As we all know, 28 people died in the Newtown, CT shooting, including 20 children aged 6 and 7. But the number of victims is infinitely higher. An entire nation was shocked and wounded last Friday, and citizens the world over wept with honest grief at the tragedy of so many young, innocent lives cut brutally short. I cried when I heard the news. Four days later, it is difficult to think about this massacre without raising the hair on my arms and feeling the moisture build in my eyes. Like most of us, I am filled with a sense of outrage, despair, and even fear.
So is it possible, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, to have a rational and civilized discussion on ways in which this kind of thing can be prevented? Not a finger pointing exchange or an I-Told-You-This-Would-Happen marathon. Both sides of the gun debate have made their points over and over and, frankly, they are starting to stand on the bodies of the dead to wave their political flags. It’s a bit disgusting.
What I would like to do is dig for ideas, try to find a realistic, workable way to curb these senseless attacks. We’ve heard several ideas already, ranging from arming teachers and administrators to better health care for the mentally ill. I think both ideas have merit, but neither of them is a perfect solution.
So what is? Eliminating all guns is logically impossible. The logistics alone are as prohibitive as it gets. There are over 200,000,000 guns in the country, with a little over half the population admitting to having at least one gun in their home (there are probably more, since there are a great deal of illegal guns in addition to the many legally-obtained firearms) and approximately 2 million men and women in service, including reserves. Trying to confiscate firearms, which many people consider a Constitutionally protected right, will lead to armed conflicts between soldiers, police, and citizens. To put it as simply as possible, a large number of gun owners will not willingly hand over their weapons, and will fight to keep them. Best case scenario would be a few skirmishes in which a relatively small number of people are killed or injured. Worst case scenario would be another Civil War, with several deep red states deciding they have had enough. As tragic as the Newtown shooting was, it would pale in comparison to the number of people who would lose their lives in a modern Civil War.
So are the gun rights people correct? Is the answer not less guns, but more? Will our children be safe if our teachers are given the opportunity to carry firearms into the classroom? While I tend to think potential shooters would be more reluctant to enter a school and open fire if they knew there were armed individuals inside, I am not completely sold on the idea. Most teachers, like most human beings, are good people who just want to do their jobs, help the children in their care, and feel like they are making the world a better place. But there are some teachers who really should not be permitted anywhere near a classroom, firearm or not. How many sex scandals have we seen with teachers and students over the last few years? How many other instances of teachers abusing their authority have we witnessed? Not to mention that teaching is a low-paying, high stress job, and more than one idealistic, well-intentioned teacher has been driven to the brink by spoiled American kids. Would introducing firearms to the classrooms be a wise move, all things considered? In most cases, I think the teachers would be fine, but there are always exceptions, and the very first time an over-stressed teacher snapped and turned the firearm on the class, it would make national news and call the wisdom of this into question.
Banning “assault rifles” seems like an idea that is gaining ground, as well, but there are numerous flaws in that plan, too. First, we must define “assault rifle.” If we are talking about any semi-automatic rifle, then that is a LOT of guns that will be outlawed, and you are looking at all the logistical issues I mentioned above. If we include features like collapsible stocks and pistol grips to the definition, one has to wonder why those features mark a weapon as an “assault rifle.” I won’t go into all the specifics here, because it would take too long, but let’s just say that you would need a specific definition of the term “assault rifle” that could be broadly applied.
Even then, you would face a monumental task: taking a large number of the most dangerous weapons available to civilians away from many people who will probably not be inclined to simply hand them over. See notes above about a new Civil War. And to add to this, it should be noted that a ban on assault weapons has been done before. The federal assault weapons ban lasted from 1994 to 2004. Now, if you are paying attention and know your history, you will immediately realize that two high-profile firearm-related incidents occurred during this ban: the Columbine School Massacre and the DC Sniper Rampage. Additionally, the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred during this time. (It’s probably worth noting that the Oklahoma City Bombing, which was carried out with fertilizer, racing fuel, and a rented box truck, killed more innocent people than the Columbine, Virginia tech, Aurora, and Newtown shootings combined. Also worth noting is the “one shot, one kill” nature of the DC Sniper attacks, which used an AR style rifle, but could have just as easily been carried out with a bolt-action rifle.)
The ban was allowed to expire in 2004 because the numbers simply didn’t back it up. Gun crime did not significantly decrease during the ban. In the interest of being fair, it should be noted that the ban was loosely written, easily skirted, and did not include any weapons or magazines that were manufactured prior to its inception. What that means is that every firearm that fell under the definition of “assault weapon” under the ban was still legal to own, sell, and operate, so long as it was manufactured prior to the date the ban went into effect. Essentially, the ban only prevented NEW “assault weapons” from being manufactured for civilian use, while having zero provisions for those that already existed. (Similar to the ban on fully automatic weapons, which are still legal to own and operate as long as they were manufactured prior to the date the ban went into effect.) Additionally, as I noted, the ban was easily skirted by firearm manufacturers, who only needed to make a few (mostly minor) modifications to their products in order to comply.
But all that said, the last ban did not work, and a new, stricter ban would likely cause more problems, the largest and most complicated of which would be simply enforcing it. Short of sending out armed patrols to confiscate existing weapons, how would you go about it? Australia introduced a ban on assault weapons and spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying rifles from its citizens, and even then it did not get them all. These rifles are expensive, ranging from $600 for a low-budget model to ten thousand dollars or more for a customized, top-of-the-line rifle. Can the United states afford to buy all those rifles? Probably not, which means the armed patrols would be the only way to get them, and now, once again, we are looking at the possibility of a Civil War.
So, what is the solution? I honestly don’t know. I am open to suggestions. I would ask only that you keep your suggestions civil, logical and realistic. The diatribes of “guns are evil” and “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” are so common and so well-known they do not need to be repeated here. I am not interested on hosting a debate on gun rights versus gun control, what I am hoping to find is a solution to school shootings. A realistic, workable solution that does not degenerate into a bipartisan bicker-fest. If you have any ideas, please share them.