There is little that I can write about the mass shooting yesterday at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that hasn’t been written by others. The story is shocking, horrifying, disgusting, and endlessly sad. The carnage is appalling to behold, and the emotional damage in its wake will be awful beyond belief.
Naturally, in the aftermath of the massacre, we are all searching for answers and ways to lessen the likelihood that this kind of horror will be visited on any community ever again. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, or even most of them. I do think, however, that there are some things that we have to bear in mind as we think about what to do next:
- For one thing, as Patrick Egan notes, violence has significantly decreased over the past forty years, and our societal unease has decreased along with it.
- As Egan also notes in the same blog post, “ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows.” He informs us that in the 1970s, half of those surveyed by the General Social Survey reported that they had guns at home. Now, only a third report that they do. This has been caused by “a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes.” Egan points out that Gallup’s findings are similar.
- The easy answer to the shooting in Newtown is to demand that guns be banned, or that their possession be severely curtailed. Obviously, those making this kind of argument are unaware of Egan’s findings (if they are aware of them and are still arguing that we need further gun bans, I wonder whether they are truly devoted to finding an actual solution to the problem of gun violence). But as Eugene Volokh writes, there is reason to believe that armed civilians are able to stop or deter (at least to some extent) perpetrators of violence. We ought to factor that into our decision-making in the crafting of any post-Newtown policy regarding the possession of guns. Jeffrey Goldberg makes this point as well:
People should have the ability to defend themselves. Mass shootings take many lives in part because no one is firing back at the shooters. The shooters in recent massacres have had many minutes to complete their evil work, while their victims cower under desks or in closets. One response to the tragic reality that we are a gun-saturated country is to understand that law-abiding, well-trained, non-criminal, wholly sane citizens who are screened by the government have a role to play in their own self-defense, and in the defense of others (read The Atlantic article to see how one armed school administrator stopped a mass shooting in Pearl Mississippi). I don’t know anything more than anyone else about the shooting in Connecticut at the moment, but it seems fairly obvious that there was no one at or near the school who could have tried to fight back.
- Relatedly, if we want to craft and implement new policies regarding the possession of guns, we kinda sorta need to make sure that we have our facts straight regarding gun possession in the United States. But as Nick Gillespie makes clear, a lot of the reaction to the Sandy Hook shootings have been factually challenged. Glenn Reynolds makes this point as well. Get ready for a lot of influential people—some of them elected officials, others people who can easily bend the ears of elected officials—to spout some remarkably inaccurate commentary post-Newtown. If you are not worried that this remarkably inaccurate commentary can or will somehow find its way into post-Newtown legislation or regulations concerning the possession of firearms, I am going to have to wonder just what it is that you are smoking.
- There is evil in this world. We have to face that fact. I know this seems obvious—especially post-Newtown—but lots of times, we simply choose to ignore the presence of evil because evil seems permanent and ineradicable, and that is unsettling to us. John Podhoretz puts things rather starkly:
The idea that civilization is dedicated to the protection and preservation the weak and the innocent, and not about fulfilling evil impulses to defile and destroy innocence, is the root and core of the West. One cannot conceive of anything more monstrous than a person or persons who could look small children in the eye and systematically shoot them dead. Which is why this crime, among the worst crimes in American history, is not just an assault on the children, or their families, or the town of Newtown—though it is all those things.
What the killer(s) did today was nothing less than a contemporary sacrifice to Moloch, in whatever form Moloch manifests himself today—the appeasement of a voice in the head, most likely. Evil, even if it is loosed due to mental illness, is an effort to destroy the common good by making good appear powerless, ineffectual, weak. Today saw a horrifically effective effort to give evil a victory. It has opened a portal and brought Hell to earth.
- The presence of evil notwithstanding, however, it is an unarguable fact that mental health facilities in this country are woefully lacking. They do a poor job of helping many of the mentally ill, and they actively serve to endanger many of us thanks to their inability to render proper treatment in many individual cases. Read this post (via Brian Faughnan). I dare you not to be shocked and horrified. Now, imagine how many more Michaels there are out there failing to get the treatment they so desperately need. And what will happen to them when they become adults? What will happen to the people around them?
Obviously, this is an incomplete contribution to the discussion we are having in the post-Newtown world we are forced to live in. But it contains, I believe, issues and questions that we must seriously consider as we go forward. I can only hope that as others add their voices to the debate, we will be able to find a smart and workable solution that will make us safer without curbing on our constitutional liberties.
In the meantime, if it is in any way within your power, help the people of Newtown however you can. No matter how small you think the scope of your assistance might be, those on the receiving end will be grateful to have it.