness or marginalization, familial dysfunction, a craving for fame (or infamy), the prevalence of violence in our popular culture, and evil pure and simple.
The second question typically brings suggestions for treating these mental illnesses and social failures. That, and gun control.
Guns typically don’t make the list of answers to “why,” only to “how.” They are but one means for mass killings — albeit the most common one — not a motivation. Yet, guns become our central focus in times like these.
I understand the impulse. How do we begin to treat the mad, and especially people, such as the Newtown killer, with only mild disorders? As important as it is for us to attempt to rebuild the American family, can we wait the years or perhaps generations such an endeavor might consume, when another mass killing could happen today? How, within the bounds of constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression, does one dial back the violence found in our movies, TV shows, video games and even music?
Whatever a killer’s motivation, guns seem to be his means of choice. Better to address that, right?
As keenly interested as I am in preventing the next mass public shooting, I see little reason to find comfort in gun control.
Consider the high school rampage in Columbine, Colo. The year was 1999, amid a decade-long ban on “assault weapons,” those firearms defined by nothing more than the minds of legislators who drafted the ban on them. (Indeed, the main characteristic common to the weapons banned then seems to be the likelihood one might have seen a similar weapon in a shoot-em-up, kill-em-up movie — an implicit nod to the overriding impact of our entertainment culture.)
One of the Columbine killers was armed with a pump-action shotgun (not exactly a semiautomatic weapon) he fired 25 times. He also fired 96 rounds from a 9-mm carbine while using 10-round magazines — the limit of choice for those who say 30-round magazines are the problem.
When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced his ban on sugary soft drinks larger than 16 oz., most observers recognized the folly of limiting the size of one drink when a person could simply buy two or more of them. Does no one else find it similarly illogical to think a person bent on mass murder won’t just carry multiple weapons with smaller mags, or that lives will be saved in the few seconds it would take an experienced gun handler to change magazines?
I raise these objections not to defend specific weapons or magazines with any number of bullets. Neither I nor anyone I know owns an “assault weapon” (as far as I know), and I have no particular affinity for bullets that come in sets of 20 or 30 or 40 rather than 10. While I generally support gun-ownership rights, I’m open to practical suggestions that can reasonably square with the Second Amendment.
Nor do I think the situation is hopeless, or as good as it gets. I do think we can make our communities safer. But I think the most effective solutions will be less comfortable — such as asking when it’s OK to invade the privacy of those who are dangerously mentally ill — and more expensive — such as ensuring there are armed guards or designated weapons-carrying citizens even at schools and other “gun-free zones” — than merely banning particular weapons and ammunition.
The lives of innocents deserve the fullness of our thought and attention, not old ideas that have been sitting on the shelf, waiting for a crisis.
– By Kyle Wingfield