What Can We Do to Prevent Future Newtowns?
Like everyone else trying to make sense of the tragedy at Newtown, Ct., I have been reading all that has appeared on the subject. The massacre of young school children is so horrendous, that it has sparked a debate about what can be done, and has forced some people to reconsider their own previous opinions.
Here, in my opinion, are some of the must articles to consider reading about what, if anything, can be done to prevent further such occurrences:
1: Jeffrey Goldberg’s path breaking article in The Atlantic. As Goldberg concludes:
A balanced approach to gun control in the United States would require the warring sides to agree on several contentious issues. Conservative gun-rights advocates should acknowledge that if more states had stringent universal background checks—or if a federal law put these in place—more guns would be kept out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally unstable. They should also acknowledge that requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows would not represent a threat to the Constitution. “The NRA position on this is a fiction,” says Dan Gross, the head of the Brady Campaign. “Universal background checks are not an infringement on our Second Amendment rights. This is black-helicopter stuff.” Gross believes that closing the gun-show loophole would be both extremely effective and a politically moderate and achievable goal. The gun lobby must also agree that concealed-carry permits should be granted only to people who pass rigorous criminal checks, as well as thorough training-and-safety courses.
Anti-gun advocates, meanwhile, should acknowledge that gun-control legislation is not the only answer to gun violence. Responsible gun ownership is also an answer. An enormous number of Americans believe this to be the case, and gun-control advocates do themselves no favors when they demonize gun owners, and advocates of armed self-defense, as backwoods barbarians. Liberals sometimes make the mistake of anthropomorphizing guns, ascribing to them moral characteristics they do not possess. Guns can be used to do evil, but guns can also be used to do good. Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder, Jonathan Rauch launched a national movement when he wrote an article for Salon arguing that gay people should arm themselves against violent bigots. Pink Pistol clubs sprang up across America, in which gays and lesbians learn to use firearms in self-defense. Other vulnerable groups have also taken to the idea of concealed carry: in Texas, African American women represent the largest percentage increase of concealed-carry permit seekers since 2000.
2. Goldberg’s thoughts today:
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 my print 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.
3. The reconsiderations of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, an NRA member who received the organization’s endorsement in his campaign for election to the Senate, and those of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who was supported by the NRA when he was in Congress:
I just came with my family from deer hunting. I’ve never had more than three shells in a clip. Sometimes you don’t get more than one shot anyway at a deer. It’s common sense. It’s time to move beyond rhetoric. We need to sit down and have a common-sense discussion and move in a reasonable way. I want to call all our friends in the NRA, sit down and have this discussion. Bring them into it. They have to be at the table. We all have to.
He adds the following:
I don’t know anyone in the hunting or sporting arena that goes out with an assault rifle,” he said. “I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in the clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.
Scarborough put it this way:
It’s not all about guns, or all about violent movies and videogames. But we must no longer allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And we must not excuse total inaction by arguing that no single action can solve the problem and save our children.
I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA’s highest ratings over 4 terms in Congress. I saw the debate over guns as a powerful, symbolic struggle between individual rights and government control. In the years after Waco and Ruby Ridge, the symbolism of that debate seemed even more powerful to my colleagues and me.
But the symbols of that ideological struggle have since been shattered by the harvest sown from violent, mind-numbing video games and gruesome Hollywood movies that dangerously desensitizes those who struggle with mental health challenges. Add military-styled weapons and high capacity magazines to that equation and tragedy can never be too far behind.
He went on to say that he was “daring to question my long-held beliefs,” and to add that “I have always taken a libertarian’s approach to Hollywood’s 1st Amendment rights and gun collectors’ 2nd Amendment rights. I stood by those libertarian beliefs after Columbine, Aurora and Arizona. Those young men who slaughtered innocents were crazy, after all, and they would have found another way to kill their victims if their guns of choice were not available. But last Friday a chilling thought crossed my mind as I saw the Times Square ticker over ABC spit out the news of yet another tragic shooting in yet another tortured town by yet another twisted son of that community.” Hence, he concluded, “our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-styled high-caliber semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.”
4. The issue of the culture is raised by David Frum at The Daily Beast. Frum argues that rather than a campaign for gun control, which he doubts will work, the nation needs a campaign “led from outside the political system, by people who have suffered loss and grief from gun violence. Only that way can the campaign avoid being held hostage by the usual conflict of parties -- Democrats who fear that gun control will lose them rural congressional districts; Republicans who exaggerate for partisan gain exactly what gun control would mean."
