Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown and Gun Control

Children being led away from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT after the shooting. (Source: NYTimes)
I looked on with horror, as much of the nation did yesterday, as news reports were coming out of Newtown, Connecticut about the horrible tragedy taking place there. To imagine what occurred in that classroom yesterday morning is something impossible to do without going to a dark place, and that's not what this post is about. Instead, it's about one aspect of the shooting that makes it all the more heart-wrenching.

This did not have to happen. This did not occur out of the blue. I don't mean to say that there were specific signs relating directly to Adam Lanza. I'm saying that we've seen massacre after massacre, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Geneva County to Binghamton to Aurora. The guns from these massacres appear to have been bought legally - they were not purchased in some back alley black market deal. They were bought from gun shows or dealers.

And it appears that the guns used in the Newtown massacre were also purchased legally by Lanza's mother. With so many guns out there in the country - there are almost 300 million guns in this nation, whose population is 315 million - some are going to end up in the hands of those who have no business having one, as happened today. The answer is not more guns in this country, as the NRA would have you believe, but less guns. It's simple math: the less guns there are in this country, the less opportunity for massacres like the one that occurred in Newtown.

There's another underlying factor here, and it has to do with mental health. We don't need to wait for the psychiatric profiles to come out to know that a person who would do this to children is not well. But even with the best mental health services available, there will still be sick people in the world. We cannot prevent that. What we can prevent is the preponderance of firearms out there. Because if a mentally ill person is determined to hurt others, he will. The problem is that his ability to hurt others is exponentially increased when he is carrying a gun.

Look at a country like the UK, which has very strict gun laws. Their firearms-related homicide rate is nearly 100 times lower than the US's. One hundred times. Some point to America's "gun culture." I cannot really speak to that without a sociological background, but I will share a quote from the Economist blog from today that gave me pause:
Even in a country as accustomed to gun violence (and, increasingly, mass shootings) as America, the murder of 20 children in their elementary-school classroom is uniquely shocking.
According to this quote, had this been the murder of 20 innocent adults it would have been a talking point for a week or so before being replaced by another news story. We have massacre fatigue, which speaks to how regular mass shootings occur in this country. Let's not forget that today's tragedy is overshadowing a shooting earlier in the week in Oregon in which a man opened fire with an assault weapon on Christmas shoppers at a mall, killing two.

We have to ask ourselves if the continued loss of life is worth such easy access to firearms. What are we gaining as a society by maintaining such an easy buying process for guns? Do the more than 11,000 people killed every year in America in firearm-related homicides outnumber those who have used their firearms for self-defense? What about the almost 19,000 people who kill themselves with a gun? If anything positive can come out of such a horrendous event, it is an honest look at gun policy in this country. It's just incredibly tragic that it would have taken a room full of dead children for it to happen.

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