Like all Americans, our hearts go out to the friends and families of those killed Friday at a Connecticut elementary school. Few people can grasp the anguish caused by that horrific crime; for most of us, it is too painful even to try. For those suffering, the rest of the nation can only second the words of President Obama who, fighting back tears, asked them to remember, “that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories, but also in ours.”
The president also called for “meaningful action” to prevent further such incidents. Americans share a sense of revulsion and disgust along with the healthy impulse to do something. And with that, perhaps the country can finally get beyond its hackneyed debate about gun control and focus instead on what has become a specific problem – mass shootings.
Why something like the Connecticut killings happens is at heart a theological question. But as a practical matter, the problem is the mix of crazy or delusional people and rapid-firing weapons with large-capacity magazines. Prevent that, and the problem goes away – not the problem of evil or other kinds of killing, but the specific issue of crazies shooting large numbers of people.
Critics correctly point out that killers can use a variety of weapons other than guns. The fact is, though, they rarely do.
No one died last week when a man in China attacked people outside a school with a knife. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a bomb in Oklahoma City. That was evil incarnate, but as a societal problem, it was not easily repeatable, especially by someone delusional or acting on the spur of the moment.
But there is the now-familiar string of massacres from Columbine to the murders at the theater in Aurora to the Connecticut school. All were committed by disturbed people with guns.
It might be possible to address that pattern with improved awareness of warning signs for instability, some kind of psychological screenings or a general effort to address the “crazy person” side of the problem. But all kinds of moral, ethical and legal issues quickly arise. Trying to identify the potentially violent among us is not a bad idea, but it will need time and effort to bear fruit.
Addressing the gun side could be quicker. But for that to work we need to get past some entrenched arguments.
For gun-control advocates: The right to “keep and bear arms” is here to stay. It is in the Constitution and the Supreme Court recognizes it. Accept that, and drop ideas such as a meaningless “assault weapon” ban.
For Second Amendment fans: You won in the Supreme Court. Now quit acting as if every new law is a move to take your guns.
The Supreme Court recognized the right to bear arms, but it also said the Second Amendment does not bar reasonable regulations. There might be answers in that dual understanding.
What if we forget about gun control – there are about 300 million guns in the United States, anyway – and instead limit or license the few types of ammunition commonly associated with mass shootings? Or “prohibit the possession of high capacity magazines.” That suggestion came from a letter to Congress from the late William B. Ruger, cofounder and longtime head of the firearms manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Whatever the exact approach, there have to be ways to make it harder for the deranged or aggrieved to kill people without stepping on legitimate rights. That is the discussion that needs to happen, without panic or paranoia.
When the issue becomes the wholesale slaughter of children, inaction is unreasonable.