Gun control should no more mean the abolition of guns than Mothers Against Drunk Driving abolished the car. Guns are part of the cherished American culture of the outdoors. In many parts of the country, a deer rifle literally puts meat on the table.
In other parts, a revolver in the bedroom dresser drawer is the frightened spouse's last defense against an abusive partner, or the gay urban homesteader's final protection against violent bigots. Guns can be souvenirs of heroic moments on faraway battlefields, mementoes of national history, or art objects of great beauty.”
Frum adds that “gun ownership is one of the freedoms specifically cited in the Constitution. Responsible gun owners have a right to their guns. The challenge for the grass-roots gun-safety movement of the future is to focus on the danger posed by irresponsible owners. The goal should be less to ban particular classes of weapons -- such a goal puts the law in a race against technology, a race the law will likely lose -- and more to change the rules defining who may keep a gun.” He writes the following:
Prospective gun owners should be required to take serious training and pass a safety exam before qualifying for a license. They should be screened for mental illness and histories of violence, very much including domestic violence. They should be required to buy insurance against the harm done by wrongful use of their weapons, and if that insurance proves expensive -- well, too bad. People apprehended in possession of an unlicensed weapon should face severe sanctions.
5. My own thoughts:
Of course, there is the critical issue of mental health. Evidently, Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun a few days earlier, and was turned away by the gun shop owner. Why his mother did not put her own guns under lock and key, in a place not accessible to her son, will forever remain an unknown. Evidently, she knew of her son’s severe mental problems, and had even warned a baby-sitter to be careful around him.
I am not so sure that a ban on semi-automatic weapons would not work. In Australia, after a similar shooting some years ago, a ban was introduced, and the results showed a great decline in such horrendous attacks, as well as scores of Australian citizens handing in military style weapons to a government hand-back program. If Joe Manchin, a hunter and NRA stalwart, can reevaluate the sensibility of refusing to even consider such a ban, others can as well. The NRA’s silence on the issue cannot go on, and their spokesmen should come forth with a willingness to engage in an honest dialogue, and not with simple platitudes to be repeated endlessly after every such massacre.
Yesterday, outgoing Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman called for a national commission to talk about options, without anything being off the table. This is the least we can do, and that conversation and commission cannot and should not be put off for long.
Some critics have pointed out to me an article from The Washington Examiner, by Timothy P. Carney. He points to the fact that legally and more importantly, technically, the AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle or gun. Read his article yourself. He argues that The New York Times article on this issue is completely wrong. He writes:
The Times article implies that the “assault weapons ban,” which banned the AR-15, would ban “assault rifles.” But assault rifles, which are automatic, are already banned. Again, the Times cites these facts only as an opinion “argued” by “Defenders of the firearm.” So yes. Let’s have a discussion on firearms. It may be that some restrictions can make us safer without unduly infringing on liberty. But those distinctions probably don’t involve terms like “assault weapons” and “semiautomatic.”
Even if Carney is correct, in my eyes, this does not mitigate the point made by Joe Scarborough and by Joe Manchin. These are still "military-style" weapons that allow shooters to load and shoot more easily than other guns, and do great damage.
The second article I neglected to point to is in Tablet Magazine today, by Liel Liebowitz. He addresses the question of why Israel, despite an armed citizenry, has no Newtowns. He writes:
Go to any shooting range in Israel, as a soldier or a civilian, and the instructor is likely to talk about responsibility even before he or she begin to cover the basics of shooting. Those of us who are passionate about firearms should pursue the same path. I was dismayed to observe the National Rifle Association, an organization to which I belong, remain silent in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre; any organization that takes gun ownership seriously should dedicate itself not only to rights but to duties as well and provide its members with the resources to teach themselves and their children the same lessons my father taught me. The NRA should have been the first to vehemently condemn the shooting. Then they should have used the plethora of platforms at their disposal—including three magazines and a robust presence on social media—to assert the values that unite the many of us who are responsible and mature gun owners and who spend just as much time thinking about a gun’s tremendous potential for destruction as they do thinking about its muzzle velocity.
He agrees that gun control is not an answer; but he too, an NRA member, is dismayed at the organization's inability to grasp why this attack is a turning-point on the gun issue.